President Ian Khama’s recent official visit to Pretoria and his meetings with Jacob Zuma could not have come at a more opportune time.
The visit came at a time when there are wide ranging discussions on a number of issues and projects that directly affect the two countries.
To many Batswana, South Africa is still a big brother. When SA coughs, Botswana catches flu. Botswana is South Africa’s largest trading partner on the African continent.
Botswana relies on SA for almost everything.
It is for that reason that the less charitable have often equated Botswana to a province of SA, the tenth one if you want.
Not only does Botswana rely heavily on energy imports from South Africa, that country remains Botswana’s gateway to the world, however one looks at it.
There are many Batswana students studying in South Africa.
Given SA’s massive economic might, the biggest in Africa, trade is as is to be expected skewed in favour of South Africa.
As it stands, Botswana seems as UK Prime Minister David Cameron describes (U.S/ U.K relations), a junior partner.
Of course, this is not what Batswana would love to hear.
At the moment SADC and EU are in negotiations over the conclusion of Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which are part of regional integration. Under the EPAs, the region stands to benefit from unlimited access to the large and lucrative EU market.
While Botswana is eager to go along, South Africa is dragging its feet. Its argument is that EPA goes against SA’s national interests. This is primarily because about a decade ago SA unilaterally negotiated a trade agreement with EU, deliberately and arrogantly leaving other SADC and SACU members out.
Naturally the standoff is threatening regional integration and it is feared that SACU could be undermined as to be threatened.
Although it has not been publicly declared, South Africa is also giving the developers of Mmamabula Energy Complex a hard time in giving them the necessary guarantees before they could go ahead to build the power station.
Mmamabula was expected to supply South Africa with electricity.
But that country’s newly published IRP2010, which is a blueprint for the country’s energy projections, makes no mention of Mmamabula.
A project that was expected to narrow the trade gap between the two countries will now have to be rescheduled or worse be shelved altogether.
These are the issues that we hope the two presidents discussed on the economic front on top of others like the burning issue of extradition treaty.
The hot topic that Zuma promised to look at, means that it is difficult for wanted suspects to be extradited to Botswana as they are in safe heaven in South Africa.
It is encouraging that after their meeting, the two presidents agreed on a number of landmark agreements. For example, Botswana and South Africa have agreed on the establishment of a Bi-National Commission to replace their current joint cooperation commissions.
The Bi-National Commission, unlike existing arrangements will be co-chaired by the Heads of State of the two countries and meet at least annually, alternating its venue between the two countries.
We think it was a good and fruitful visit by President Khama.
But there is still a lot of ground to be covered.
What is important is that President Zuma should follow through his promises while Khama has to be awake to the true, but painful fact that he is a junior partner.