Members of Parliament on Thursday raked President Ian Khama and Foreign Affairs Minister Phandu Skelemani over hot coals for their brash foreign policy, which has seen Botswana locking horns with a number of African countries, among them Zimbabwe, Guinea, and Madagascar.
Commenting on the foreign affairs ministry’s budget proposal, Kweneng South East MP Mmoloki Raletobana cautioned Botswana against wantonly meddling on the business of sovereign countries and using derogatory language to address other state leaders.
“In the past we refused to comment on the business of sovereign countries. We have suddenly changed tact, even commenting on issues in which we have no interest. What do we hope to gain from commenting on the Togo-Africa Cup of Nations saga?” he asked.
Raletobana urged government to be courteous and restrict her comments to issues that have a direct impact on Botswana.
“We must not sour relations with other countries. Tone down on your discourteous language and respect your international counterparts” he said.
For his part Gaborone Central MP Dumelang Saleshando called for a clear foreign policy strategy that defines Botswana’s relations with the international community. He also cautioned against applying double standards when commenting on developments in the international arena.
“While I applaud Botswana’s stance on Zimbabwe, I find it strange that we have not made any comments on Swaziland. This is applying double standards. The moral authority that we assume on issues of democracy and good governance should not be selectively applied” he said.
Mogoditshane MP Patrick Masimolole had earlier tabled a motion asking Skelemani to explain if multilateralism guides Botswana’s foreign policy, citing as examples the country’s isolationist stance on Zimbabwe and Botswana’s call for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
Masimolole asked how Botswana’s isolationist stance and her use of intemperate language have affected relations with members of the African Union and the Southern African Development Community.
Skelemani answered that Botswana upholds the principles of multilateral diplomacy, as demonstrated by her membership of the SADC and the AU.
“Being a member of these organizations places certain obligations and duties on us, as we are expected to live up to the dictates and principles of their charter and statutes. We uphold our values of democracy and good governance, and we have no equivocation in articulating these values” said Skelemani.
When President Khama assumed power Botswana moved away from her previous stance of silent diplomacy, openly bashing any African state that failed to accede to democratic practice.
Notably, Botswana ÔÇôZimbabwe relations were greatly affected by this stance.
Khama missed an SADC summit, to which Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe would attend, in protest against the latter’s controversial re-election.
But he ended up getting caught up in a one man crusade against the Mugabe regime, refusing to recognize Mugabe as state president while the SADC leaders gave him a standing ovation as he strode the corridors of the SADC summit to deliver colorful anti-British tirades to the international media.
Mugabe dismissed Botswana as a lackey of the British imperialists, sparking a war of words that saw Zimbo-Botswana relations spiraling to an all time low. At the height of the standoff, Zimbabwe accused Botswana of training opposition Movement for Democratic Change operatives, and spreading hate and regime change propaganda against Zimbabwe.
The recent arrest and prosecution of three Botswana wildlife officers in Zimbabwe further soured relations between the two. Amid talk of war, Botswana recalled her defense and security attaches from Harare and called on Zimbabwe to reciprocate. The situation was only saved by a weeklong Botswana-Zimbabwe Joint Permanent Commission on Defense and Security.
In May 2009 Botswana also condemned the ousting of Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana and the subsequent appointment of Andry Rajolina.
Skelemani was quoted as saying that Botswana does not recognize the “disk jockey”, Rajolina. MP’s on Thursday strongly castigated him for this statement, labeling it as uncouth.
Botswana’s call for al-Bashir’s arrest also countered the stance assumed by other African leaders.
On different occasions, Vice President Mompati Merafhe and President Kahama said that Botswana does not tolerate impunity, and condemned African leaders who show disregard for human rights and the rule of law, citing Sudan as an example.
“We should render such leaders to the ICC” they said.
Dr Richard Mulla, a Sudanese legislator, later dismissed the statements as na├»ve and uninformed because Botswana has never experienced ethnic violence.
Among many SADC leaders, there is a perception that Botswana’s foreign policy is laced with a streak of populist anti-Mugabe sentiments and affinity towards the US and UK. This was not helped by Zimbabwe’s accusations that Botswana is promoting ideas of regime change and spreading anti-Zimbabwe hate mail through the VoA.