Friday, December 4, 2020

What summoning of Botswana’s High Commissioner by Namibian Deputy Prime Minister means

In a press statement that he put out, Namibia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, mentions that he “summoned” Botswana’s High Commissioner, Dr. Batlang Serema, to explain the tragic November 5 incident.

The main plot element of that incident was the gunning down of four Namibian men by a Botswana Defence Force patrol team. BDF suspected the men were poachers but Namibia insists they were mere fishermen. Serema’s summoning is a sub-plot and one worth examining.

The “summoning” of an envoy is part of diplomatic statecraft purposefully designed to embarrass both the envoy and his or her country. Ordinarily, envoys are simply and quietly “invited” to the foreign affairs ministry to discuss some issue. On the other hand, they are “summoned” when there is need for the host country to publicly convey displeasure in a big dispute. We stand to be corrected but this is probably the first time that a Botswana envoy has been summoned – its own foreign affairs ministry has summoned the Zimbabwean and United States ambassadors.

There are no pictures of Serema’s summoning but they would have been very important in revealing the extent of Namibia’s ire. That is because the pictures would have shown the size of the Namibian delegation. The size of the delegation conveys the level of seriousness with which a country views the actions of a country whose envoy it has summoned. Position of the summoner is as revealing and that Serema was summoned by Namibia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation is very telling.

Choice of words are another very important aspect of this diplomatic stagecraft. In French-speaking countries, foreign affairs officials might use the contextually offensive “tu” and not respectful “vous.” Both words means “you” but there is a difference in use: “vous” is used in formal contexts to convey respect and while not offensive in all contexts, “tu” becomes so in the context of a diplomatic summoning. Perhaps the closest local equivalence of the latter is of “wena” and “lona” as used in the Central District by children to address adults. Both words mean “you” but it is considered respectful for children to use the plural form (“lona”) when addressing adults. With regard to the matter at hand, think of a context in which a child uses “wena” as a slight, when addressing an adult, to understand the use of “tu” during a diplomatic summoning.

While it has been frosty at some points during the first few days, the tone of language used by Namibian officials has generally been conciliatory. Government officials, including President Hage Geingob, have called for calm and the latter’s spokesperson has dismissed a protest march that was held on Friday in Windhoek as a mere political gimmick.  

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The Telegraph December 2

Digital edition of The Telegraph, December 2, 2020.