Monday, July 15, 2024

Targeting and picking on Julius Malema and his followers will come back to haunt Botswana

Early in the week we received news that five more South African politicians have been added to a fast growing list of nationals from that country who are now required to enter Botswana under an increasingly dubious and arbitrary system that requires a visa application. All the five are senior members of an opposition party ÔÇô the Economic Freedom Front. They join their leader Julius Malema who the Botswana government blacklisted some months ago. Malema, we all know is a hate figure of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party because he once called its government a puppet regime that had to be overthrown.

This much our government knows for a fact but will never readily admit. It has not escaped our attention that the latest additions came just a few days ahead of a visit here by South African President, Jacob Zuma. Back in South Africa, Zuma is under siege from opposition attacks, led by Malema’s EFF. Publishing the list a few days ahead of Zuma’s official visit to Botswana could hardly have been a coincidence. Naively, Botswana Government is trying to peddle a narrative that it is not only on Zuma’s side but that they also are prepared to go as far as doing his bidding. No person in his right mind would think that for all his domestic difficulties with Julius Malema, there is any chance that Jacob Zuma would countenance, much less celebrate Botswana government’s irrational treatment of Malema and his followers. Zuma does not need Botswana Government to help him deal with Malema. For a country that likes to portray itself as poster child of democracy, what Botswana Government is doing is it is a terrible mistake in both governance and diplomacy.

Our mistaken posture that we are still a leading democracy is all part of innate nostalgia for the good old days long gone by. From the behavior of Government, as a country we clearly are stuck in Stone Age. And we have a lot of catching up to do. In the eyes of many observers, including charitable ones, our international reputation has descended into disrepair. Our immigration policy which capriciously treats those that differ with our government as terrorists can only make our situation worse. And there is more. Based on their attitude, Botswana Government still has a lot to learn on how the modern South African state machinery works. Unlike here, in South Africa the State President does not control anything and everything found under the sun.

In every way imaginable, South Africa is run very much differently from Botswana. Based on their history of apartheid, the South Africans have come up with a system that virtually makes it impossible for a strongman to emerge. When Nelson Mandela said never again shall South Africa go back to anything even faintly resembling the apartheid era, he meant what he said. Based on their demeanour, our government has also grossly misread the political history of South Africa. There is no doubt that Malema has of recent been a painful thorn on Zuma’s behind. But whatever his domestic differences with Malema, Zuma, more than many would still find it repulsive that a foreign country could predicate its foreign policy on what are clear cut cases of thoughtless discrimination against a section of South Africans.

A master of cooked up intelligence himself, Zuma would certainly never buy into a silly fantasy that Malema poses any existential threat to Botswana. To Zuma, Botswana Government’s treatment of Malema and his EFF smacks of meddling in what are essentially South Africa’s internal politics. South Africa has had to contend with excessive historical baggage that found theoretical justification in artificial discrimination the kind of which Botswana government is now administering on Malema and his followers. And Zuma is among those who paid a heavy price for such kind of discrimination. Having done ten years in Robben Island at the hands of a repugnant apartheid government, Zuma is thus bound to be morally offended and even repelled by what Botswana government is doing to a section of his countrymen.

Botswana government’s unthinking overreliance on its discredited intelligence services agencies to inform such high profile diplomatic decisions threatens to stir up a regional geopolitical storm against which Botswana will prove ill prepared to withstand. If Ian Khama’s government continues, without any independently verifiable justification to pick and single out a section of South Africa’s political leadership by this brazenly irrational visa restrictions policy, it will not be long before South Africa retaliates by introducing a blanket visa requirement on all Botswana nationals wishing to travel into South Africa. In fact South Africa is itself very much conversant with the unintended geopolitical ramifications of the game that Botswana is now playing.

A little less than five years ago South Africa started exactly what Botswana is doing against a select few Nigerians. It opened a cesspool of totally unintended diplomatic consequences. Nigeria retaliated by placing leading South African business executives under strict travel requirements. Billions worth of South African investments in Nigeria were badly exposed. In the end it was South Africa that caved in and ultimately relented. It was the South African diplomats who with cap in hand traveled to Lagos to literally beg the Nigerian government to show some mercy. As he excitedly brandishes this whimsical policy like a little boy with a new toy, our presidents is better advised to remember just what is at stake.

Botswana’s history of international relations has been a history of punching above one’s weight. But it was always based on establishing a moral high ground and settling on it. This visa nonsense, for as long as it is an outcome of a dysfunctional and often devious intelligence services agency desperate to justify its existence, is bound to explode back into the faces of its authors. Botswana’s visa requirement on South African politicians akin to sleepwalking into a diplomatic quagmire against which it will be impossible to save the faces of its proponents. It should be retracted before its follies are exposed.

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