Botswana Recalls Its Diplomats From Zimbabwe
A Botswana Game Ranger poses for a photograph: three such rangers have been arrested in Zimbabwe and are currently on trial at Hwange Magistrates' Court in Zimbabwe. They had crossed into Zimbabwe in pursuit of rogue lions and were intercepted as they tried to reenter Botswana. Zimbabwe has refused to release them and, as a result, the Botswana government has recalled its top Defence and Intelligence attaches from Harare, demanding that Zimbabwe does the same before the end of this month.
Harare, Zimbabwe, 07 February 2010
The Government of Botswana has recalled its military and intelligence attaches from Zimbabwe and has demanded that Zimbabwe recall its own attaches from Botswana within 30 days.
The diplomatic chaos is a result of the arrest of Tswana (Botswana citizens) game rangers who had allegedly crossed into Zimbabwean territory illegally. They were, say Zimbabwe authorities, also carrying "weapons of war".
The Botswana Foreign Minister, Phandu Skelemani, said in a statement:
"The Government of the Republic of Botswana expects the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe to reciprocate by recalling its Defence and Central Intelligence Organisation attachés from Botswana.
The position of the Government of Botswana is that these two posts should be frozen and never to be filled.”
The Tswana game rangers were arrested near the Zimbabwe resort town of Victoria Falls on January 19 as they tried to re-enter Botswana. They say they had been tracking two lions that had killed cattle at a village on the Botswana side of the border.
They are now facing charges of border jumping, smuggling, and possessing firearms without a license.
Giles Mutsekwa, a Zimbabwe Government co-Minister of Home Affairs and a member of Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC responded by saying that there was nothing the government of Zimbabwe was able to do about the case of the two rangers because the matter was now before the courts.
He says government intervention would have been interference with the due process of the law and the judiciary.
Says the co-Minister of Home Affairs:
"These (Botswana) are our neighbours and they should understand that the matter is before the courts. Government’s intervention was, therefore, limited.”
It is a lame excuse as it is well-known fact that, in diplomatic circles, the government could easily have intervened in in the national interests of Zimbabwe and sat down with Botswana authorities to ensure that an incident such as this would not happen again.
But the incident also exposes the utter powerlessness of Zimbabwe's so-called Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, who is allied to the Botswana government and considers them more friendly to him than they are to Mugabe and ZANU PF.
Yet he was unable to intervene to solve the problem to the satisfaction of his allies.
Most Zimbabweans, however, are not at all bothered by the actions of the Botswana government and they are fully supportive of what the Inclusive Government has done. They have their own grievances, specifically to do with the way Zimbabwean are treated in Botswana, where Zimbabweans who have broken Botswana law have even been subjected to the barbaric punishment of flogging in public.
Still, apart from the vindictiveness of the prosecution of the three game rangers from Botswana, it is an incident that should not have brought matters this far. For the Zimbabwe government, surely even they, paranoid though they are about Botswana (whom Mugabe has accused of training insurgents on behalf of Morgan Tsvangirai), should have realised that there was no way Botswana was going to launch an attack on Zimbabwe using three armed game rangers.
The trespass was clearly a blunder, a mistake on the part of the Tswana rangers and should have been treated as such. At most, they should have just been cautioned.
But the tension between Harare and Gaborone is such that even small, petty issues like these are used to score political points.
It is unlikely that the rangers will now be released before their case is heard in the courts. Botswana's reaction will only make Mugabe want to stick the knife in further in order to infuriate these allies of his Prime Minister even more.