Having long strained their ears with the hope of hearing the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation make pronouncements about the Gaza situation but with not a peep coming from the Government Enclave, some Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) leaders have accused the government of conducting its rooftop diplomacy in an evidently hypocritical manner.
“We call on our government to issue a statement. It is always quick to do so even in situations that don’t warrant comment and but has chosen to stay silent on the Gaza situation,” said BOFEPUSU’s deputy secretary general, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa when making a presentation at a panel discussion on Gaza last Thursday. Alongside other countries on the continent, Botswana has historically kept mum about the affairs of other countries but that changed with the administration of President Ian Khama. Under him, the foreign affairs ministry has issued strongly-worded statements to condemn undemocratic rule in Zimbabwe, state-sponsored genocide in Sudan and Syria and the toppling of a democratically elected leader in Madagascar.
In protesting the latter, the minister, Phandu Skelemani, described the coup leader and current Madagascan president, Andry Rajoelina, as a “deejay” – a not altogether inappropriate label because the latter had a stint in Antananarivo nightclubs spinning discs. Before “de-recognising” Bakgatla supreme traditional leader, Kgosi Kgafela II in October 2011, the Botswana government had earlier done the same thing with Robert Mugabe. Following the controversial 2008 presidential election that the latter is widely believed to have rigged, Skelemani said that Botswana did not recognise Mugabe as president while the rest of the Southern African Development Community leaders stayed mum.
However, the Botswana government is being increasingly viewed as a selective outrage machine that will not say anything about Swaziland’s undemocratic rule while chastising Zimbabwe for exactly the same thing. With regard to the Gaza situation, two other parties (the Botswana Muslim Association and an NGO coalition that delivered a Gaza petition to the government a fortnight ago) have also raised questions about the government’s silence. Explaining BOFEPUSU’s stand on the matter, Motshegwa said that the confederation involvement was underpinned by its pursuit of justice for and solidarity with Gazans.
“The atrocities in Gaza mean that workers are being denied their rights,” he said. On account of the rooftop diplomacy standard it has set for itself, the Botswana government has also failed to raise its voice when Russia annexed the Crimea in Ukraine. Asked to account for this, Skelemani said that the government was still studying the situation. What is apparent though is that Botswana loses its voice when powerful (and friendly) nations engage in objectionable conduct.