The latest reports coming in from Malawi indicate that at least 18 people have died from violence that broke out during recent public protests in that country.
There are people who have always said that Botswana’s foreign affairs policy in as far as it applied to far away countries, like Syria and Libya, was not only irrelevant but also akin to one punching above their weight.
That may well be correct. But in so far as the policy was always hinged on human rights, we have always supported it and will continue to do so, without an apology. In fact, on a recent state visit to Maputo, President Ian Khama publicly endorsed regime changes in countries like Libya, Egypt and other Arab countries. What a democrat, we said to ourselves!
We have in the past called on the President to also make public statements when the situation involved his personal friends ÔÇô especially in Swaziland. We cannot turn a blind eye when atrocities are committed by those we happen to love or court.
What sauce is good for the goose is also good for the gander!
To our dismay up to this day, the Government of Botswana has not bothered to make its position known regarding the Swazi Government’s harassment and banning of political activity in that country. Political activists, trade unionist as well as students have been killed and Botswana does not seem to see anything wrong with that.
That cannot be us. That goes against the very values that we stand for as a people and nation.
While still there, we urge South African Government to urge improvement of human rights record as an overarching pre-requisite for the loans that the cash strapped Swazi Kingdom has been begging.
With regard to Zimbabwe, the excitement that accompanied Ian Khama’s arrival as President has since faded.
Atrocities in Zimbabwe are no longer a part of the lexicon in as far as Botswana’s foreign policy is concerned.
Robert Mugabe must be the happiest man on the planet. He obviously feels vindicated that, as he always held, the behaviour by Botswana, and more specifically by the President of Botswana was more a result of political inexperience than a deep-seated belief that Botswana could spearhead a change with regard to the Zimbabwean impasse. How tragic, especially for the millions of Zimbabwean people who held so much faith in the arrival of Ian Khama. For them the breath of fresh air they thought his arrival heralded seems to have been so terribly short-lived.
Now there is Malawi, a country that, if not properly handled, can easily regress to the dictatorship it toiled under during the mad reign of a certain Kamuzu Banda.
Suspicions over the democratic record of Malawian President recently crossed the radar when he was on a state visit to Botswana.
Bingu wa Mutharika, the Professor, as he is perhaps charitably referred to, was scheduled to open a stadium in Lobatse, where the area Member of Parliament, Nehemiah Modubule, was supposed to give a Vote of Thanks.
Things came to a head when Modubule announced that his conscience did not allow him to share a stage with Bingu, a man who only a few months earlier had incited youths from his ruling party to violently defend him and their party against opposition. All opposition Members of Parliament joined Modubule in solidarity.
Modubule said as an opposition politician himself he was naturally sympathetic to Malawian opposition parties who had to face the brunt of the State President sanctioned violence. Modubule was, of course, referring to a public rally at which Bingu had effectively called on his supporters to arms against opposition activists ÔÇô an era many Malawians had come to believe was long gone and never to come back again.
To his credit, Modubule stuck to his guns in the face of sustained ridicule from official media from both Botswana and Malawi.
When by a stroke of luck official cables leaked a few weeks later in which a British High Commissioner to Malawi effectively cast doubts on Mutharika’s democratic credentials, Modubule rightly felt vindicated and jumped, shouting: “I told you Mutharika was a dictator. Look who else is sharing my earlier suspicions.”
Instead of handling the diplomatic fallout in a level headed manner, Bingu reacted in a manner typical of all dictators – he effectively bundled the British diplomat out of the country.
For a country that has up to a third of its annual national budget financed by donors, chiefly Britain, this was as irresponsible as it was shortsighted.
But the death of 18 people last week cannot go unchallenged.
We call on our Government to condemn Bingu; this is not withstanding that he may be a friend to our Government.