Botswana, Zimbabwe ties at their greatest in decades

President Emmerson Mnangagwa and President Mokgweetsi Masisi

THE signing of several bilateral agreements under the second Zimbabwe-Botswana Bi-National Commission (BNC), and the call by the latter for the West to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe, complete the revival of relations between the two neighbouring countries.

Ian Khama

Diplomatic ties with Botswana were strained under the previous administrations during the reign of former president Serêtsê Khama Ian Khama.

The two countries signed seven agreements last week in the north-central town of Maun in Botswana. The agreements were signed in such areas as education, health and housing under the watch of host president, Mokgweetsi Masisi and his Zimbabwean counterpart Emmerson Mnangagwa.

These agreements were in addition to the six bilateral accords that were signed during the first session of the BNC in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare last year. The recently-concluded BNC session in Botswana is the latest highlight in the relations between Botswana and Zimbabwe becoming cordial once more after some tiffs in the past two decades.

Initially warm from 1980 when Zimbabwe attained independence, 14 years after its western neighbour and fellow ex-British colony, a series of political developments ruffled the diplomatic ties. The problems are blamed on the previous administrations of Robert Mugabe (now late) and Ian Khama, now an opposition loyalist. The two were known for their hardliner stances, contributing to the relations deteriorating.

During that period, the Khama government tended to meddle in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs and led a campaign of hostility against its northeastern neighbour.  This was at the time Zimbabwe brought about the controversial land reforms to address colonial imbalances. At the height of Zimbabwe’s political problems, it was felt Khama’s administration took sides with the Western governments and Zimbabwe’s opposition, particularly the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The diplomatic standoff peaked in 2008 when Botswana refused to acknowledge Mugabe’s re-election. It even boycotted the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc, whose solidarity with Zimbabwe led to the formation of an inclusive government between Zimbabwe’s political rivals. In a statement that flew in the face of statesmanship, the then Botswana Foreign Affairs minister, Phandu Skelemani in 2008 called on all countries bordering Zimbabwe to close their borders with the country to “bring down Robert Mugabe’s government.” The call was ignored but Botswana maintained crackdown against Zimbabweans entering the country.

State security forces were accused of violating the rights of these Zimbabweans.

New administrations in the respective countries proved to be the tonic needed to soothe relations, which according to analysts, are at their best in recent decades. Masisi has been the president of Botswana since 2018, while Mnangagwa assumed power a year earlier following Mugabe’s resignation.

“The ascension of Masisi and Mnangagwa to power was the foundation of the normalisation of relations. Unlike their predecessors, the two leaders have rejected the hardline approach and are easygoing,” Eric Setlhare, the Gaborone-based analyst, said.

“I would say the relations between Zimbabwe and Botswana are at their most cordial now. The two countries must make the most of the bilateral agreements reached now to fulfil their undoubted economic potential,” he added.

Besides the agreements, the highlight of the BNC was the call by Masisi on Western governments to lift sanctions against Zimbabwe.

“The effects of the sanctions are far-reaching,” Masisi told the media at the BNC session.

“The sanctions deny Zimbabwe dignity and pride and erode investor confidence, which is essential for the country’s economy to flourish,” Masisi added.

Mnangagwa welcomed the call by Botswana for the removal of the sanctions as well as its solidarity with Zimbabweans.

“With friends such as Botswana as well as others (SADC region and entire African continent) who continue to stand with us during difficult times, no challenge is insurmountable,” Mnangagwa said.

Source: CAJ News

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