Let Us Build on The Relationship with Botswana

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In terms of diplomatic jargon, relations between states are always “good” even when they are not so good. Diplomats and presidents have their own way of communicating with each other without necessarily being forthright or truthful about their feelings for one another. They heap praise on each other even when they know they should not. Killer or corrupt presidents such as Idi Amin of Uganda or Sani Abacha of Nigeria used to be credited for “their wisdom and statesmanship” by those they visited. Charles Taylor, who is now an outcast, received the same accolades from some sitting presidents. Much of the time, presidents hide behind diplomatic niceties even when they should be calling a spade a spade. During the past two weeks, Namibia hosted two visiting presidents – President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Festus Mogae of Botswana. We must say however that the exchanges and pleasantries between our president and his counterparts were truly from the heart and well meant. Everything said was not meant to please or flatter them. The thoughts and sentiments expressed came from the heart and reflected the reality of our relations with these two countries and leaders. In the case of Mogae, he had his hands full. Much has been done to enhance cooperation between our two countries. Pohamba poured his heart out to his counterpart. He made concrete proposals and had his guest officiate at projects that would benefit our two countries. Relations between states are usually defined by various factors, be they political, economic or otherwise. But it is also true that personalities significantly add value to such relations. In the case of Namibia and Botswana, the chemistry between Pohamba and Mogae seems to be good. The two men are pragmatic, prudent and less ideological. On this score, they seem to have a meeting of the minds and that should help them forge common ties. Our two countries share common values – respect for human rights and the rule of law, a commitment to democracy and good governance. And so do the two leaders. We also share a common history, heritage and culture. We are bound together by bonds of blood and geography. We not only share a common border, but other resources such as rivers, streams and wildlife. To sum it up, our destiny is one. Namibia and Botswana either survive together and prosper or sink together in despair due to poverty and under development. Ours is a situation where when one of the countries coughs, the other catches the cold. When human and animal disease breaks out in one country, the other cannot be spared and would in all likelihood be affected. It is for these reasons that Namibia and Botswana have to learn to swim together lest they drown together. We must not only stick together as neighbours but also share our successes, trials and tribulations. One of the areas where much needs to be done is trade and tourism. Whereas both our manufacturing base as well as buying power is too small owing to our population sizes, we could still try to turn those into fortunes, however modest. It is also true that we produce the same type of basic goods. But surely, there must be exceptions and that is what we must explore further. Granted, we all have rivers, similar game species and game reserves. Similarly, we all produce almost the same food types: sorghum, millet or mahangu, beef, salt, etc. But what about other things like furniture, tiles, pipes and other items that Botswana produces? Botswana also has an abundance of coal that can fire up our Van Eck power station. Here at home, there is plenty of sea fish and with good marketing, we can feed Batswana with all types of fish. After all, some of them are river people who survive on fish. Our own Windhoek Lager and Tafel are heavily consumed in many towns across Botswana. Let us supply our neighbours with more of our products and vice versa. The good news is that Botswana has acquired a dry dock at Walvis Bay. President Pohamba is also hell bent on a railway line that would link the two countries. Electricity is now flowing from here to border towns in Botswana and is likely to be extended to Gaborone in future. All these should ensure the flow of goods and people between our nations and put us on a good footing as trading partners. Both countries should promote cultural tourism more where our people visit each other’s countries and sample each other’s cuisines and other cultural products instead of waiting for manna to fall from Europe and America. The returns may not be that good but this could herald a good starting point. With incentive packages worked out by the two countries to promote tours by their nationals, chances are that there would be spin offs on both sides of the border and the Trans Kalahari Highway would become a busy route. It is in this spirit that we view the latest visit by President Festus Mogae as a significant milestone in our nation’s efforts to foster good economic cooperation and to him we say: Pula.