By Kuda Bwititi recently in Gaborone, Botswana
Botswana's President Seretse Khama Ian Khama leaves office at the end of next month but before he bows out, he has a burning desire to restore relations with Zimbabwe in a move that augurs well for the broader milieu of regional integration.
For about 10 years, relations between Zimbabwe and Botswana had been frosty owing to a fall out between former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and President Khama, who clashed regularly on diplomatic platforms.
But, in a strong show of intent to mend fences, President Khama invited Zimbabwe’s new President Emmerson Mnangagwa for an official state visit on Monday and Tuesday this week, marking a new epoch in bilateral ties between the two neighbours.
During the visit, Mnangagwa was accompanied by a large entourage of 11 cabinet ministers, who are expected to sign agreements with their counterparts from Botswana in the near future.
The visit to Botswana was historic on many fronts, as it was the first time that a Zimbabwean Head of State had made such a deputation in about a decade while it also saw the two countries elevating their cooperation from a Joint Permanent Commission to a Bi-National Commission that will be supervised by heads of state.
Notable during the visit, Khama who leaves on March 31, formally advised his successor and deputy president Mokgweetsi Masisi to enhance relations with Zimbabwe, which he described as a special friend of his country.
This means that when he takes over on April 1, Masisi will have a clear agenda to keep the flame burning and promote good relations between Harare and Gaborone. Speaking at his offices as the two presidents held bilateral ties with their ministers, Khama said:
“As you are aware, I will be leaving office on the first of March. I would therefore like to introduce you to my successor, my vice president Mokgweetsi Masisi. I have advised him that he should promote sound relations with your country when he takes over on April 1.”
In his address at a luncheon hosted in honour of Mnangagwa, Khama said the 10 years of tension between the two countries had been disadvantageous to both countries.
“It has been over a decade since Botswana and Zimbabwe officially exchanged state visits, a situation that certainly does not augur well for the promotion and sustenance of the spirit of good neighbourliness among friendly states. We are, therefore, very delighted Mr President, to have you in our midst, which is the first time a President of Zimbabwe has paid a state visit during my presidency, not to mention that I too have never been invited on a state visit to Zimbabwe either. So, you come just in time before I end my term of office.”
Khama said the corporation between Zimbabwe and Botswana was not only convenient to both countries but the entire SADC region.
“Your Excellency, let me conclude by reiterating that our friendship and cooperation is very important, not only for our two countries but also for the region. It is in that regard that I wish to reaffirm my personal commitment, and that of my government, to the cooperation and partnership that we share.”
For the SADC to continue to prosper and maintain its achievements, the region should address the challenges that it continues to face, said Khama.
“Although the SADC region remains one of the stable regions on the African continent, we are cautious of becoming complacent. We continue to be seized with regional efforts aimed at addressing the common development challenges that we are currently facing.
“I also wish to recognise the efforts that our region continues to make towards the consolidation of democracy, peace and security as well as realise a coordinated developmental agenda for the region.”
According to President Khama, the strategic and geopolitical similarities between Botswana and Zimbabwe mean that the two neighbours cannot do without each other.
“As landlocked nations, it is imperative that we should deepen our strategic partnerships through the implementation of strategic projects,” he said.