Correspondent GALE NGAKANE says Amongst a plethora of achievements, triumphs and victories Sir Ketumile won during his Presidency, and hence enhancing his iconic status, was when he ensured Botswana did not go to war with Namibia over Sedudu Island.
Sedudu Island (known as Kasikili Island in Namibia) is a fluvial island in Botswana, formed in the Chobe River adjacent to the border with Namibia which runs down the thalweg of the river immediately north of the island. The island was the subject of a territorial dispute between these countries, resolved by a 1999 decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which ruled in favour of Botswana. The island is approximately five square kilometres in area, with no permanent residents. For several months each year, beginning around March, the island is submerged by floods.
There was a skirmish between Namibian and Botswana soldiers on the island in 1992 which was reported in the local and international media. Namibia said the island belonged to it while Botswana argued it was hers.
With the present President, Ian Khama as the commander of the Botswana Defence Force, the local army had seriously mobilised such that the forest along the banks of Chobe River teemed with military hardware.
Soldiers in camouflage stayed in the shadows of dark trees waiting for the order to start a shooting war. It was said a similar situation was taking place on the other side of the border, which, however was treeless, unless the Namibians had other thoughts of fighting the war with Botswana.
As someone who has always regarded Namibia as a sisterly country, with which a war with would be inexcusable, I was one of the five private media journalists who were rounded up that evening to be told to be at Radio Botswana (while it was still next to the main mall) by 5am.
That morning, we took a chartered flight by 7am at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport and we arrived in Kasane at 9am. Already on the runway was the mediator, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwean President’s aeroplane and as soon as we landed at Kasane, Sam Nujoma’s came cruising in.
I did not see Sir Ketumile’s aircraft, which after the talks, however, anyone, including Yours truly could have taken, but I chose the tortuous two-engine CESSNA from Kalahari Air.
As we approached the venue of the talks, soldiers in green
Khama had his own gun slung across his shoulders, and it was easy to see that he had no time for the talks, but only awaiting a word that talks had collapsed.
The talks centred on which side was the deepest point. At one point there was rumour in the corridor of Chobe Safari Lodge, where the talks were being held, that the talks had collapsed.
However, knowing the kind of person Masire was, there was consensus amongst the assembled journos that peace would prevail at the end of the day.
Around 12noon, the delegations decided to explore the island, whereupon the negotiation delegation climbed aboard a pontoon that is a common mode of transport for those traversing the Chobe waters, and a small boat for the journalists.
It took far less than an hour to have circled the island, which was vegetated with reeds and populated by myriads of birds and small animals, including the lichwe, which we nevertheless did not spot.
After the two the three presidents resumed their talks in the hotel’s convention centre, whereupon in the afternoon, they released a joint statement- a communiqué- in which they decided to end hostilities and resort to dialogue.
They also resolved to take the matter before the International court of Justice.
Under the terms of the Special Agreement, the two countries asked the Court to “determine, on the basis of the Anglo-German Treaty of 1 July 1890 and the rules and principles of international law, the boundary between Namibia and Botswana around Kasikili/Sedudu Island and the legal status of the island”.
Though tension was palpable when we arrived by the evening, it was all song and dance after the agreement was reached.
Eventually, the ICJ ruled in favour of Botswana. Since then, peace has been the order of the day between the two sisterly countries, except for a tiff here and there, especially in regard to the present Botswana policy of shoot-to-kill against poachers said to be coming from neighbouring countries.