by MARCUS MUSHONGA
HARARE, (CAJ News) – BOTSWANA’S confirmation of a multimillion-dollar financial package to Zimbabwe and President Mokgweetsi Masisi visiting Zimbabwe are landmark events in the normalisation of diplomatic ties after a decade of fractured relations.
Events of recent months indicate Botswana closing ranks with its colleagues in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the entire continent over its stance on its eastern neighbour.
Botswana, ever at odds with the continent over human rights issues, particularly when Ian Khama was leader, has over the years broken ranks with SADC and the African Union (AU) over the political and economic problems in Zimbabwe.
Initially cordial at Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, relations have soured between the two neighbours after Botswana condemned the 2008 elections that retained then-Zimbabwe president, Robert Mugabe, in power.
Khama, also elected in 2008, would later boycotted a summit of the SADC in protest of the regional bloc recognising the “illegitimate regime” in Zimbabwe.
Phandu Skelemani, foreign minister at the time, instead attended.
Skelemani is infamous for stating that all countries bordering Zimbabwe must close their border with the country to put pressure on the Mugabe regime.
Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia are Zimbabwe’s neighbours.
Mugabe’s government in response blamed Botswana of conniving with powerful Western nations (particularly the United States) to effect regime change in Zimbabwe.
Botswana has also been seen as sympathetic to the Zimbabwean opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) headed by the late Morgan Tsvangirai, further incurring the wrath of its eastern neighbour.
Zimbabwean state media also cited claims of Botswana’s human rights abuses against the Zimbabwean nationals in the neighbouring country.
However, since the resignation of Mugabe in late 2017, indications were that this would be the beginning of the normalization of relations between the two former British colonies.
Khama had earlier called for Mugabe to resign.
Shortly after his inauguration, Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s successor, embarked on a state visit to Botswana, where he received a warm welcome.
The reciprocal visit to Zimbabwe by Masisi, does not only formalize the mending of relations but come as a major boost for Zimbabwe whose economy is in major move of a financial support.
This came in the form of a Botswana’s confirmation of a BWP1 billion (approximately US$94,5 million) credit facility to its ailing neighbour. The funds are aimed at capacitating the local private sector.
Various agreements were signed during the inaugural Bi-National Commission (BNC).
“This is the beginning of a long journey which is ahead of us,” Masisi said.
Mnangagwa said the BNC had set the legal framework for broad cooperation in the agreed areas.
Six agreements and memoranda of understanding (MoUs) were sealed in a number of areas.
“Through our collective efforts, may the conclusion of these agreements not be an end in itself, but the beginning of greater bilateral cooperation for the benefit of our people and future generations,” Mnangagwa said.
– CAJ News