PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s historic State visit to Botswana —the first he has embarked on since he assumed the reins of power in November last year — is instructive in that it resets the relationship between the two countries which dates back to the days of the liberation struggle.
Botswana and Zimbabwe have enjoyed cordial relations since the days of the late founding father of that nation — Sir Seretse Khama — the father to the current President Seretse Khama Ian Khama. Alongside other Frontline States, Botswana played a crucial role in assisting liberation movements like Zanu-PF and PF Zapu to prosecute the armed struggle against white minority rule by providing sanctuary to refugees and a transit route for new recruits destined for bases in Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique.
After Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980, Botswana was among the first countries to establish strong bilateral relations with the new state and that bond was strengthened under successive Presidents such as the late Sir Ketumile Masire and Mr Festus Mogae. There are many Zimbabweans resident in Botswana and most of them are contributing immensely to that country’s economy in various spheres.
The two countries have also been interfacing at various Joint Permanent Commissions on Co-operation which has not only strengthened the ties between the nations but forged a strong bond among their peoples. Botswana and Zimbabwe have co-operated to eradicate the Foot and Mouth Disease which was threatening to wipe out the cattle herd in the Matabeleland provinces and in the areas bordering Zimbabwe on the Botswana side.
Apart from that, the Botswana Meat Commission has been providing the bulk of the cattle slaughtered at the Cold Storage Company in Bulawayo and will likely continue aiding the revival of the parastatal following the injection of much-needed capital by the National Social Security Authority.
Cross border trade between Botswana and Zimbabwe has always thrived and will likely escalate following President Mnangagwa’s visit which marks a clean break from the past as the two countries have made a firm commitment to deepen co-operation and elevate their diplomatic engagements to a Bi-National Commission to be convened at Heads of State and Government level.
This is significant because it has been a decade since a Zimbabwean Head of State visited Botswana on a State visit and the Bi-National Commission will galvanise co-operation at all levels. Presidents Mnangagwa and Khama seem to have forged a close relationship as the Zimbabwean leader chose Botswana as the destination for his first State Visit while President Khama graced the former’s inauguration in Harare last November.
In his remarks at a luncheon hosted by President Khama in Gaborone on Monday, President Mnangagwa said the decision to upgrade engagement to a Bi-National Commission was the dawn of a new era for relations between the two countries. “We have, by agreement, elevated our principal co-operation mechanism from a Joint Permanent Commission on Cooperation to a Bi-National Commission,” he said.
“The adoption of a Bi-National Commission marks the beginning of a new economic era in the cooperation between our two Governments. It is now business unusual. I am confident that the Agreements and Memoranda of Understanding will facilitate greater cooperation between our sister countries in the economic, political and social spheres.” President Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe was committed to playing its part to strengthen relations with Botswana under a new chapter that restores friendship and co-operation.
“It is a chapter informed not only by the long history between our two countries, but one also inspired by the great prospects and possibilities in the future that lies ahead. Zimbabwe is determined to play its part to ensure that relations between our two countries reach new heights.”
On his part, President Khama said President Mnangagwa’s visit had cast new light on relations between the two 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 a paid a visit during my Presidency, not to mention that I too have never been invited to a State visit to Zimbabwe either. So you just came in time before I end my term of office.”
We applaud the two countries for putting the past behind them and seeking to chart a new path of strong bilateral relations for the benefit of their people.
Zimbabwe has a lot to learn from Botswana’s economic prowess particularly in the diamond sector and President Mnangagwa’s visit will provide fresh impetus for the consolidation and revitalisation of the two countries’ relations.
As landlocked countries which share a border, Botswana and Zimbabwe need to deepen their strategic partnership through implementation of strategic projects. President Mnangagwa’s visit has laid the ground for stronger ties.