An elaborate plan by the United States Government to use Botswana as a launching pad for their strategic goals in the Southern African region was in ruins this week as polls revealed a growing rift between Gaborone and Washington.
The Gallup poll published Thursday revealed that Botswana a long-time U.S. ally and largest trade partner, was one of the countries that led declines in approval ratings of US leadership in Africa and Southern African region.
Botswana was among 11 countries in Africa whose approval ratings of U.S. leadership declined by 10 points or more between 2016 and 2017. Most of the 2017 ratings, Gallup said, are new lows.
The Gallup poll sounded the final death knell to the plan in which Botswana was the spark plug in the American ‘smart power’ strategy to assert US influence in Southern Africa.
The plan was so elaborate that the US government even compiled a personal profile of President Lt Gen Ian Khama which they used to manipulate him to do their bidding.
A year after Khama ascended to the presidency, the then American Deputy Chief of Mission in Gaborone, Scott Hamilton presented to the US command a three part report on how the US “smart power” in Botswana could be leveraged to achieve American strategic goals in the region.
The report, compiled in August 2009 came seven months after the then US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton endorsed the use of “smart power” to reassert global US influence.
Hamilton pointed out that, “U.S.-Botswana partnership is a model for what smart power could achieve in Africa.” Hamilton further states that, “This is the first in a series of cables that will address the strategic value of the U.S.-Botswana partnership. Subsequent messages will focus in more detail on the thematic areas outlined below, on the prospects for a “coalition for change” of like-minded countries within the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and offer suggestions for increased U.S.-Botswana engagement.”
Hamilton further states that “Mission Gaborone’s operational goals going forward include: –Promoting a more pragmatic and operationally relevant role for SADC in addressing regional challenges. –Ensuring our relationship with the GOB’s Department of Intelligence and Security strengthens our understanding of regional dynamics.”
A month later, in September 2009 then American Ambassador to Botswana and President Khama’s personal friend Stephen Nolan dispatched another “secret” document to the US command that,” Our policy challenge is to encourage Khama to seek to build alliances with like-minded countries within SADC and the AU and try to influence policy outcomes. Being “right” on issues like Zimbabwe is a virtue, but being effective in ensuring change is harder and more important for Botswana’s longer term interests. We see several potential allies for Khama in the sub-region, including potentially Presidents Kikwete and Zuma, depending on the issues, but it is not yet clear that Khama is willing to invest time in this coalition-building effort. Our view in Gaborone is that personal encouragement by senior USG officials would be the first and most valuable step towards a more regionally effective Khama.
The plan which has been unravelling for sometime was in ruins this week after Botswana’s approval ratings of the American leadership dipped to an all time low following President Donald Trump’s statement that African countries are s#itholes.
Former American Ambassador to Botswana Michelle Gavin who was part of the US Botswana soft power strategy was this week spearheading a strategy to try and undo the damage done by Trump to American strategic interests in Africa.
Michelle Gavin and Johnnie Carson, a former US ambassador to Uganda, Zimbabwe and Kenya organized the letter that was signed by former American ambassadors to 48 African nations urging President Trump to reassess his views on Africa and its citizens after he was reported to have referred to nations there as “shithole countries.”
In the letter to President Trump, 78 former envoys said the U.S. is “safer, healthier, more prosperous and better equipped to solve problems that confront all of humanity when we work with, listen to and learn from our African partners.”
Michelle Gavin even gave an interview to the Wall street journal saying “to hear someone who speaks for the U.S. government speaking about these places in a derogatory way, it felt like there was a collective responsibility to say something.”
Botswana was the first country in the continent to summon the American Ambassador to “express its displeasure” on US President Donald Trump’s “irresponsible, reprehensible and racist” reference to African countries as “shithole countries”.
In a statement, Botswana also demanded clarity on whether it was also regarded as ‘shithole’ country.
Meanwhile the Gallup report states that the median global approval rating of the job performance of U.S. leadership across 134 countries stands at a new low of 30%. This is down nearly 20 points from the 48% approval rating in the last year of President Barack Obama’s administration, and four points lower than the previous low of 34% in the last year of President George W. Bush’s administration. But more important is the shift this has created in the global balance of soft power and what that means for U.S. influence abroad. With its stable approval rating of 41%, Germany has replaced the U.S. as the top-rated global power in the world. The U.S. is now on nearly even footing with China (31%) and barely more popular than Russia (27%) ÔÇö two countries that America sees as rivals seeking to “challenge American influence, values and wealth.”