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Does Botswana have a clear foreign policy?

Publishing Date : 06 March, 2018

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

This week I had occasion to participate in a Duma FM talk show hosted by Bonjo Mathumo discussing Botswana’s foreign policy. It became apparent from the callers’ comments that many Batswana do not know their country’s foreign policy.

A country’s foreign policy is the way in which a country interacts with foreign nations and sets standards of interaction for its organizations, corporations and citizens. The question is: does Botswana have a clear foreign policy? Put differently, does Botswana have clear policy positions with respect to how it relates with various countries? Are there clearly stated standards on how our organizations should interact with foreign governments and their counterparts in such countries?

Are there clearly stated standards on how corporations or private companies and parastatals should interact with foreign governments and their counterparts in such countries? Do citizens, i.e. Batswana themselves know how they should conduct themselves in their interactions with foreign nations? Do they know how to conduct themselves when abroad?

In my view, unlike a country’s security intelligence policy, for instance, a country’s foreign policy should be easily accessible to its citizens. It should not be secretive or confidential matter only known by selected government functionaries. If one visited the website for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC) or such websites as Wikipedia, for example, can they find Botswana’s foreign policy clearly stated?

A cursory perusal of the web, for example, indicates the foreign policy of the United States of America(USA) and sets its goals as, inter alia,  "to build and sustain a more democratic, secure, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community. The USA’s foreign policy’s jurisdictional goals also include "export controls, including nonproliferation of nuclear technology and nuclear hardware and measures to foster commercial interaction with foreign nations and to safeguard American business abroad.

Not only that. The other of the goals for the USA’s foreign policy is the fostering of international commodity agreements; international education; and the protection of American citizens abroad and expatriation. On the contrary, Botswana’s foreign policy is not readily accessible, leaving some to think that it is formulated at the whims of an incumbent President or that it does not in fact exist in a codified manner.

Granted, any state President, often guided by his political party’s political ideology, will have preferences in as far as foreign policy is concerned, but such preferences should be hinged on national pillars which survive change of governments and Presidents. But, does Botswana have a clearly defined foreign policy? What is Botswana’s policy, for example, in as far as the protection of its citizens abroad is concerned? What about on fostering commercial interaction with foreign nations and safeguarding Botswana businesses abroad?

One may not like America’s foreign policy. In fact, many condemn it as promoting American supremacy. But, no one can blame the USA for not having a clearly defined foreign policy. Many may not like President Donald Trump, but everybody knows that he promotes the ‘America First’ policy. On the contrary, Botswana’s foreign policy is not known, not even by many high ranking government officials.

Granted, Botswana recognizes such regional and international organizations as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN), but the way it has interacted with such organizations, especially at the beginning of President Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama’s tenure raised eyebrows.

President Khama chose not to attend such organizations’ meetings, delegating his Vice President and ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation instead. This led to the inevitable conclusion that he does not take such organizations seriously. In some instances, Botswana showed a flagrant disregard for such organizations’ decisions, arguing that it is a sovereign state guided only by its national policies and priorities. This, Botswana did, especially when such bodies failed to take decisive action against authoritarian leaders.

In some instances, Botswana has been blamed for taking positions that violate the bilateral agreements it has with certain countries. In 2017, Botswana’s decision to grant a Visa to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, Dalai Lama, to visit the country was objected to by the Peoples Republic of China(PRC) as a violation of the bilateral agreement between Botswana and the PRC.

Initially, Botswana seemed undeterred by China’s threats to invoke diplomatic sanctions against her, but it ultimately relented and the Dalai Lama’s visit, which the Botswana government initially claimed it had nothing to do with, was never to be. Especially at the beginning of President Khama’s tenure, the bedrock of Botswana’s foreign policy seemed to be ‘silent diplomacy’ in terms of which Botswana rarely commented on matters relating to other countries.

But, this position seems to have changed overtime. For instance, Botswana took the lead in condemning former Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe’s totalitarian regime under which millions of Zimbabwean suffered human rights violations. In an unprecedented move in as far as international diplomacy is concerned, President Khama himself, personally, wrote an open letter to former president Robert Mugabe imploring him to resign in order to end the suffering of his people.

Recently, Botswana has openly condemned the international community’s failure to end the Syrian civil war which has cost the lives of thousands of lives, and resulted in thousands of Syrians being displaced to countries all over the world. Botswana has also recently broken ranks with its fellow African countries by condemning the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s Joseph Kabila for refusing to step down as president despite the fact that his constitutional term has long ended.

In a strongly worded statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation stated how Kabila’s intransigence has resulted in millions of Zaireans living under inhumane conditions, and called upon the international community to act urgently to avert a civil war in the DRC.  

Such countries as the USA and the United Kingdom (UK) use such means as international aid to propagate their foreign policies. Under the guise of foreign aid, USAID's work advances USA’s national security and economic prosperity, demonstrates American generosity, and promotes a path to recipient self-reliance and resilience.

Considering the superior position it has enjoined in the continent for years, Botswana has failed to, like the USA, use regional or continental aid to propagate its foreign policy. This, Botswana could have done without necessarily being domineering on its fellow African countries.

The USA has also used its Peace Corps volunteer movement to propagate its foreign policy. The stated mission of the Peace Corps includes providing technical assistance, helping people outside the United States to understand American culture, and helping Americans to understand the cultures of other countries.

But, the truth is that, through the Peace Corps, the USA spreads its culture and ideologies around the world, all of which shape how the recipient countries interact with the USA. This opens opportunities for the USA’s citizens, organizations and corporations in such countries. The spill-over effect is the growth of trade between the USA and the recipient countries, of course in the USA’s favour, something which goes a long way in strengthening America as a world power both economically and militarily.

Largely regarded as a beacon of democracy, peace and stability in the continent, and given its economic prosperity, Botswana could have climbed on this pedestal and started the volunteer movement to send to countries on the continent and region as a means of propagating its foreign policy. Botswana could have established a Foreign Service division under its National Service Programme, Tirelo Sechaba, to send volunteers to other countries, especially in the continent as a way of propagating its foreign policy in the same manner that the American Peace Corps do.

As shown above, foreign policy is not just about making occasional comments about other countries’ conduct. It is the whole system of policies which guide a country’s interaction with other nations. A country’s foreign policy influences its trade and economic growth. It also affects a country’s peace and stability and influences its citizens’ prosperity as global citizens. It is, therefore, integral that a country’s foreign policy is clear so that its citizens leverage from it in their dealings with the world. 



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