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Botswana - Foreign Relations

Botswana, wedged between South Africa and Zimbabwe, has taken a neutral stance in those countries’ ongoing disputes. Additionally, the struggles between South Africa under apartheid and the African National Congress (ANC), and Zimbabwe’s fight against the Patriotic Front left Botswana vulnerable to intervention from both of these countries. Frequently accused of harboring guerillas from these two organizations, Botswana was left with the difficult task of keeping South Africa placated for economic reasons (Botswana depends on South African ports for its imports and exports) while trying to project a progressive image to Black Africa and the West.

The threat of guerilla incursions and occasional attacks by South African commandos searching for ANC operatives pushed Botswana to request military aid from the United States and United Kingdom in 1986. Border tensions between South Africa and Botswana remained high until the decline and eventual end of South Africa’s apartheid government in the early 1990s. In September 1998 the Prime Minister of Lesotho requested international assistance in quelling internal unrest. Only South Africa and Botswana responded. When parts of the Lesotho Army resisted the initial South African troop deployment, Botswanan forces had to be used in a peacekeeping role. Botswanan troops were withdrawn in May 1999.

Botswana puts a premium on economic and political integration in Southern Africa. It seeks to make SADC a working vehicle for economic development, and promotes efforts to make the region self-policing in terms of preventative diplomacy, conflict resolution, and good governance. Botswana often joins the African consensus on major international matters, but frequently takes its own stand on issues it views as matters of principle. Botswana is a member of international organizations such as the United Nations and the African Union (AU). Botswana has taken a leadership role within SADC advocating for a resolution of the crisis in Zimbabwe that fully reflects the will of the Zimbabwean people.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is charged with the responsibility for conducting Botswana’s foreign relations with other countries and regional and international organizations. This includes political relations, economic affairs, social and cultural promotion matters. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation started as a Department of External Affairs in the Office of the President in 1966. A review and rationalization of the structure and functions of the then Department of Foreign Affairs was conducted in 1998 as part of the Job Evaluation Organization and Methods (O&M) and rationalization of ministerial portfolios, an exercise that culminated in Presidential Directive Cab. 73 of 1998, in terms of which, the Department of Foreign Affairs was upgraded to a fully fledged Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Botswana has good relations with its neighbors, and with the international community. A long-standing border dispute with Namibia over the Kasikili/Sedudu islands (in the Chobe river and submerged during the rainy season) was resolved in 1999. Botswana hosts refugees from both Namibia and Zimbabwe, an occasional source of friction with these countries. This has been exacerbated by the crisis in Zimbabwe.

In spite of the country's vulnerability to economic coercion (albeit somewhat alleviated by the discovery and exploitation of diamonds from the late 1960s), and occasional military attack by Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa, ts leader, Seretse Khama was a staunch critic of his white minority-ruled neighbours. Botswana's stance and 'front-line' status meant that, notwithstanding the BDP's political and economic conservatism, the country developed friendly (if perhaps slightly formal) relations with its more radical neighbors.

Botswana has concluded and signed numerous bilateral and regional trade agreements. Some of these agreements provide duty free and quota free market access, while some accord preferential market access to Botswana's goods and services. Botswana is also a member of the World Trade Organisation.

Botswana and Namibia are trying to improve relations. In the past, there have been border disputes, particularly over the Caprivi Strip (a section of Namibia that juts into Botswana) and several islands in the Chobe River. Relations were particularly strained in 1994. In 1995 a Joint Permanent Commission of Cooperation Agreement was signed. This agreement, along with the completion of the Trans-Kalahari road, has helped improve the situation. In 1998, Botswana allowed asylum to secessionists in the Caprivi Strip, further straining relations between the two countries. A problem in the future between Botswana and Namibia will be water; Namibia is facing severe shortages. One promising solution, a pipeline to draw water from the Okavango River, will affect the water supply to Botswana. Botswana is concerned about endangering the Okavango Delta. Although Botswana and Namibia are not hostile, tensions can easily escalate between them.

Relations with South Africa have been stressed in the past, because of instability and a weak border in South Africa. Many of the these issues have been resolved. In 2000, Botswana and South Africa signed a defense and security agreement regarding a focused effort on drug trafficking and illegal immigration. This agreement, and the strong economic and political ties fostered by their membership in the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) have improved relations between Botswana and South Africa.

Botswana has strained relations with neighboring Zimbabwe. Throughout the 1980s a large number of guerillas from the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) entered Botswana with a large flow of refugees from Zimbabwe. Recurrent efforts by the Zimbabwean government to have these dissidents deported has forced Botswana to enforce stricter controls on refugees. In the late 1980s, after the political situation in Zimbabwe stabilized, Botswana revoked refugee status for Zimbabweans forcing most to return home. In 2000, relations again became strained as instability increased. Zimbabweans, fleeing the economic policies of President Robert Mugabe, have strained Botswana’s economy. As a former Botswana Defense Force commander, President Ian Khama was known to have strong sympathies with his Zimbabwean army counterparts, which may inhibit him from facing up to the wretched realities across the border.

Because of history and geography, Botswana has long had deep ties to the economy of South Africa. The Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU), comprised of Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, and South Africa, dates from 1910, and is the world's oldest customs union. Under this arrangement, South Africa has collected levies from customs, sales, and excise duties for all five members, sharing out proceeds based on each country's portion of imports. The exact formula for sharing revenues and the decision-making authority over duties - held exclusively by the Government of South Africa - became increasingly controversial, and the members renegotiated the arrangement in 2001.

A new structure was formally ratified and a SACU Secretariat was established in Windhoek, Namibia. Following South Africa's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO, of which Botswana also is a member), many of the SACU duties are declining, making American products more competitive in Botswana. Botswana signed an Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union in December 2007, and, as a member of SACU, it signed a preferential trade agreement in 2004 with Mercosur.

Botswana is a member of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), and Gaborone hosts the SADC Secretariat's headquarters. SADC has a broad mandate to encourage growth, development, and economic integration in Southern Africa. SADC's Trade Protocol, calls for the elimination of all tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade among the 12 signatory countries. However, implementation of the protocol has been slow and is not yet complete.

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Page last modified: 21-06-2016 14:00:27 ZULU