Friday, September 22, 2023

Resetting Botswana’s foreign policy by Masisi is a trade and economic master stroke

Hardly a week after taking office, President Mokgweetsi Masisi has been on a rollercoaster schedule visiting countries across Southern Africa.
Looking at his itinerary as depicted by ministers and officials accompanying him, the underlying tone of his trips is strengthening economic ties.
Early indications are that Masisi is resolute in instituting fundamentals changes to Botswana’s foreign policy path.
Trade, jobs and the economy are assuming top spots in the country’s foreign policy agenda.
This is crucial because no national security can be attained in the absence of trade, jobs and the economy.
One of the most defining attributes of any foreign policy is to create jobs, establish trade links and grow the economy.
Added to that is the fact that foreign policy is by far the finest instrument in the tool box to achieve a stable national security.
In almost all of his trips, President Masisi has been accompanied by the minister responsible for transport. This alone is immensely instructive.
Botswana would benefit immensely from fast-tracking the long overdue plans to link Southern Africa through transport and communications infrastructure.
Under the previous Government, trade, jobs and the economy all occupied an obscure place in the country’s overall foreign place. We had a government that derided oversized pleasure in its image of exceptionalism ÔÇô however exaggerated.
Thus too much emphasis was placed on creating an impression that Botswana was an island of stability among chaos in the sub-region.
This inevitably placed the country at odds with other neighbouring countries.
It is commendable that so early on, Masisi has seen it fit to visit countries that are not even Botswana’s natural allies including Angola.
It is easy to forget how far away Botswana had withdrawn from SADC in the last ten years.
There is some comfort to be had from non-stop trips Masisi has been making to the SADC capitals over the last two weeks.
The goal is to once again make Botswana become a true member of SADC, not just in geography and membership subscription but also in its tone, attitude and behaviour.
It will not be easy. The wounded leaders in the region will give him the benefit of doubt. But they will not be admitting him immediately.
Botswana is surrounded by swathes of countries with a history of liberation politics; South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola and Namibia.
All these countries have governments with strong attachments to strong ruling parties.
In fact in some instances there is no attempt to separate party and government.
Thus they have all along viewed Botswana with suspicion.
They will be watching Masisi’s behavior over time.
For them, as the English would put it, proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Luckily Masisi has also been taking along his party Secretary General in some of his travels abroad.
Foreign policy promises to provide Masisi with a cushion and indeed a counterbalance against ongoing crude attempts to undermine his leadership domestically.
Such a sanctuary from foreign lands would for him prove most welcome.
There have been well choreographed attempts at home to undermine his leadership.
Such attempts are clearly coordinated by some powerful interest inside his party ÔÇô including inside his cabinet, helped by some elements in opposition.
His legitimacy has not only been publicly questioned, it is also being put to the test.
Masisi has a predecessor who does not want to go quietly into retirement.
Ian Khama is still flapping around for a role inside both party and Government.
The Namibians would be familiar with this.
Upon leaving office, former Namibian president Sam Nujoma insisted on being called an Emeritus President, or something of that sort.
That madness seems to be seeping into our politics.
Experience has proved that Masisi has a rare skill to work around his limitations.
He rose against the spectre of an underdog to take control of the Botswana Democratic Party.
That control later on proved handy as it gave him a foothold when all odds were against him assuming the final prize and ultimate trophy of presidency.
He might be the state president in all nomenclature. But Masisi is not yet his own man ÔÇô at least not in the eyes of the public.
Certain things need to happen.
He needs to dismantle Khama’s infrastructure that continues to hang menacingly over his head.
He needs a thorough review of the country’s security and intelligence apparatus.
Many of Masisi’s ministers are only grudgingly accepting him as President.
They still look outside of his cabinet for real authority.
That was not the case when Khama became President.
Masisi should prove to all of us that his presidency is by no measure a sandcastle. And that he is here to stay, more importantly in his own terms and under nobody’s shadow.
One way of doing that is to reduce the size of his cabinet, even if it means sacking some strongmen inside that cabinet.


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