Government changes foreign policy

Al Bashir
Al Bashir

FRANCISTOWN: The Minister of International Affairs and Cooperation Unity Dow says that government has reverted to silent diplomacy in dealing with other countries. Before Ian Khama took over as president in 2008, Botswana, like other fellow African countries, was not vocal on issues of abuse of power by governments.

Dow made the announcement in foreign policy post when responding to questions arising from the country’s perceived silence on current unrests in African countries such as Libya and Sudan.

The turnaround in policy is due to the fact that Botswana does not have a well-defined foreign policy. Therefore, the sitting President dictates terms on how the country interacts with foreign nations.  For example, under Khama, Botswana offered solidarity to the people of Sudan who were allegedly abused by Omar al-Bashir’s regime. But under President Mokgweetsi Masisi, the country has gone silent on the issue.

At one point Botswana went against other African states and declared that she would arrest Sudan’s then President, Omar al-Bashir should he visit the country. Similarly, the International Criminal Court (ICC) wanted the Sudanese leader to be prosecuted for alleged war crimes. Sudan is currently undergoing turmoil following the ousting of Bashir by the military.

Outlining the country’s position on Sudan, Minister Dow stated that: “SADC and AU have structures of engagement on regional matters such as those on peace, defence and security. Our position is an outcome of deliberations undertaken by those structures. We want to speak with one voice. The AU recently released a statement on Sudan.”

The AU recently said that it would give the military three months to hand over power to civilian authorities.

Initially, it had told Sudan’s military leaders to return the country to civilian rule in 15 days or face suspension from the regional body, after the army ousted Bashir in a coup on April 11.

However, the AU later said suspending Sudan would make it more difficult for the new regime to gain international recognition. Coupled with that, it would be difficult to begin discussions with multilateral institutions needed to get its wrecked economy back on track after years of sanctions.

“There was nothing wrong with Khama’s approach. Every leader has his own posture of engaging with the regional and international community. We (Botswana) still believe in the ICC as well justice but the current regime believes in multilateralism,” Dow added. 

Under Khama, Botswana’s relationships with established economies such as China and the USA reached an all time low. For instance, on several occasions Khama’s government attacked china’s policies.

He also accused China of gross violation the rights of its citizens. Most notably the two countries experienced serious tension when Tibetan spiritual leader, Dalai Lama was set invited to speak at an event in Gaborone. China labelled the move an insult to its core interest and the dignity of its people.

On the continental side, Khama adopted positions there were contrary those of either the AU or SADC on pressing regional matters.  Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe is a case in point.

Meanwhile, an international relations expert, Dr Gladys Mokhawa recently pointed out that President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s regime appears to be shifting from megaphone to silent diplomacy. She explained that the turn of events is not surprising, as Botswana has always embraced silent diplomacy. Most African countries adopt such a policy approach, she further said.

“Whether President Masisi will continue with the tradition of quiet diplomacy remains to be seen,” she said in a recent interview with Mmegi. 

Khama’s government was often accused of making impulsive and embarrassing utterances on international matters. Analysts noted that should Botswana continue to respond impulsively on issues of international interest, she risks isolating herself and losing respect from other states.

When he took over, Masisi said that Botswana would ditch the “megaphone” approach. However, he did not state in clear terms his government’s new policy thereby leaving room for speculation. Masisi also visited China, USA and several African states. 

President Masisi’s change in policy is seen in some quarters as a calculated move to restore relations that had collapsed under his predecessor.

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