By Nomalanga Moyo
The Botswana government maintains that its position on Zimbabwe’s recent election outcome has not changed, despite the country not voicing its concerns at the SADC summit in Lilongwe, Malawi.
Going into the summit, Botswana had indicated that it would be demanding that the disputed poll be discussed, and that it would also be calling for an independent audit, following widespread irregularities observed during the poll.
But the summit not only endorsed President Robert Mugabe’s re-election, it also saw him elected the deputy chairperson of the regional bloc, without any public objections from Botswana.
It has now emerged that Botswana’s silence was a result of serious lobbying by Malawian President Joyce Banda, to convince Botswana’s skeptical President to endorse Mugabe’s election.
The Zimbabwe Independent newspaper said Friday it took Banda three days to canvas support for Mugabe, starting with negotiations with the Botswana Foreign Affairs minister Phandu Skelemani, culminating in a tense one-on-one meeting between Mugabe and Ian Khama last Sunday.
“Banda reportedly took Mugabe’s side throughout the meeting, prompting Khama to agree to withdraw his calls for an election re-run,” the Independent said.
Despite going along with the rest of the SADC leaders, a Foreign Affairs Ministry official in Botswana told SW Radio Africa’s Tanonoka Whande on Friday that the country has not changed its stance on the Zim election.
“While Botswana is maintaining its position, they are carefully managing the information they are putting out, I guess because even as Khama is well-known for being vocal, he also does not want to be seen to be antagonising SADC.”
Crisis in Zimbabwe spokesman Thabani Mpofu said most SADC leaders had already pre-empted Botswana’s position by congratulating Mugabe before the summit.
“What is important is that Botswana had already expressed its views about the irregularities it observed during the elections, and it did not alter that position during the summit.
“Even if Khama had spoken, given the applause that the rest of the delegates extended to Mugabe, Khama’s protestations would have been like a dog barking at the sun,” Mpofu said.
Mpofu also observed that by missing the opening ceremony where Mugabe was applauded, Khama had made his displeasure known. It is not clear what the regional leaders, led by Banda, said to shut Khama up.
However, Whande said that most of Africa’s elections have been beset with reports of rigging and irregularities: “It is possible that some skeletons might have been mentioned to buy Khama’s silence.” SW Radio Africa