Saturday, December 9, 2023

Will Khama also mediate African conflicts like his predecessors?

His father steered Botswana through turbulent political waters and post-retirement, would certainly have assumed roles similar those of his peers like Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kenneth Kaunda of Uganda. Those who came after Sir Seretse Khama would themselves would have illustrious post-retirement careers.

Three years after retirement, Sir Ketumile Masire was entrusted with the delicate task of mediating peace talks between the warring sides in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He would later be overshadowed by UN and South African mediators but that he had been entrusted with such task in the first place spoke volumes about the international community’s regard for him. As speakers at his funeral in Kanye acknowledged, Masire supported liberation struggle movements in the region in ways that he could without compromising Botswana’s national security. His successor, Festus Mogae, is now knee-deep in effort to quell the civil war in South Sudan as the Chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission. Alongside former presidents Joaqim Chissano of Mozambique and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Mogae has led the mediation on the dispute over the boundary along Lake Malawi between Malawi and Tanzania. Two years ago, he led a Commonwealth observer mission for the Lesotho elections. He is also the Chairperson of the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa.

On April 1, 2018, Lieutenant General Ian Khama steps down as Botswana’s fourth president and will be automatically replaced by Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi. A former army commander in a continent where civil wars are as common as rigged elections, Khama would be ideally suited to help resolve conflicts. However, it seems highly unlikely that he will be involved in such work. Firstly, Khama did a good job of isolating himself from the rest of the continent, never once attending an African Union summit in Addis Ababa. By attending such summits and travelling the continent, Masire and Mogae formed personal friendships with leaders. Such friendships are useful in conflict resolution.

Secondly, Khama passed up the opportunity to use his time in office to educate himself about diplomacy. Such learning would have been very important for post-retirement roles in conflict resolution. His personal estimation of himself may convince him that he is a larger-than-life figure but he happens to be the leader of a small African country that has little to no power on the world stage. His self-belief caused him to imagine he had power that he certainly doesn’t have on account of Botswana not having such power. That would be what informed his rooftop diplomacy whose only practical result was alienating Botswana. In one tragic incident (when a visiting Madagascan leader was not accorded VIP treatment) this policy deviated from established diplomatic protocol.

Thirdly, Khama’s rooftop diplomacy proved himself to be an unfair person. He had a lot of problems with the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, Libya and North Korea but never once publicly criticized Swaziland for ill-treating its citizens. At the very least, there must be assumption that a mediator is an essentially fair person.

Lastly, Khama never immersed himself in African politics, never acquainted himself with its intricacies and never looked at issues with African eyes. By adopting a pro-western position on all issues of international politics, Khama alienated not just the country but his own Botswana Democratic Party colleagues. The alienation will most certainly change next when Masisi, who is more pragmatic, takes over. As Botswana ÔÇô and the BDP leadership – moves back into the African fold, Khama will watch his foreign policy and its legacy crumble right before his eyes. If he cares too much foreign policy at a level where it connects with his legacy, then he is going to feel the pain of isolation.


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