Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Botswana stance on Zimbabwe deadlock threatens diplomatic relations

By WENE OWINO in Gaborone

The deadlock in the Zimbabwe power-sharing deal is threatening to revive the messy diplomatic confrontation between Zimbabwe and its diamond-rich neighbour, Botswana.

After leading the onslaught against the ZANU-PF government of President Robert Mugabe, Botswana has once again become the first southern African country to speak about the current crisis in Zimbabwe caused by the deadlock over sharing cabinet posts. 

Botswana has publicly indicated that it is not happy about the disagreement between ZANU-PF and the two factions of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MDC) on the division of cabinet posts.

Last Friday, Botswana president Ian Khama fired a thinly veiled broadside at ZANU-PF for causing the current impasse in Zimbabwe.

Speaking in the second city of Francistown near the border with Zimbabwe, Khama said that weeks after the parties in the Zimbabwe crisis signed a power sharing deal, the impasse still continues “due to what I consider to be selfish desires by one of the parties” an indirect reference to Mr Mugabe and ZANU-PF.

Instead of former South African president Mr Thabo Mbeki, Khama has called for an immediate deployment of SADC, African Union and United Nations mediators to resolve the Zimbabwe impasse.

Besides, Khama, the spokesman for the Botswana Foreign Affairs Ministry, Mr Clifford Maribe has said that the deadlock is a grave concern to his country.

“Almost three weeks have elapsed since the agreement was signed and the parties are reportedly deadlocked over how cabinet posts should be divided among the three parties,” Mr Maribe said in a statement.

He called on the mediator in the Zimbabwean crisis, Mr Mbeki to assist the parties in the Zimbabwe dispute to reach an agreement.

Before Mbeki brokered a power-sharing deal in Zimbabwe, Botswana tough stance against the regime was becoming a messy diplomatic headache that threatened to suck in other countries in the region.

University of Botswana political science lecturer, Professor Bertha Osei-Hwedie feels that the confrontation between Botswana and Zimbabwe will be revived if Mugabe continues to act unilaterally. “The statement from the Botswana Ministry of Foreign Affairs is just the first rumble,” she says.

However, she feels that any new confrontation will not cause too much protocol problems in the region because after all, it is a quarrel between politicians and diplomats who always find a way of accommodating each other at international forums.

“Remember that Botswana has indicated that it is willing to talk to Zimbabwe about its crisis. Even during the SADC summit in South Africa, Botswana did not completely boycott because Skelemani went there,” Osei-Hwedie says.

Before Mbeki brokered the Zimbabwe deal, signs had emerged that Botswana’s decision not to recognise Mr Mugabe as president of Zimbabwe was causing diplomatic and protocol problems in the region.

While Botswana was shunning Mr Mugabe other countries in the region had accepted him save for Zambia and Tanzania. This means that Botswana was getting isolated diplomatically because it had started boycotting regional forums where Mr Mugabe was invited. 

It was becoming increasingly obvious that it will be very difficult for Botswana to live with a neighbour whose president it does not recognise. But the power deal offered an easy way for Botswana to recognise Mr Mugabe and to end what was threatening to become an awkward diplomatic confrontation.

After the signing the deal, the state-owned Daily News of Botswana asserted that “a new dawn seems to be on the horizon for Botswana-Zimbabwe relations”.

After two rounds of presidential elections in March and June deepened the simmering socio-political crisis in Zimbabwe, Botswana publicly and frequently stated it does not recognise Mr Mugabe as president of Zimbabwe. Botswana went further and pressed for the suspension of Zimbabwe from continental and regional forums because it does not have a legitimate government.

Botswana claimed that all observers were agreed that the Zimbabwean polls were deeply flawed and did not meet the SADC principles on free and fair elections. Hence the elections did not produce a legitimately elected president.

After the first round of the elections, Botswana rubbed Mr. Mugabe the wrong way by providing political asylum to opposition leader Mr Morgan Tsvangirai who claimed that his life was in danger in Zimbabwe. Botswana then engineered a special regional summit, in Lusaka Zambia to discuss the Zimbabwe situation and hauled Mr Tsvangirai along amidst protests from some countries.

ZANU-PF and Mr Mugabe definitely saw Botswana as a supporter of Mr Tsvangirai, the man they love hate.

When reports emerged that the West might launch a military invasion of Zimbabwe, Botswana was seen as the obvious launching pad. Such reports came amidst claims that Botswana has put its military on high alert because of the Zimbabwe crisis.

Botswana soldiers were said to be patrolling the common border with Zimbabwe partly to control crime, illegal crossings but also to monitor what is going on in the strife-torn neighbouring. Zimbabwe sternly warned Botswana about any hostile military manouvres and said that it is prepared for a fight.

Botswana’s decision to welcome political refugees from Zimbabwe and to highlight their plight further put a dent in the two countries’ relationship.

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