Saturday, September 19, 2020

Masisi’s diplomatic blitz abroad should restore Botswana’s conventional foreign policy

It is now just over six months since Mokgweetsi Masisi ascended the highest office, and already he has visited about a dozen countries, many of them in southern Africa that are also SADC members.

Much of those visits were mainly introductory and also to reassure allies that had become rattled by our footloose diplomacy over the preceding years that Botswana still believes in multi-lateralism rather than unilateralism.

The most reassuring of all Masisi’s foreign travels so far has been his recent one to China.

China is a rising global superpower ÔÇô in all respects.

After the United State, China has the biggest economy.

That economy is growing so fast that it is rattling the Americans.

No country in the world can afford to ignore China.

Yet, for all its might the kind of face time and also the treatment that Masisi received from China’s President, Xi Jingpin has left even some of the world’s most powerful countries, not to mention our African compatriots blushing with envy.

For some of our people, the P350 million that Masisi brought from China as loans and grants might seem too little given our needs as a country.  They are missing the point. It was never about just money.

Admittedly, money is important. But even more important is the fact that the Sino-Botswana relations that been so damaged as to be on the brink of collapse were restored.

This time last year, the Botswana and China relations were literally cold ÔÇô a result of a proposed Dalai Lama visit that Botswana Government had announced.

Because Masisi’s State visit to China also coincided with the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, he had to a chance to interact with the tens of African Heads of State that also attended.

That on its own is commendable.

The immediate past president did not attend such meetings.

As a result for ten years Botswana missed out on the opportunities that come about as a result of their Head of state interacting face to face, even informally with his peers.

As we speak Masisi is in New York, chiefly for purposes of attending the United Nations General assembly.

This is by far the biggest global gathering of the world leaders.

For the last ten years our immediate past president steadfastly refused all persuasion to attend.

He did not give a reason.

Yet he never missed an opportunity to attend the annual Board meeting of Conservation International, which he always said was for the benefit of the country.

The truth though is that other than conservation being his first love and passion, he is also heavily invested in tourism.

It would be naïve if somehow as a country we believed that we continue to command the same respect that we used to many years ago.

In fact we have lost a lot of goodwill among many countries including those that we used to call friends and allies.

That much was shown last year when the then minister of foreign affairs, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi could not get the needed votes to become chairperson of the African Union Commission.

Even her attempts for daring to want the position were later to be lampooned and caricatured by Robert Mugabe ÔÇô then the President of Zimbabwe.

Venson-Moitoi was not the first Motswana to lose in their attempts to get a top job at an international organization.

She was the latest in a long line of our luminaries to be so spurned.

It is our hope that Masisi will pay particular attention in restoring not only Botswana’s image abroad, but also the country’s conventional foreign policy.

This is a kind of policy that involves persuasion.

There is a strong indication that with his trips abroad, Masisi aims to replace Botswana’s isolationism with multilateralism.

There is also an indication that by the time he is done, Masisi hopes by then Botswana will once again be negotiating respectfully with other countries, not through the use of press releases, as has been the case during the preceding ten years.

He hopes to reassure other nations that Botswana is a respectful and respected country.

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