Bilateral ties between Botswana and Namibia are good and frankly speaking they are excellent. The best illustration of this is the number and frequency of High Level visits that take place between the two countries.
The President of Botswana, Lt Gen Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama recently paid a successful visit to Namibia. This was his last foreign visit before he retires from the Presidency and passes the baton to his Deputy. This visit followed a similarly successful and historic one by the President of Namibia, Dr Hage G Geingob, to Botswana in July 2015.
President Geingob’s visit to Botswana was the first State visit after His Excellency’s inauguration in March 2015.
The Editor of The Patriot Mathias Haufiku this week sat down with the High Commissioner of Botswana to Namibia to reflect on the quality of the bilateral relationship.
How would you describe the bilateral ties between Namibia and Botswana?
Officials of the two countries meet and make contact with one another on a regular basis. These contacts serve to exchange information on issues of mutual interest, including projects. They serve to advance the many bilateral projects that the two countries are embarking on and above all, they serve to nip in the bud any issues that may negatively impact our good neighbourly relations.
One of the traditional mechanisms that nations use to enhance cooperation is regular consultation forums. Botswana and Namibia have two vibrant Commissions; the Joint Permanent Commission on Cooperation and the Joint Permanent Commission on Defence and Security which are convened annually. Meetings of these Commissions are normally held in the most cordial, friendly and business like atmosphere.
The 26th Joint Permanent Commission on Defence and Security was held last year in October in Botswana along the banks of the Majestic Chobe River in Kasane. Delegations from the two countries were led by relevant Ministers and included very senior officials in the respective countries’ Defence and Security Ministries.
As an envoy to your country I am happy to re-emphasise the outcome of the meeting, which is that,’ the Commission expressed satisfaction over the existing cooperation among the defence and security institutions of the two countries and agreed to further strengthen such cooperation’.
But as pointed out earlier, the ultimate mark of the excellent relations between our two countries was the visit by my President last month. During this visit the two leaders pledged their commitment to the implementation of bilateral projects and continued cooperation in addressing common challenges.
I am convinced that from now on, we will witness activity regarding implementation of the Trans Kalahari Railway project, the One Stop Border Post and many other projects. We will also see stepped up cooperation in addressing challenges in water, energy, health and trade.
The signing of the Boundary Treaty in my view should put to rest any lingering questions about the state of relations between our two countries. Many countries on our continent are unable to resolve border issues because of their sensitivity and polarising nature. Botswana and Namibia have done it and all those who were involved in the exercise deserve accolades.
The monument for this signing will be erected on the NGOMA Bridge.
I must here point out that President Khama was grateful for the reception that he received in Namibia and the cooperation he received at all levels from the Government and people of Namibia during his tenure as President of the Republic of Botswana. You know that people from Botswana frequent the Namibian Coast for holidays, President Khama has promised to visit as a tourist during his retirement.
What are some of the areas you have tackled since your appointment to Namibia?
I have been Botswana High Commissioner to your beautiful country for four years now. Our standard tour of duty is four years, so technically speaking, ‘I am on borrowed time’.
My tour of duty has really been a wonderful experience: I have made fantastic friends here, I have taken on new hobbies and I have never, for a second, ever felt like I was away from home. The similarities between our two countries are countless and have made my life in Namibia very enjoyable.
I had thought that I would list what I consider to be my achievements at the end of my stay here, but since you have asked I am very happy to share with you some of them. I, of course wish to start by acknowledging the role played by all my predecessors. They laid a solid foundation on which I merely laid bricks.
Exchange of High Level Visits
State visits are considered a great achievement by any Envoy. I have had the honour of welcoming my host President, H E Dr Hage Geingob in Botswana and also welcoming my own President, H E Lt Gen Seretse Khama Ian Khama in Namibia.
Signing of a Bilateral Agreement on the Trans Kalahari Railway Project
Cooperation in the transport and logistics sector is critical in opening up additional routes for land locked countries like Botswana and also in advancing the aspirations of developing Walvis Bay into a Regional Logistics Hub.
Therefore, the signing of the Bilateral Agreement on the Trans –Kalahari Railway (TKR) in March 2014 and, subsequently, the Project Management Office Agreement in September was a step towards unlocking trade potential between the two countries and beyond.
Related to this project, the Mission has worked hard to promote optimal utilization of existing infrastructure such as the Trans Kalahari Corridor and the Botswana Dry Port in Walvis Bay.
In this regard, our Dry Port has been developed to a stage where it handles goods destined to Botswana and further afield.
The concept of twinning of Towns and Cities is used all over the world as a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and commercial ties between cities and towns. The High Commission has worked tirelessly in ensuring that existing arrangements are active and that new arrangements are entered into. We are currently processing three proposed twinning arrangements, resuscitation of two dormant ones and reviewing areas of cooperation for some.
I can here single out a very vibrant twinning arrangement between Ghanzi District Council in Botswana and the Omaheke Regional Council in Namibia. In October 2015 the High Commission in partnership with the two Councils organised a, ’Trans –Kalahari Partnership celebration’, in the form of a cultural festival, business, trade and tourism exposition. This Festival highlighted the fact that there is more that should bring our two peoples closer together. The initiative emphasised the importance of working jointly in trade, tourism and cultural matters.
Would you say it is important to strengthen the commercial ties between the two countries
Botswana and Namibia are uniquely similar and examples and areas of our similarities are many. To me it is not just common sense but economic sense that we should strengthen our cooperation and collaboration in almost every field. Unlike some countries, we have a head start in that we share similar languages, customs and cultures, history and geography. The sizes of our population are small at about 2.1 million each. For our industries to achieve economies of scale we need bigger markets. We also need foreign direct investors from all over the world to assist in our economic diversification, employment creation and poverty eradication efforts.
To achieve these objectives, it is imperative that we work closely and jointly to provide a conducive investment climate for both local and foreign investors. Our small and sparse populations are of themselves, not sufficient markets. Fragmentation of our markets is a major challenge. However, coming closer together can, in my view, create for us, Botswana and Namibia, a bigger, better, competitive and vibrant market.
I am, nonetheless, happy that there are already many areas and examples of cooperation between us but I think there is room for more.
Botswana and Namibia have forged a strong relationship based on mutual respect, which has been manifested in cooperation over the years. How should this relationship be maintained?
It is important that we continue to leverage on our existing bilateral cooperation mechanisms, such as the Joint Permanent Commissions to broaden the scope of our cooperation. Regular meetings of these bilateral mechanisms is crucial as they help in addressing emerging concerns as well monitoring implementation of agreed programmes and interventions.
Regular Contacts at official level is key to maintaining good relations in between regular and formal meetings of Commissions. Further, people to people interactions can be even more effective than official interactions. It is for this reason that my office puts premium on swiftly attending to issues that may disturb the smooth passage of Batswana and Namibians between each other’s country. In this area I must point out that we have good, effective and dependable partners at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration.
My Nationals continue to visit the Namibian coast and other places of interest in large numbers every year and I expect this to continue.
Catch Part II in next weeks’ edition