Botswana and South Africa have the same problem as the European Union. They all face a flood of illegal immigrants who, as the Global Immigration Services (GIS) admits, undertake ?perilous journeys in search of a better life.?
And there, the similarities end.
That President Festus Mogae of Botswana and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa choose to keep quiet and ignore Robert Mugabe while he destroys not only Zimbabwe but also the sub continent is a pathetic display of self-imposed impotence and outright wretched irresponsibility.
Mugabe has destroyed Zimbabwe and is causing critical economic hiccups to the region, particularly to the ?frontline states? of Botswana and South Africa. He continues to create economic and political hardships for people who then fan out into neighbouring countries to survive.
This hopelessness, and the evident lack of eagerness on the part of regional leaders to resolve the Zimbabwean fiasco, is upsetting the progress and advancement of ordinary Batswana and South Africans.
While regional leaders offer pathetically inadequate and irrelevant excuses, their consistency is in forcing their own people to unwittingly carry the burden and make sacrifices on behalf of a murderous dictator outside their own country.
?There is no human carnage in Zimbabwe,? Botswana?s Foreign Affairs minister, Mompati Merafhe, repeated South Africa?s chorus line, ?but people are being killed in Darfur.?
Thus, Botswana ran away from the Zimbabwean issue, whose proximity alone demands Botswana?s straightforward attention, and chose, instead, to deal with yet another murderous son of Africa half a continent away.
Just like Britain?s Tony Blair has become George W. Bush?s political maid, Botswana watches and repeats South Africa?s mumblings of the nonsensical policy of ?quiet diplomacy.? For years, South Africa, in an effort to appease Mugabe and deny protection to legitimate asylum seekers, repeatedly said there was no war in Zimbabwe, as if that is the only reason people are made to flee their home countries.
But while Botswana and South Africa are busy denigrating foreigners as ?makwerekwere?, ?uninvited guests? and ?illegal immigrants?, the EU has bowed to reality. They looked at and identified the root cause of illegal migration then concluded that one cannot, and never will enjoy their freedom when their neighbours, however distant, have neither. Botswana, of all countries, having shepherded the independence of Zimbabwe and South Africa to fruition, should know this better than most. Botswana walked a tight rope as it played midwife to the births of Zimbabwe, South Africa and other countries. But today, Botswana chooses to look the other way while Zimbabwe is fouling up Botswana?s efforts to improve the lives of its own citizens.
Meanwhile, the EU does not call these desperate Africans derogatory names, not even ?illegal immigrants.? They are proudly referred to as ?irregular immigrants.? Our former colonizers have a heart!
The EU is getting into dialogue with the West African countries of Mali, Guinea and Senegal to stem the tide, so to speak, of illegal immigrants. Unlike the SADC countries, the EU is opening job centres in West Africa to take Africans away for labour because Africa is unable, and, mostly, too unstable and unwilling to help itself. The EU is taking this step ?to curb the flow of irregular immigrants.?
?We want migrants to come here legally then go back to their countries of origin when their contracts have ended,? says Franco Frattini, the European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs.
The job centres, says the GIS, will be ?planned networks aimed at matching supply of ?legal? migrant labour for low-skill sectors to the demand in EU states.?
Botswana and South Africa are using precious resources, a large chunk of it from the EU itself, to deport illegal immigrants. South Africa alone deports far more in excess of 1000 Zimbabweans a week. Last month (January) alone, the Limpopo Province of South Africa arrested 5 438 Zimbabweans, a very small number compared to the number that enters South Africa every month. Donor money that is supposed to benefit locals is being used in these futile exercises as frontline leaders totally shut their eyes to Mugabe, the root cause of their problems.
However, the European Union quickly realised what the root causes of their problems are: bad governance, poverty, corruption and dictatorships, which they had hitherto supported, much as Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and the whole of SADC, do with Zimbabwe?s dictator.
Had Botswana and South Africa taken such an initiative, wouldn?t it have made a difference to both their citizens and the region, knowing as we do that locals shun these jobs and that cattle posts, farms, maids, and other jobs are offered to Zimbabweans by South African and Batswana employers who, noticeably, and for whatever reason, show a puzzling but distinct preference for these ?makwerekwere??
But what is more worrying is that it is not only the low-skilled people who are leaving. Doctors, engineers, pharmacists, IT specialists, etc who are always in demand elsewhere in the world, including in Botswana, simply show up or apply and get job offers as expatriates, causing a national negative referred to as ?the brain drain?.
And this is not peculiar to desperate citizens of Zimbabwe. This year alone, how many local headlines have we read about ?another Motswana? securing a job in America, Europe, Kenya or elsewhere? Oh, Oliphant Mfa, where are you? Look what your kids are doing in other people?s countries!
There are jobs in the EU, just as there are jobs in Botswana, South Africa and elsewhere in the world, that locals shun or are unwilling to take or appreciate.
Be that as it may, Botswana and South Africa and other countries in the region could easily have sternly dealt with Mugabe. If they felt so strongly in solidarity with him, they could have adopted an idea such as the EU did. But now Europeans, for whatever reason, are showing, at least on the surface, more kindness to Africans than our own kindred.
The Spanish government, calling the flood of illegal immigrants ?Spain?s worst humanitarian crisis since its 1930s civil war?, says that last year, 31 000 Africans ?made the hazardous sea crossing to the Canary Islands to enter the EU illegally? and 6 000 of them died trying. Yet, over a period of only five days in December, South African immigration deported 3067 Zimbabwean nationals for allegedly flouting immigration regulations. Zimbabweans do not need boats, cars or bicycles to go to Botswana or South Africa. Who has a bigger problem?
?We always try to do our best to prevent them from coming back, but they still do so in larger numbers than before,? said Godfrey Ditshipi, a senior police officer in Francistown after Botswana?s week-long nationwide raids had netted 6 000 illegal Zimbabwean immigrants last November.
Human Rights Watch says South Africa alone has more than 140 000 asylum seekers and refugees from Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast and the Great Lakes region.
So, it?s either these docile regional leaders really deal with Mugabe or allocate more of their development funds for the deportation of these illegal immigrants who will not stop coming until the situation in Zimbabwe is back to normal. Another solution is, of course, to open job centers and give short term contracts to these desperate people.
Literally by the day, unemployment is increasingly becoming chronic in Botswana, South Africa and the region. Yet thousands of Zimbabweans flood into these two countries and gladly man the cattle posts and work on the farms and do manual labour that locals shun. And it causes resentment.
Would it not be better for these two countries to open up legal opportunities for the migrant workers offering them guaranteed periods of work and, in turn, dealing with and combating undeclared labour stringently?
Botswana and the entire region should forget about peaceful siestas as long as there are hungry Zimbabweans who are unable to care for themselves because of the misplaced support the regional leaders continue to give to Mugabe.
For how many days can a dog squat and watch your hand repeatedly move from plate to mouth?
*Tanonoka Joseph Whande is a Zimbabwean journalist.