When the economic and political crisis engulfing Zimbabwe started, the Mogae administration deemed it appropriate to embrace silent diplomacy. President Festus Mogae was very much alive to the fact that public condemnation of his counterpart may negatively affect the relationship between Botswana and Zimbabwe. Hence, he decided to talk to President Robert Mugabe behind closed doors.
When Lt Gen. Ian Khama became the president, he moved swiftly to publicly condemn the manner in which President Mugabe was managing the affairs of his nation and urged other nations to condemn him. An emotional Phandu Skelemani appeared on BTv several times vehemently criticizing the Mugabe administration. Instead of retaliating, Mugabe sarcastically stated that Botswana is a very good neighbour. He also reminded us that it is not good for African leaders to attack each other publicly as such a move can only sow the seeds of hatred and mistrust between them.
The onslaught on other countries under the Khama administration continued when Rajoelina was assisted by the military to seize state power in Madagascar. Minister Skelemani appeared on BTv again criticizing Rajoelina and the military for their action. He even went to the extent of saying Rajoelina is just a young disco jockey who has no business in politics.
Just when tempers were cooling down, the Togolese football team was attacked a few days before the commencement of the AFCON competition in Angola in January 2010. Following a decision by the Togolese government to withdraw its team from the tournament, the CAF leaders banned the country from the tournament for two terms. And as expected, the Khama administration went ballistic and issued a strong worded statement condemning the decision taken by CAF.
All the above-mentioned cases resulted in some MPs questioning the wisdom of publicly attacking and criticizing other presidents and institutions. The main question that they asked was: what do we benefit as a country from attacking other countries? This is a pertinent question given the fact that other countries never joined or supported us when we launched attacks on other people.
Just when I thought that President Khama had heeded the advice given to his administration by the MPs, he decided, probably out of desperation given the problems besieging his party, to launch a scathing attack on the ANC Youth League President, Julius Malema, at a political rally in Old Naledi two weeks ago. It is very unfortunate that a head of state can stoop so low to attack and belittle a leader of a political organization in another country without taking into consideration the possible effects of his utterances on the political, economic and diplomatic ties between Botswana and South Africa.
It is of paramount importance that President Khama should realize that an attack on the leaders of the ANC can strain the relations that we have with South Africa. We currently import almost everything that we consume on daily basis from South Africa. And therefore, an attack on the ANC, all in the name of showing the need to discipline members of the BDP, is the last thing that we need. It is wrong and uncalled for.
Julius Malema is not just an ordinary citizen of South Africa. He is a leader of a very important and vibrant branch of the ruling ANC. He is a powerful youngman who can handle any politician without fear irrespective of age, race, size, religion etc. He should therefore be accorded the respect that he deserves more especially that Khama has no business in determining the manner in which the ANC is managed and how its members are treated.
What did the president hope to achieve by attacking Malema at a BDP rally? Does he have the political stamina to take on Malema should he decide to retaliate? Is he ready to be publicly embarrassed by someone who is young enough to be his son? Given the fact that the BDP is collapsing, I do not think that it is wise for the president to be starting wars with other people and burning bridges all in the name of showing people the importance of discipline that is administered selectively.
In fact, the unwarranted attack on Malema resulted in the president passing a motion of no confidence on his predecessors. He is quoted in the newspapers lamenting the state of affairs within the BDP when Presidents Masire and Mogae were at the helm by saying that the party was characterised by high levels of indiscipline. In Setswana one cay say, e ne e le ko ga mmapereko! This statement clearly indicates why the mediation efforts by the two former presidents failed thus plunging the BDP into a serious crisis never experienced in its history.
Despite having been in politics for twelve years now, Khama does not seem to realize that by attacking other politicians, he is automatically inviting them to attack him. By now he should have learnt from his encounters with the founders of BMD that in politics, people fight fire with fire and will do everything in their power to cause as much damage as possible to the political careers and integrity of their rivals.
Instead of attacking politicians in other countries, Khama should have used examples of people within his party who have dragged its name in the mud on several occasions. We all know that instead of disciplining them, the president gave them more responsibilities and recognition by appointing them to several committees of the BDP and even cabinet. These are the people that he should be ridiculing and disciplining. In view of the problems and challenges that he is facing as the president of the BDP and the country, Khama should simply forget about the likes of Malema and focus on pertinent issues affecting his party and the nation at large.
*Dr Mothusi teaches Political Science and Public Admin at the University of Botswana