Monday, March 30, 2020

Masisi’s new appointee at Foreign Affairs cast Khama as a hero

It is going to be very interesting when new Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation, Dr. Gladys Mokhawa, sits across the table from President Mokgweetsi Masisi to discuss foreign policy.

As a lecturer at the University of Botswana, Mokhawa made her views on foreign policy very well known through participation in panel discussions and media interviews. During a 2017 panel discussion on Botswana’s foreign policy, Mokhawa stated that there was nothing wrong with President Ian Khama’s rooftop diplomacy. Going back to 1966, the country had always practised silent diplomacy but Khama changed all that, publicly going after the leaders of Zimbabwe, Sudan, Libya, Syria and any others whom he felt needed to be publicly named and shamed.

It was in an academic paper that she co-wrote with Professor Bertha Osei-Hwedie, also at UB, that Mokhawa helped create what some would view as a mythical foreign policy genius called Ian Khama. In the paper, titled “Continuity and Change: The Influence of the Presidents on Botswana’s Foreign Policy”, the authors write that Khama’s “most notable personality traits” include “political efficacy, army training that has adorned him with professionalism, discipline, technical and strategizing expertise; adherence to the rule of law; philanthropy; and Paramount Chief of the largest tribe in Botswana, the Bamangwato. His expectation of other people’s behaviour is largely a result of his firm belief in discipline.” They assert that Khama and his predecessors “have been guided by the same core principles that have guided foreign policy behaviour, since independence. These include political tolerance, democracy and good governance, respect for human rights and rule of law for achieving peace, security and stability, and commitment to international cooperation.” The describe Botswana as “a strong supporter of international law and courts, especially the International Criminal Court (ICC) and has offered to arrest any African leader wanted by the Court for crimes against humanity, especially, those of Sudan and Kenya, another departure from the African Union’s position on the ICC.”

On the whole, the paper ignores a whole lot of inconvenient facts in order to arrive at a convenient conclusion. It doesn’t point out the oddity of Khama giving eSwatini’s King Mswati a pass while giving Mugabe a hard time. While it generates a long list of Khama’s admirable traits, the paper fails to provide examples to show such traits in action. For example, it doesn’t demonstrate what Khama’s technical and strategizing expertise entailed in practical terms. When someone who had supervised Khama (Festus Mogae) had complained about his autocracy and when the incumbent head of one arm of government (National Assembly Speaker Margaret Nasha) had written about such autocracy in her autobiography, the paper instead mentions Khama’s respect for political tolerance, democracy and good governance. At a period of time that Khama was avoiding international and continental meetings like the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the AU Summit, the paper would have readers believe that he was committed to international cooperation. When Khama had preserved a deal (cut under Mogae) to not hand over American war criminals to the ICC and was not attending UNGA where public international law is made, the Botswana he led is described as “a strong supporter of international law and courts.”

Masisi, who appointed Mokhawa to her position, is known and has shown himself to hold completely different foreign policy views. Views aside, there is the more important question of what colour someone who ends up being a presidential advisor should see when s/he looks at a clear sky (blue or red?) and what feedback s/he should publicly give. 

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