The statement made by Botswana’s Foreign Affairs Ministry concerning Kenyan president-elect, Uhuru Kenyatta, has caused embarrassment to the Government of Botswana and its people, said Taolo Lucas of the Botswana Congress Party.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Phandu Skelemani, had been quoted by a local newspaper as saying that Kenyatta was not welcome to set foot in Botswana if he refuses to co-operate with the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The ICC charged Kenyatta with crimes against humanity as a result of the violence that erupted after the 2007 elections and in which 1,133 people were killed and more than half a million displaced.
In reaction to Skelemani’s statement, in what social media literates term ‘Twitter and Facebook wars’, angry Kenyans took to the social media sites to complain as well as hurl insults at Batswana, accusing the country of being a “useless, dependent, AIDS exporting country that likes to meddle in other countries’ affairs”.
Online newspapers across Africa, which covered the issue, were also bombarded with hostile commentary between Batswana and the Kenyans.
On the 13th of March, a statement that was said to have originated from the Foreign Ministry of Botswana was published in The Star, Kenya, stating, “This is to retract my statement made earlier about the President-elect of Kenya. The President-elect of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, is more that welcome to visit Botswana.
Botswana respects the rule of law and it’s cognizant of a section of the law that maintains ‘One is innocent until Proven guilty’. Uhuru Kenyatta has been compliant with the ICC ever since the beginning. I apologize to the Kenyan people for misunderstanding of my earlier statement. I wish to maintain that Kenya and Botswana have always worked together and nothing will distract that…” read the statement.
Some have said that the timing of the statements made by Skelemani appears as if Botswana is trying to interfere in the internal electoral procedures of another country as Kenyatta was recently elected into power.
Local lawyer, Batsho Nthoi, is of the view that Botswana’s leaders must be careful when they make statements concerning other countries because they could end up compromising the security of Batswana who live outside the country. He explained that a fall-out of such magnitude could have immense consequences for Batswana who interact with Kenyans on a daily basis. He insisted that, as a landlocked country, it is important for Botswana to consolidate relations in Africa.
“What our leaders say about other countries must be consistent with our own internal policies. Botswana respects the rule of law, which clearly states that one is innocent until proven guilty, therefore we cannot be the ones that convict a man before his day in court,” said Nthoi.
He added that the country’s foreign policy should be consistent and it must reflect the principles that ordinary Batswana have.
Meanwhile, an article on BBC Online reflects that Kenyatta, who is supposed to appear before the ICC in July, has so far exhibited a complete willingness to co-operate with proceedings in The Hague.
On the 15th of March, the Ministry released yet another statement in an attempt to clarify statements attributed to the Minister in relation to Kenyatta.
The release explains that the statement made in regards to Kenyatta was aimed at merely explaining the rules of the ICC and obligations of members of the court.
“Botswana, as a member of the ICC, will only act in accordance with the decisions of the court. At the moment, no decision has been made on the Kenyan situation that would require Botswana to act,” read the release.
According to the release, the strength of Botswana and Kenya’s relations is reflected in the long history of wide-ranging co-operation between the two countries, as well as the fact that the two countries have resident missions in each other’s capital.