SADC logo

SADC logo

Botswana’s President Khama stayed away from the recent summit meeting of the Southern African Development Community because Robert Mugabe was attending, and Botswana does not recognize his government. This increases pressure on the SADC to deal with the Zimbabwe political situation But there are also rumors that President Khama is motivated by an interest in hosting AFRICOM. Of course some of these reports come from Zimbabwe as a counter move against Botswana’s boycott. From Kenya’s The Nation:

The Herald newspaper, a [Zimbabwean] government mouthpiece, claimed that the main reason Botswana boycotted the summit was because it wanted to pull out of the regional grouping on the orders of the United States.

Mbeki has been brokering a deal during the course of the SADC summit to work out some sort of compromise government in Zimbabwe. They did not achieve anything at the summit, but Mbeki intends to go to Harare later this week and continue his efforts. I found the observations of Sentletse Diakanyo interesting:

It may perhaps be appropriate to examine what could be motivating Ian Khama to remain stubborn when the political landscape in Zimbabwe is shifting. Botswana has very close and historic ties with Britain and we can not be certain of the influence that 10 Downing Street still exerts in its former protectorate. Europe is Botswana’s largest trading partner; over 70% of export trade is directed to Europe. It would not be surprising if Botswana was acting to protect its own economic interests and not to offend the position taken by Britain. After all, it is bad manners to bite the hand that feeds you.

Where does the US fit in to all this? In 1980, Botswana entered into a training agreement with US military — a commitment that it has sustained over the years. To date the development of the Botswana military has been sustained primarily through contributions from the US.

Botswana had also recently expressed interest in hosting Africa Command (Africom), when the rest of the SADC countries were hostile to the idea of the US establishing military bases on their soil … Not only did Botswana express its interest, it went further and signed in 2003, under controversial circumstances, the so-called Status-of-Force Agreement (SOFA), a non-surrender pact defining the legal standing of US soldiers stationed abroad.

Maintaining the military support received from the US is important to Botswana and Ian Khama, as a former army commander. Botswana, with a population of a mere 1.8 million, does not have sufficient men in boots to defend itself in case of a military threat. It would appear that Khama does not want to be seen to be showing the Bush Administration a middle finger.

It may after all be a strategic rather than a principled position by Khama to boycott the SADC meeting, confident in the knowledge that a solution will definitely be found; while appeasing his masters and maintaining continued military support, as well as sustaining Botswana’s economic relationship with Europe.

I doubt a truly workable deal will be reached in Zimbabwe anytime soon.  But that does not necessarily negate the speculations about Botswana, its ties to the US, and potential for cooperation with AFRICOM.

This boycott was a real change from Botswana’s foreign policy in the past, which generally was something along the lines of hear, speak, or say no evil about any country.