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The Dalai Lama, again…

Publishing Date : 12 March, 2019


Nation states seek their own place under the shine internationally. When engaging with others, the primary guiding principle is often some form of rational self-interest. Both realists and liberals would acknowledge that states pursue their own interests- and perhaps only differ on how and the degree of brutality with which each may pursue what it considers vital national interests. Out of this, comes the Dalai Lama, a spiritual leader of the Tibetan people who have been at loggerheads with China for a long time.

An otherwise good man seeking the right to self-determination for his people. But that China is quite stubborn an unwilling to yield over territories it considers vital to its non-negotiable ‘One China’ policy is clear. Now there is a Mexican standoff, Former President Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama has an invitation to an event hosted by the Dalai Lama, and the Botswana Government is unyielding in not supporting the trip. A good number of people have been wondering if this is a case of President Masisi making life difficult for his predecessor. And objective answer to this conundrum maybe found.

China incorporated Tibet sometime back in 1951 after an uprising that sought to establish the area as an independent territory. An agreement was entered into by China and the Tibetan leaders to be incorporated- Tibetans largely say such was under duress. This has led to decades of hostility between China and Tibet-a territory China considers her own, and whose leaders (the Dalai Lama is Tibet’s spiritual leader) considers not a part of China.

But note this- this territory had actually been a part of China until a British invasion of the territory in 1904, which paved way to the region gaining a great deal of autonomy in 1913 or thereabout. China has therefore declared that it would not entertain any machinations for an independent Tibet as this would also open up China to similar claims from Taiwan and other territories even. This policy has been subject of major disagreements with the United States, who believe Tibet and other territories should have the right to self-determination.

Given the history of this conflict and its intricate nature, it suffices to say Botswana is of no strategic positioning to solve it. Getting involved- even by proxy- as may be interpreted by a guest facilitated by the Republic of Botswana at such a gathering as the Dalai Lama is having. Our facilitation as a country would serve no purpose more so that conflict with China is not anywhere near the priorities of the current administration.

It matters not whether this administration will achieve good results with China. The bottom-line is that this administration has decided to mend relations with China and make China an important trading ally. Anything that goes against this interest- which forms a part of our national interests- cannot be tolerated. Tolerating any such would be a sign of weakness by the Presidency- the first duty of any Statesman internationally is to seek that which is in the interest of his or her nation. It would be severe dereliction of duty for the Government of Botswana to accept such machinations.

If this were a domestic matter of the Former President seeking to attend a meeting or other such gathering, I would find it fitting that he be facilitated without fuss. If it were a case of him travelling for a gathering that has no potential to upset our relations with a country with which we seek to mend relations and gain much more from trade wise it would certainly be ok that he be allowed to do as he pleases.

But such is not the case and this should not be misconstrued as an affront on his entitlements and privileges. Entitlements may be tempered with where the national interest is judged, in the good judgement of an incumbent President, to be in jeopardy as a result of conferring any such. The collective is more important than any individual, even though individuals have liberties- such liberties must not harm those of the commonwealth. In this particular case, the liberties that duly should be enjoyed by the Former President are in conflict with those of the commonwealth, and as such in this particular case ought to be curtailed. This is not hate and it is not petty- it is a determination in the interest of the Republic.

And it is not like anyone thinks the Former President is not a patriot. There is no greater patriotic duty than serving in the military. The oath itself is one of patriotism and it basically condemns one to death in defense of thy fatherland if need be. A man who has served in the military then cannot quite be said to not be a patriot. But their judgment may be clouded by other considerations- we do know that President Khama previously thought the Chinese had fleeced us of lots of money through shoddy works and incomplete projects. And this was true.

His policy at that point in time may have been to perhaps not look East anymore. And he was well within his rights to do so if that was his judgement as President. The big difference now is that there is a new President and he has made it clear he intends on cooperating with China. The former, who had thought negative of the relationship with Chinese contractors especially, ought to then maintain a safe distance and let the new policy manifest. It need not reflect what he would do or prefer.

And by the way, it is not a case of thinking he will speak ill of the country or the new administration while at the gathering. It is more a case of what our partner in China will perceive such facilitation as. A former President travelling with the facilitation of the state is not ordinary. And as such may be perceived to be doing the bidding of the sending state. This is particularly the case when such a visit touches on interest considered vital by the other party.

But what of the rights of Tibetans? These are important but when acting in the international arena, states are largely guided by what is in their interest. They often pursue a realist approach that premises their selfish interests. Morality in such matters, but no more than when it is convenient. In actual fact, even liberals who often speak of cooperation and win-win situations do know that in reality states act in their self-interest. You are lucky when your interests coincide on matters- and on the matter of Tibet there is absolutely no way that our interests and those of China converge.

And in any case, we have no real chance at bringing about a solution to this decades long conflict. More resourced nations have tried to put pressure on China without success. We have neither the soft nor hard power to bring China to a settlement they vitally oppose. So then, why bother? Or why be seen by China to be meddling? I mean, if we wanted to meddle then we might as well do it in a grand and not low key manner that attracts more sanctions than it brings the conflict to anywhere closer to a solution.

The President of the Republic has made the right call to not sanction facilitation for this particular trip. And this does not mean the next trip if for purposes that would further relations between Botswana and her international partners should not be sanctioned. It should be. We must bear in mind that when parliament conferred entitlements on former Presidents had it in mind that former Presidents are senior Statesmen and women who would actually act in furtherance of the interests of the nation at any particular given point in time- and such is largely as determined by a President in office. President Masisi had to make a call, and he made the right call. It should be seen from that context.



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