Prosper Ndlovu recently in MAUN, Botswana
THE recent Second Session of the Zimbabwe-Botswana Bi-National Commission (BNC) is an expression of the cordial and strong bilateral relations between the two countries, which are founded on longstanding historical, political, economic, social and cultural ties.
Botswana hosted the high-level conference in the resort town of Maun from February 25-28, whose climax was the signing of seven Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) and agreements.
Zimbabwe hosted the inaugural session in Harare at the same time last year and six agreements covering a range of socio-economic and political issues were sealed.
During last week’s indaba, Presidents Mnangagwa and Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, led high-powered delegations comprising nine cabinet ministers each and senior government officials. Both parties reaffirmed the significance of the BNC as a bilateral instrument to give strategic direction to the growing relations between the two neighbouring countries to improve the well-being of their citizens.
It was in this regard that the seven bilateral instruments were inked at the end of the summit on Thursday.
The agreements covered mutual legal assistance in criminal matters; a MoU on health matters; sport development; cooperation in the field of media information and publicity; provision of sustainable, affordable and functional low-cost housing; cooperation in technical, vocational education and training; and employment and labour.
Zimbabwe’s Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa signed the MoU on media and publicity while Dr Obadiah Moyo signed the agreement on health. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Dr Sibusiso Moyo signed the remaining agreements on behalf of Zimbabwe.
A closer look at the agreements shows that, indeed, Botswana and Zimbabwe are bound by common challenges and destiny, which require strong collaboration in the context of regional integration to yield the desired transformation.
For instance, the two countries need to work together in combating crime, which has become a global issue of concern, especially cross-border crime and terrorism.
Mutual legal assistance on these matters would go a long way in enhancing peace and stability in the two countries in particular and the region in general.
Health is also a critical matter in both countries and the agreement on this aspect will ensure harmonised operations.
This is critical for human security, hence Presidents Mnangagwa and Dr Masisi expressed concern over the outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus) which has killed over 3 000 people mainly in China and affected almost 90 000.
Creating formidable social infrastructure and efficient service delivery is central to sustainable development and buttresses tenets of good governance and improving community livelihoods.
The MoUs on provision of sustainable low-cost housing, sport development, employment and labour as well as cooperation on technical education and training concretise this thrust.
Zimbabwe has already made strides on the education front in particular, which would benefit Botswana, while at the same time seeking to tap into existing competencies in the neighbouring country.
The full realisation of these ideals, which are embedded in the national interest of both states, would not only deepen the scope of cooperation, but create wider opportunities for investment, jobs and trade.
The role of the media is critical in mobilising societies in both countries and bringing to the fore those issues that motivate citizens to participate in national development.
Zimbabwe and Botswana want to cooperate in the field of media, information and publicity.
The media sector presents wider employment opportunities in the modern world and offers a platform for cultural expression and identity consciousness.
The biggest challenge now lies in implementation of the agreements to achieve the desired outcomes.
President Mnangagwa called on both parties to “apply greater determination” towards the full implementation of the agreements for the benefit of the two countries and citizens.
“There is no doubt that in working together and consistently, we can achieve much more. Let us introspect and ask ourselves whether we have exerted enough energy and shown adequate commitment to realise progress in our cooperation,” said President Mnangagwa.
Based on the outcomes of the two sessions of the Zimbabwe-Botswana BNC, it is clear the two parties want greater cooperation and success.
The onus is now on officials at the technical level in the respective governments to demonstrate zeal, focus and a sense of urgency, in speedily implementation of the agreed positions.
The private sector in both states is also required to play ball and take advantage of the agreements to expand their prospects. Positive steps are already being taken as demonstrated by the debate during the business forum held on Thursday.
It was attended by about 60 companies drawn from both countries.
“It is, of course, the private sector and not government, which has to identify and seize these opportunities for cooperation in. Our role is primarily to facilitate,” said Industry and Commerce Minister Dr Sekai Nzenza.
The Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) and ZimTrade jointly organised the business forum. The Zimbabwean delegation represented various sectors — including the engineering, clothing and textiles, food, leather and the services sector.
Potential investors from Botswana and the Zimbabwe diaspora community stand to benefit from the existing opportunities in all sectors including manufacturing, mining, agriculture, and services including tourism, telecommunications, information technology, energy, transport and distribution to finance and insurance.
The opportunities extend to beneficiation and value addition of the abundant natural resources and agro-processing in both countries. For Zimbabwe, creating good relations with other countries dovetails with the new dispensation’s re-engagement drive, which buttresses the desire to turn Zimbabwe into an upper middle income society by 2030.
The commitment to deepen relations between the two countries demonstrates the feasibility of the attainment of the regional integration agenda at both the SADC level, and the African continent at large.
Zimbabwe and Botswana have a longstanding trade relationship dating back to the 1950s.
The two states are members of the SADC Free Trade Area, the Tripartite FTA and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which is set to start operating on 1 July, 2020.
However, despite these preferential agreements, bilateral trade figures remain subdued and investment cooperation remains insignificant.
It on this basis that continued business-to-business engagements and at government level, as was the case last week, are expected to inject new energy to boost trade and economic relations between Zimbabwe and Botswana.