A few weeks after Osama bin Laden attacked the United States in 2001, Botswana joined the public international conversation about that catastrophic event and among the panelists at an Avani Sun Hotel conference was future high court judge, Dr. Omphemetse Tshosa.
Then a lecturer in the Law Department at the University of Botswana, Tshosa, who is now a high court judge in Lesotho, said that in terms of international law, there was no such thing as terrorism. Such assertion notwithstanding, the west (notably the US) would put fighting terrorism front and centre in its foreign-policy agenda. At least at a rhetorical level, other countries would follow suit, using the exact same language that the west uses and in the same context. One element of the now infamous Butterfly case is that Wilheminah Maswabi had allegedly “financed terrorism” by making an electronic funds transfer to the former Director General of the Directorate of Intelligence Services and Security, Colonel Isaac Kgosi. Like some US-influenced countries, Botswana has made a raft of anti-terrorism laws.
On Friday afternoon, the SADC Organ Troika held an extraordinary summit in Gaborone that discussed terrorism. Mixing at least four metaphors, President Mokgweetsi Masisi stated in his opening remarks: “As we all know, terrorism is very cancerous in nature. Once it finds fertile ground, it spreads out like bushfire. There is, therefore, an absolute need to urgently nip it in the bud before it engulfs the entire region.”
At the precise moment that Masisi uttered those words, there was still no definition and recognition of terrorism in public international law. Odder still, terrorism occurs across international borders and there is absolute need for the international community to agree on what terrorism is. Perhaps the oddest aspect is that the very countries that are forever on their soapbox about terrorism, have repeatedly thwarted attempts by an Arab country to have the international community give terrorism a legal character. Through its representatives at the United Nations, Syria has long wanted this community to legally define terrorism but the western nations that control the UN (notably the US) have frustrated such attempt. The same US produces an annual list of countries that sponsor terrorism – which it doesn’t want legally defined.
It can’t be too difficult to discern why the west would not want terrorism to be defined: it has a very long history of engaging in multi-form terrorism and to this date, still engages in such terrorism. Declassified Central Intelligence Agency records prove the latter point. As a colonial power, Britain carried out acts of terrorism in territories that it controlled, including in the Bechuanaland Protectorate. Cuba is a permanent fixture on the US’ state sponsors of terrorism list and once before, a Cuban Ambassador to Botswana has stated that if her country had to produce its own list, it would put the US on it. That view is held by most of the UN representatives and the issue of what constitutes terrorism would basically be decided by voting. Western nations that sponsor terrorism know that the outcome of the vote will not favour them.