JOHANNESBURG – BOSTWANA, ever at odds with the continent over human rights issues, has defended its foreign policy in the wake of the Southern African country fielding a candidate to take over the chairpersonship of the African Union (AU) Commission.
Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, justified Botswana’s position in Johannesburg, South Africa as she launched her bid for the influential position.
Botswana has broken ranks with fellow African countries, particularly the frosty relations between the continent and the International Criminal Court (ICC) which has been criticised for targeting local leaders and shielding alleged violators of human rights from the powerful countries from prosecution.
When the African Union in 2013 passed a resolution calling into question the conduct of the ICC and claiming that it had unfairly targeted African leaders, Botswana differed and has been the sole voice against the continent nullifying its membership of the ICC.
The threat by the continent to withdraw came when the ICC wanted to prosecute Kenya President, Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, for alleged crimes against humanity during the bloody 2007/08 elections that claimed the lives of up to 1 500 people and displaced an estimated 600 000 victims.
For its stance, Botswana earned the wrath of the Kenya media, which described Botswana as Africa’s “renegade nation.’
Last year, the government of Botswana condemned the failure of the South African government to arrest wanted Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, while he was in Johannesburg for the African Union Summit.
Al-Bashir is wanted for alleged genocide in Darfur between 2003 and 2008.
Botswana President, Ian Khama, did not attend the event despite him being the vice chairperson.
While the controversy surrounding Bashir’s visit to South Africa and demands to arrest him, there were renewed calls among leaders for Africa to withdraw but again Botswana called on all countries that were signatories to the Rome Statute establishing the ICC to play their part.
Botswana, has openly opposed then Chairman of the AU, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe on his campaign to force Africa to abandon the court based at The Hague.
Coincidentally, at a time most Africa has endorsed the Presidency of Mugabe in Zimbabwe, particularly after the 2008 elections, Botswana has been outspoken over the human rights violations in its eastern neighbour.
Speaking in South Africa, Venson-Moitoi, has justified her country’s stance.
“Our foreign policy is built on peace. The peace we wish on ourselves is the same peace we wish on others. It is as simple as that. We oppose impunity,” she said.
“We are a signatory to the Rome Statute because we are against impunity. We are against leaders that expose their people to slaughter. We believe leaders should be held accountable and responsible for their actions. We aim to advance the protection of the ordinary man on the street.”
She conceded the stance had pitted it against fellow African countries.
“We speak boldly. Sometimes the truth is painful and can pit you against your friends.”
Venson-Moitoi defended Khama’s incessant absence at AU summits. Critics have subsequently questioned Botswana’s commitment to AU.
“Khama has handed over the AU responsibilities to the Vice President (Mokgweetsi Masisi currently occupies the position). He has always sent representatives to the summit. No official has ever een withheld from attending,” said the Foreign Minister.
“He (Khama) is not the country. He is not Botswana,” Venson-Moitoi said in defiance of concerns Khama’s snubbing of AU events suggested the country was not committed.
“The country has played its full role to the AU. Khama is not the only President who has failed to attend the AU summit. He has never withheld any payments to the AU.”
She thus dispelled fears Botswana’s stance on such issues would impact negatively on her chances for the AU top post.
“However, I cannot take any of the other candidates lightly. It’s a contest. Eventually, the presidents will decide on the candidate.”
Venson-Moitoi (65) who is the candidate of Southern will vie for the post with former Ugandan deputy president Specioza Naigaga Wandira Kazibwe (60) for the east African region; and Equatorial Guinea’s foreign affairs minister, Agapito Mba Mokuy (51) for the central African region.
– CAJ News