from ODIRILE TOTENG in Gaborone, Botswana
GABORONE – ZIMBABWE and Botswana have set in motion processes poised to mend relations strained by the former’s tainted human rights record under the leadership of the now deposed president, Robert Mugabe, over the past decade.
On Monday, Mugabe’s successor and ex-deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, received a warm welcome from his host, Botswana President Ian Khama ahead of bilateral talks at his office in the capital Gaborone.
Mnangagwa, who is on a regional tour to drum up support from governments and investors, was visiting Zimbabwe’s western neighbour for the first since his inauguration in November last year following the military’s intervention in the ruling Zanu-PF party’s internal battles.
Khama was among a handful of regional leaders that attended Mnangagwa’s inauguration. It is believed Khama invited Mnangwagwa to his country
during the historic event.
In the days leading to Mugabe’s ouster, Khama, one of the fiercest critics of the Zimbabwean strongman, penned an open letter urging him to resign.
On Monday, Khama cordially welcomed his Zimbabwean counterpart.
Upon arrival, Mnangagwa was treated to a majestic welcome ceremony, full military honours, a 21-gun salute and traditional performances.
Mnangagwa pledged his government’s commitment to revive relations between the two former British colonies after years of diplomatic spats for the better part of the last decade.
“It was imperative that Zimbabwe and Botswana get back on the right track before President Khama leaves office,” Mnangagwa said.
Khama will leave office on March 31 after ten years at the helm of the minerals rich country for ten years.
Mokgweetsi Masisi the current Vice President who was present during the bilateral talks, will succeed him until the elections set for 2019.
Khama was elected as Botswana’s fourth president in April 2008. This coincided with violent polls that retained Mugabe in power for the umpteenth time since 1980. Defeated by longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai in the first round of polls, Mugabe’s supporters and the military unleashed a deadly orgy of violence that the opposition reported claimed the lives of more than 150 of its followers.
The grave violations sparked a diplomatic row with Khama’s government with the Botswana leader being the sole voice in the region rejecting the election of Mugabe.
Khama would later boycott a summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in protest of the regional bloc recognising the
“illegitimate” regime in Zimbabwe.
The same year, foreign minister Phandu Skelemani stated that all countries bordering Zimbabwe (Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia) must close their border with the country to put pressure on the Mugabe regime.
Botswana has seen an influx of refugees from Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean state media alleged human rights abuses against the migrants.
Mugabe’s government also blamed Botswana of conniving with powerful Western nations to effect regime change in Zimbabwe.
Botswana has also been seen as sympathetic to the Zimbabwean opposition, further incurring the wrath of its eastern neighbour.
Speaking at the onset of the bilateral talks with Mnangagwa, Khama, was hopeful of the revival of ties.
“The developments in Zimbabwe have given Botswana an opportunity to deepen cooperation,” Khama said.
Mnangagwa was scheduled to address the Botswana Parliament during the two-day visit ending on Tuesday.
The State Visit was preceded by the the 12th Session of the Botswana -Zimbabwe Joint Permanent Commission on Cooperation (JPCC).
Dr Pelonomi Venson Moitoi Minister of Internatioonal Affairs and Cooperation of t Botswana, and Rtd Lt General Dr Sibusiso Moyo, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Zimbabwe co-chaired the session.
The JPCC discussed a wide range of issues with a view to broaden and deepen bilateral cooperation in areas such as trade and investment promotion, energy, control of trans-boundary animal diseases, tourism promotion , education, health and transportation.
A number of agreements were set to be signed.
– APA / CAJ News