Khama: To be or not to be African

Lovemore Ranga Mataire Senior Writer
As expected, Botswana President Seretse Khama Ian Khama’s take over of SADC’s chairmanship was greeted with euphoric celebrations within the corridors of right-wingers in and outside Africa. Such euphoric anticipations are not without basis. Since assuming power in 2008, President Khama has exhibited an obtrusive contemptuous identity of a lone dissenter when it comes to regional issues.

Most Zimbabweans remember his infamous declaration that rubbished the outcome of the 2013 harmonised elections. His denunciation was largely influenced by the massive loss of his preferred candidate — MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai. He thus went against the grain in denouncing the SADC election report which had endorsed the outcome.

In his typical haughty and megaphonic diplomatic stance, President Khama called for an independent audit of the results, which was seen by many neutrals as not just intrusively childish but a clear sign of one pandering to the whims of the West, particularly the United States and Britain, which at one time contemplated military action against the ZANU PF government of President Mugabe.

There are several historical reasons why most right-wingers and neo-liberals are gleefully anticipating President Khama’s reign to be out of sync with the general African sensibilities and the modus operandi of handling pertinent regional issues.

Many will remember that he is probably the only sitting President in Africa who has consistently called for the arrest of Sudanese President Al-Bashir for alleged crimes against humanity. He has vehemently and boisterously warned that the Sudanese President would be detained if he dared step his foot in Botswana.

His somewhat uncultured Foreign Minister Phundu Skelemani also boasted that: “We have not surrendered the sovereignty of this country to AU.” This was in response to the position taken by the AU not to heed the International Criminal of Court’s (ICC) arrest warrant on Al-Bashir.

Not only that. President Khama was said to have pressured Malawi in 2010 to deny President Al-Bashir’s entry into that country, a decision which caused a diplomatic headache for the AU which had to move the venue of the summit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

His Foreign Minister was again at the centre of a diplomatic tiff when he prematurely berated then Kenyan President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta for his non-committal attitude towards the ICC’s call for him to attend a hearing at the Hague over accusations he, together with his then incoming Deputy President William Ruto, had led an orgy of violence after the 2007 elections.

History also records that Botswana was the first country in the world to cut ties with the then embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi when African countries were in the process of constituting an African mediation team.

President Khama’s errant behaviour gives the impression of a country whose body is geographically situated in Africa while its heart and soul is firmly rooted in some Western capital. What a sad misnomer if not irony that the SADC headquarters are in Botswana!

If truth be told, Botswana’s incongruous attitude is not a sign of any bravery, but a sad manifestation of lack of a clear foreign policy. It is nothing but a higgledy-piggledy knee-jerk reaction that simply mimics the West’s patronising attitude towards countries viewed as deviant to the template of good Africans. Scientists attest to the fact that human beings’ mentality or what they become in life is fundamentally influenced by their unique DNA, upbringing and environment.

In trying to understand why President Khama behaves in the manner he does, we need to contextualise and analyse his DNA and his upbringing.

With all due respect to interracial marriages, there is no doubt that Khama suffers from a serious divided consciousness of being born of an African father Seretse and a British mother Ruther Williams. So in other words, Ian Khama bears within him the DNA of an Anglo-Saxon inherited from his mother.

It was in the dreary cold weather of Chertsey, Surrey, in Britain during his father’s exile that the young Ian was conceived and raised, not the desert sands of Botswana. His feet were never rooted in Botswana as he got his early education at Waterford Kamhlaba, a United World College in Mbabane, Swaziland and the prestigious Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst where the British army trains its officers.

His coming to Botswana past puberty was presumably to retrace his father’s political footsteps, as he was the founding president of that nation.

Seretse Khama was the founding President of Botswana from 1966- 1980. It was during that period that Ruth Williams, a typical British woman, was the First Lady of Botswana.

Given his background, Africans will surely be expecting too much from a man clearly convoluted by his heritage. His blood maternal relatives are white, English, former imperialists, colonialists kinsmen who harboured dreams of perpetually subjugating Africans for the sake of their mineral resources.

In summary, while President Ian Khama’s workload is already cut out and is mainly to be constrained by the regional body’s template, he is surely expected to reflect the amnesia of the other side of his DNA. He will with no doubt attempt to refocus attention on Zimbabwe to once again solicit praise from the West.

But if his agenda would be solely to soil Zimbabwe’s international standing, then sadly his reign would end up being the most inconsequential given the immediate pertinent issues that he has to grapple with. Lesotho, Madagascar and the DRC beckon for his immediate attention. Surely, his kneejerk diplomatic manoeuvres are to be tested and judged.

He actually has very little space to manoeuvre or exercise his megaphone diplomacy as he has already conceded that he needed to follow-up on the enduring legacy left by his predecessor as illustrated by his acceptance speech when he said: “During his tenure (President Mugabe), SADC adopted the industrialisation strategy and roadmap and I think it’s true to say that it indeed was his idea that we embark on this as well as the Revised Regional Indicative Strategy Development Plan and the extraordinary summit held in April of this year (adopted).”

He applauded the summit’s theme of “Accelerating the industrialisation of SADC economies through transformation of natural endowments and improved human capital,” a theme very much within the vision enunciated by President Mugabe.

It will thus be nothing but mere mischief, recklessness and serious abrogation of duty if President Khama was to abandon the trajectory set by President Mugabe, especially as SADC is currently being lauded for being a regional model for economic cooperation in Africa, particularly in terms of reducing Southern Africa’s dependence on foreigners and creating the basis for self-sustaining development in the post-Cold War era.

Southern Africa boasts of having South Africa, a highly industrialised country as a member; a development that provides an engine for economic growth and has the potential to reinvigorate the entire region.

President Khama is surely not oblivious to the fact that a shared colonial past, while not a precondition for effective regional cooperation, nonetheless facilitates smooth communication in terms of language as seven member countries share a common British heritage.

A third factor that must spur President Khama’s focus on economic development is the decline in ideological differences among SADC member states as countries. Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania seem to have abandoned their adherence to Marxist principles of development. There is now a growing consensus among SADC states that effective regional economic cooperation must be based on a shared commitment to some variant of the liberal capitalists’ model of development.

While President Khama will have to deal with regional hotspots like Lesotho and the DRC, there is no doubt he will focus on strategies to enhance economic integration in light of the recent establishment of the Tripartite Free Trade Area made up of existing trade zones: the East African Community (EAC), SADC and COMESA whose combined GDP is over $1 billion and include 600 million people.

In short, the right-wingers celebration of Khama’s SADC reign is nothing but presumptuous.

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