Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Khama’s state visit to South Africa offers a splendid opportunity to redeem our ruined foreign policy

One of the horrible consequences of Botswana’s public outbursts against Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe is that as a member of SADC Botswana has since become isolated, somewhat irrelevant and by and large unable to influence events in the region.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but we must accept that we got carried away by our faith moral righteousness. Not only did we punch above our weight, we have also been reckless in expending our diplomatic capital.

Now we find ourselves in a position where we have to deal with the same Mugabe who despite
losing elections and killing his people, remains the sole man in charge of Zimbabwe – as he has
always been since 1980.

By shouting at Mugabe and engaging in an unrestrained public show off with his government, Ian
Khama has expended whatever little diplomatic leverage Botswana may have had to influence events
in Zimbabwe.

Now we are stuck with our backs against a hard rock, condemned to helplessness and irrelevance
as events in Zimbabwe once again run out of control. Khama’s public stance against Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe immediately upon becoming president was morally right but strategically and politically flawed. It was only a matter of time that as a country we were struck by the folly and un-sustainability of the whole adventure.

I suspect the exuberance was probably an outcome of the excitement that having become State President, Khama now viewed himself possessing the power to settle a long festering wound the continuation of which he attributed to a lack of resolve on all SADC leaders who came
before him.

Sadly expediency and populism seem to have prevailed over pragmatism and sound judgment. Whatever motives drove Khama to adopt a stance so starkly different from his predecessors, the results are there for everyone to see. But we should have known better. President Khama is a novice in
international relations. During his time as Vice President, international diplomacy was a domain exclusively occupied by Festus Mogae who was ably assisted Mompati Merafhe. But when he became State President one of the biggest mistakes Khama made was to replace Merafhe’s space at foreign affairs with an abrasive lawyer who has tragically spent his entire duration as foreign affairs minister annoying our international partners.

I have long reached a conclusion that for all his abilities ÔÇô and there are many ÔÇô Phandu Skelemani has been a terrible choice for the ministry of foreign affairs. He should have been left at the
ministry of presidential affairs where his combative style and fondness for law as a panacea for all problems would have put him in a good pedestal to battle it out with our increasingly militant
trade unions. It is not like Festus Mogae had any love for Mugabe.

To the contrary, Mogae chose to engage the Zimbabwean leader behind closed doors simply because it was the most pragmatic thing to do. In diplomacy, expending one’s influence and potency by engaging
opponents in public does not always bring desired results. Not only does it harden attitudes,
it closes one’s backroom channels as it takes away their power to influence flow of events.

Another big mistake that Khama made when he became president
ÔÇô and this is truly unpardonable
– was to be seen to be actively supporting Morgan Tsvangirai against Mugabe and Zanu-PF.

For that Mugabe and his supporters will never forgive Botswana. Right from start, and not altogether
unfairly, Botswana was perceived to be in hog with Tsvangirai and his western backers. While we talked of Mugabe as vermin we extended MDC’s Tsvangirai all the royal treatment reserved for a visiting head of state. Recall the time when as opposition leader the Zimbabwean spent months in a hotel room at Gaborone Sun as his supporters were dying at the hands of Mugabe’s government back home!

Rather than remaining detached as to allow the Zimbabweans to sort out their problems, Botswana delved kneedeep into Zimbabwe’s internal politics including using Botswana Television to host a weekly programme that actively propped up Tsvangirai against Mugabe. At one point Tsvangirai was
reported to have been allowed the use of Khama’s presidential jet. During the man’s ill-advised months’ stay in Botswana he was extended such comprehensive security escort that at one point
included the head of Botswana’s intelligence services as his personal bodyguardÔÇô and all these for goodness sake before Tsvangirai even started his fateful forage as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe’s
doomed government of National Unity.

As Tsvangirai lost credibility back home, so did Botswana standing as a neutral intermediary between the Zimbabwean belligerents titter to the brink. I have not the slightest doubt that Mugabe is an evil man. If I had a choice I would get him out of power like today. Not being a President of Botswana, my views against Mugabe do not in way represent Botswana’s position. Relations between states cannot be premised on personal whims. That is what seems to have informed Botswana’s stance towards Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe. We now find ourselves entangled in a web from which we cannot extricate ourselves. We still need to deal with Zimbabwe, and sadly with Mugabe who like he has been for the last 30 years remains the absolute ruler.

It is a dictum in international relations that one should engage even with his enemies. That is a test we have failed. Next week President Khama leaves for Pretoria on a state visit. This is a very important visit, in that it allows Khama not only to engage South Africa but also to use that country to open new backroom channels to Harare. In doing so, some will no doubt accuse Khama of roveling to a ruthless dictator who has no problem rigging elections and killing his people.
I choose to call it pragmatism.

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