Sunday, May 22, 2022

The Syrian war and Botswana’s position

So many things have happened lately both within and beyond our borders that should be of interest to many Batswana. Obviously, there has been the drubbing of the Zebras by Bafana Bafana. Also, the crisis of violent crimes in which lives have been lost cannot be ignored despite claims to the contrary by our leaders. What about the perennial battle between government and trade unions? And the rot visiting our parastatals somehow cannot be addressed. The list is endless. However, the interest of this instalment is on the recent position expressed by Botswana on the Syrian conflict.

I mean who can ignore the daily suffering we witness in Syria? This issue, in particular, has brought back dark memories of the Iraq war to the great majority across the world. Untold sufferings became the norm for the majority of Iraqis as a result of misguided western intervention in search of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). We now know that Iraq never possessed WMDs. But nobody could stop the war then as it appears to be the case now. The similarities of Iraq and Syria, certainly, are exhaustive. But where the two differ is largely on how they have come to find themselves in the current mess, and importantly for this instalment, where Botswana stands on the matter.

What started as a peaceful protest in Syria over the past two years or so has degenerated into a full civil war. The genesis of the war was largely the need for freedom by a people who have lived most of their lives under purportedly a dictatorial rule. Syrians, at least this is what the western media wants us to believe were tired of more than four decades of the Assad rule. They have had enough of it and wanted change. The regime, however, did not take kind to such demands for an open society. A violent repression unfolded in which many lives were lost and, sadly continues to be the case. This was met by strong resistance by groups of rebels that enjoyed high profile military defections. Against that background, a bloody civil war culminated which have dragged on for far too long and also managed to divide international opinion on the efficacy of military intervention or lack thereof in the context of an alleged use of chemical weapons.

In the aftermath of the alleged use of chemical weapons we have seen western powers going on an overdrive making a case for military intervention. In the eyes of the Americans and their allies, Assad has crossed the red line. Unfortunately, this view does not enjoy the support of all dominant players. Russia and China, for example, would prefer a political settlement to this crisis. The UN is still divided, of course. In our region, South Africa has pleaded for caution and is therefore against any military intervention within the support of UN. Interestingly, the mood across the major western economies is against the war. I mean even the Americans overwhelmingly do not support their president on this one. This is where the story gets messy.

Botswana, yet again has taken a position calling for military intervention in Syria as was the case in Libya. When I first heard the news from my colleagues, I thought they were joking. But I was not surprised when I came to confirm their statements. Indeed, we are for a military solution to a political question. As I have indicated, I was not surprised by the position held by Gaborone. We have come to be a voice, a persistent lone voice for that matter in the region, on issues that are either too distant or of no significance to our national interests. Get me right, I do not imply that because the Syrian conflict is too far removed from our borders it does not in any way demand strong criticism for the horrendous impact it has had on its people. Certainly, we should condemn, in the strongest possible terms, any violation of standing international law. This we did, but I suspect from a far less informed position.

To be honest, there is still scanty available information on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Damascus. Yes, there is information confirming their use, but there is nothing clear about who employed such chemicals. Of course, the UN team of inspectors have gathered information from the alleged site of attack. But they have not yet submitted their findings to the UN. And more importantly, their assignment was not about establishing who employed such weapons. As a result, some major powers are the ones who claim to have information linking Assad to the attack. But within this group, again are clear differences. At best, no conclusive information is available that tie Assad to the massacre and, therefore, justify the use of force against his regime.

The question then for us Batswana is why should we be in a hurry to call for a military action given limited information on the matter? Unsurprisingly, some American legislators are not so convinced that war is the solution. But again, we shouldn’t forget that the same Americans wanted the world to trust them on the Iraqi question. They won the discourse despite subsequent findings to the contrary. In other words, President Bush and his company sold the world a dummy to attack Saddam. Given the mucky world politics wouldn’t it be wise for our leaders to be patient on this one? Yes, we have disregarded everybody in the past and the results were terrible. Remember Bingu wa Mutharika’s visit to our shores? Had we been cautious in the way we do things, perhaps we could have avoided inviting a despotic leader to come and officiate at the opening of the country’s major infrastructural developments in Lobatse. After all, in the land of blind, the one-eyed man is king.

But this shouldn’t be the case. We have a history in which we lead by example. We were revered despite our size. We commanded respect amongst our counterparts. We didn’t engage to impress but to help find solutions to complex challenges many of our neighbours faced. It didn’t happen accidentally. Of course, we had a leadership which played cautiously. They deeply understood challenges small states faced in foreign policy arena. But again, things were going well generally for us, socio-economic and politically. Given the current state of our economy and related social ills, however, one is left wondering if this posturing on Syria is meant to distract our attention from pressing internal matters. I just hope I am wrong on this one.

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