Foreign policy urgently needed analyst

Venson- Moitoi
Venson- Moitoi

Government should heed calls to come up with a foreign policy as a matter of urgency in order to make sound decisions on pertinent international relations issues, argued analyst Ndulamo Morima.

Speaking of the blunders and embarrassing utterances on international matters that the Ian Khama administration is prone to, the social and political commentator told Mmegi that only a clear foreign policy could help the situation.

“The truth of the matter is that the government’s initial response to issues that border on foreign relations is always impulsive and depends on the emotions of ministers concerned at a particular time. This is because the country lacks a clear foreign policy,” Morima said yesterday.

“Botswana has often gone against the ideals of organisations in which it is part of. This is because the country lacks a clear foreign relations policy. Our leaders, especially ministers, should be careful of what they say because at times they make embarrassing contradictory statements on foreign relations issues,” he said.

He noted that should Botswana continue to respond impulsively on issues of international interest, it risks isolating itself and losing respect from other states.

Morima was speaking in the wake of contradictory statements made by government on the 10 Eritrean players who were seeking asylum in the country. The players were granted asylum on Wednesday this week.

Recently when Khama was in South Korea, he was quoted in that country’s media “berating” North Korea’s human rights record.

He told the South Korea Times in an exclusive interview that Botswana has no ties with his host’s hostile northern neighbour.

Regarding the Eritrean players, Morima said the government might have chosen to grant the players asylum because it feared the embarrassment of losing in court.

“The prospect of the government winning the case in court was very low because the Minister of Justice, Defence and Security Shaw Kgathi had already pre-empted the situation.”

The developments elaborated how Botswana still impulsively takes decisions without assessing damages it could cause to the image of the country.

Initially, Botswana threatened to deport 10 Eritrean players who were seeking political asylum in the country after the match with the senior national football team the Zebras.

“It is simple, they must go back home. You do not come to a country to play football and then you say you want political asylum. There are proper steps to follow and they can do that from their home,” Kgathi said during his initial interview on the Eritrean players.

Kgathi would later say that the government would assess the players’ application for asylum.  The minister’s initial remarks were met with outrage from the public, social commentators and politicians. It also rekindled calls for the country to introduce a foreign relations policy. Critics also questioned why the Botswana government that has been so critical of countries that do not respect human rights would turn its back on the players in their hour of need.

Government spokesperson Jeff Ramsay told Mmegi that the position of the government was always that it would assess the 10 players’s situation.

Asked if the government disowned Kgathi’s initial statement Ramsay said: “The government clarified its statement.”

He said that national interest and international obligations and laws among others, guide the government on how it handles issues pertaining to foreign relations.  

In 2012, the then minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Phandu Skelemani said the government is working on a foreign policy document, which will guide the country on how it conducts its affairs pertaining to international relations.

Early this week the current minister, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi said that she would check the status report of the proposed foreign relations policy.

At the time of going to press, Venson-Moitoi had not responded but it is clear that the government is yet to come up with a foreign policy document.

Just like Ramsay, Venson-Moitoi said in the interim Botswana’s foreign relations is guided by international laws and obligations. 

Until President Ian Khama came into power on April 1, 2008 Botswana was known for her silent diplomacy.  Today it’s a different ball game. Botswana under Khama seems to have adopted roof top diplomacy.

Considered a loner by other countries within the SADC and the AU, Khama has not been shy to publicly critique actions of other nations considered unjust. Botswana has even defied calls by other African countries to take certain positions of solidarity on certain subjects.

In 2013 the late former vice president Mompati Merafhe labeled the general elections in Zimbabwe a circus.

The government initially appeared to back Merafhe’s view. However, days later perhaps sensing danger from SADC elections officers who had endorsed the elections’ results, government disowned Merafhe saying his statement was merely his personal opinion.

Some of government’s critics saw the government’s disowning of Merafhe’s report as a pure public relations exercise.

The bone of contention from government critics was that Merafhe went to Zimbabwe on a government mission and even briefed President Khama on the elections upon his return. 

Botswana government is on record saying that it will arrest Sudan’s President Omar Al Bashir if he sets foot in Botswana even though other African states exercised silent diplomacy on the subject.

In 2013, Skelemani made a pronouncement that the government would not welcome Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta into the country if he does not cooperate with the International Criminal Court.

All this confusion on the government’s stance on international relations is inherent from the reality that Botswana does not have a defined foreign policy as the rest of the decisions have rather depended on the discretions of individuals.

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