Saturday, May 8, 2021

Masisi leaning towards Geingob as relations with Ramaphosa remain questionable

President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s bromance with his Namibian counterpart Hage Geingob is growing stronger by the day as demonstrated by his most recent visit to Namibia in a trip he said was meant to strengthen relations between the two nations.

The relationship between the two, by Masisi’s own admission last Friday, goes beyond diplomatic relations. “I’m also going to see my friend to talk about some stuff I cannot share with you here,” Masisi said just moments before he boarded a flight at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport to visit Namibia for the umpteenth time as President.

He said the purpose of the meeting was to continue to strengthen bilateral relations as well as the friendship that exists between the neighboring countries.

“In friendship, just like in marriage, there are moments where there are misunderstandings that need to be ironed out,” Masisi said in relation to the 2020 fatal shootings of suspected Namibian poachers by the Botswana Defense Force that threatened to divide the countries. The two presidents subsequently released a joint statement saying investigations would be carried out.

Masisi’s ‘lovey-dovey’ relationship with Geingob is in stark contrast to that between him and his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa.

Masisi has met one-on-one with Ramaphosa only once in the three years since taking over from his now estranged predecessor Ian Khama on April 1st 2018. Masisi paid a courtesy visit to Ramaphosa just under two weeks (April 13, 2018) following his inauguration in a visit he said was meant to strengthen bilateral relations.

Commenting on the visit, Ramaphosa said at the time that it was about “renewing old bonds and friendships” as well as consolidating relations between the two governments.

That was only as far as cordial relations between the two Heads of State have gone so far.

Ramaphosa has never visited Botswana during Masisi’s tenure.

His last visit to Botswana was during the twilight of Khama’s tenure, in February 2018, only two months before Masisi took office.

Relations between the two must have taken a turn for the worst in the lead up to Botswana’s 2019 General elections. For the first time in the history of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) a sitting President faced opposition for party leadership. Former Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi backed by Masisi’s estranged predecessor, Khama, challenged Masisi at the party’s Special Congress in May 2019 just six months before national elections.

Masisi emerged victorious following his opponent’s decision to pull out just hours before the congress.

But it was the behind the scenes allegations leading to the congress that may have contributed to a break-up in relations between Masisi and Ramaphosa. There were unconfirmed allegations of Ramaphosa’s sister in law Bridget Motsepe (Khama’s childhood friend), and brother Patrice Motsepe’s involvement in funding the campaign to oust Masisi.

Both denied any links to the campaign. The South African President remained detached from the drama. It remains unclear if his decision to steer clear of matter played a part in broken relations between the two Presidents. The two governments were again most recently engaged in extended bilateral tensions over the SA government’s alleged refusal to cooperate with Botswana on mutual legal assistance over another matter involving Ramaphosa’s sister in law. Motsepe, together with Khama were accused of money laundering involving alleged billions of Pula looted from Bank of Botswana. 

Limited interaction between Masisi and his SA counterpart has only served to fuel further speculation about soured relations between the two Heads of State.

While the two countries signed an agreement establishing a Bi-National Commission in 2012 between then Presidents Khama and Ramaphosa’s estranged predecessor Jacob Zuma, no attempts have been made by their successors to pick up the baton.

The signing of the agreement was done during a two-day state visit by Zuma to Botswana following Khama’s own visit to South Africa two years earlier.

As part of his visit to Namibia last week Masisi was also expected to sign an agreement to elevate the Namibia-Botswana Permanent Joint Commission of Cooperation to a Bi-National Commission.

Independent local economic and political commentator Bakang Nchingane has observed the not so cordial relations between Masisi and Ramaphosa.

“Masisi is now looking to Namibia as a way to find alternative trading options and routes to reduce Botswana’s over dependence on South Africa,” Nchingane has said. He said South Africa’s big brother mentality when it comes to SACU (the Economic Partnership Agreement between Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa) could be also pushing Masisi to explore alternative trade options. Nchingane did not rule out possible political interference as a contributing factor to the broken relations between Botswana and SA Leaders.

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