Détente in Botswana-Zimbabwe relations elusive

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Tensions are mounting between Botswana andZimbabwe over the recently held disputedelections that gave Robert Mugabe a seventhterm in offi ce. Former Vice President MompatiMerafhe has fi ttingly described Zimbabwe electionsas a “circus.” The question is on the foreign policyimplications of the position taken and publicizedby Botswana that it will at the Southern AfricanDevelopment Community summit in Malawi call foran independent audit of the elections.Botswana and Zimbabwe fail to reach a longlastingstage of détente, that is relaxation of or arelief of tensions in the previously strained relations.There have been successful diplomatic attempts inthe past between the two countries to repair theiracerbic relationship with a view to restore morecordial relations.


However, something always cropsup that triggers a relapse. There is a need for ashift from the doctrine of confrontational affairs tomore fl exible and good diplomacy. Rapprochementand peaceful coexistence is what the two countriesneed to bolster good neighbourliness and areciprocal relationship. Botswana and Zimbabwehave a lot they need to talk about, including theirshared interest on maintenance of regional securityand economic interest in areas such as energy.The two countries share a long border and shouldpreserve their give-and-take relationship in variousaspects.The disagreements between the countries mainlyemanate from Botswana’s pursuit of supposedly anethical foreign policy anchored on democracy, ruleof law and promotion of human rights. The acerbicrelations can be traced from an infl ux of refugees(mainly economic refugees) who enter the countryillegally at ungazetted areas.


Botswana, particularlyits security forces, has been accused by theZimbabwe state run media of human rights abusesof Zimbabwean illegal immigrants.The country has also been accused of assistingopposition Movement for Democratic Change(MDC) and providing military training to itscadres. This charge remains uncorroborated andunsubstantiated. In 2008, Botswana boldly refusedto recognize Robert Mugabe as a legitimatepresident of Zimbabwe following elections marredby violence and ballot fraud. Botswana’s radicalposition was only changed when the Global PoliticalAgreement was signed leading to the formation ofGovernment of National Unity between ZANU-PFand MDC.Relations were again strained betweenZimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia after the lattertwo countries pulled out from a Memorandum ofUnderstanding, excluding Zimbabwe and signeda new one to undertake the construction of theKazungula Bridge Project on a two-pronged basis.Relations deteriorated more following Harare’sobjection to the transmission of what it called “hatemessages” to Zimbabwe from Voice of Americatransmission facilities in Botswana.


The two neighbours reached a diplomaticdeadlock and near collapse following Zimbabwe’sprosecution of three Botswana wildlife offi cers whohad strayed into the former. Pundits viewed this asa precarious farce as there was nothing resemblingjustice and or the rule of law in Harare’s prosecutionof the wildlife offi cers. Zimbabwe was thought to beplaying an absurd game of trying to use Botswanacitizens as some sort of diplomatic negotiatingpawn. The two countries reached a détente afterthis. However there is now a relapse as there wasalways that risk.Zimbabwe is for all intends and purposes adictatorship.


Botswana is a democracy, albeitwith its fl aws. Consequently, relations will alwaysbe a rollercoaster. Botswana in its pursuit ofethical foreign policy seeks to criticize regimeswhich breach democratic principles and violatehuman rights in their own countries. In the caseof Zimbabwe, it is more understandable becauseZimbabwe’s problems directly affect Botswana.Botswana provides refuge to Zimbabwean citizensand spends millions annually to repatriate illegalimmigrants back.It is diffi cult for Botswana to just ignore what ishappening on the pretext of non interference in theaffairs of Zimbabwe. Botswana, it would seem,cannot afford to be indifferent or nonchalant likeother countries in Africa who are just displayingcasual lack of concern when it comes to Zimbabwe.