Photo shows President Mnangagwa to the left and President Masisi on the right. Taken by Presidential Photographer Joseph Nyadzayo

In discussions about developments in Zimbabwe since the June 2018 elections that elevated Mnangagwa from interim President to elected President, following the military intervention and the downfall of President Mugabe in November 2017, it is often stated that “nothing has really changed”, or even worse, “things are worse than under Mugabe”. Depending on your perspective and choice of indicators, I believe both statements could be correct. I also believe that you can find evidence that point in a much more positive direction.

However, in recent days a meeting has taken place in the charming town of Maun in Botswana, close to the Okavango Delta. This is a place many Danish development workers from Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke remember with fondness from their years working in Botswana – many worked on one of the “Brigades” that offered technical and practical training in various crafts to young people.

But this time around, Maun was the host of much more important personalities, the Presidents of Botswana and Zimbabwe, and a long list of their Ministers. The meeting has not reached the international headlines, but it should have. For it is proof of a major change in the relationship between the two countries. In that sense, President Mnangagwa can truthfully say that he has changed something rather fundamentally. The same could be argued regarding the President of Botswana.

During my years as head of the UN in Botswana 2003-2005, Festus Mogae was the President (1998-2008), and when Mogae stepped down, he was followed by his Vice-President, Ian Khama (2008-2018). Both Mogae and Khama maintained a critical position towards Zimbabwe, and the rule of President Mugabe in particular. Khama received international and regional kudos for his stance against the Zimbabwean government, stating that he would only recognize the government when it included members of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), headed by Morgan Tsvangirai. This actually happened when a Government of National Unity (GNU) was formed in February 2009, with Tsvangirai as Prime Minister.

Following the end of the GNU in 2013 and the forming of a one-party ZANU-PF government after the elections, the relationship once again became somewhat uneasy, also complicated by the influx of illegal migrants crossing the border between Zimbabwe and Botswana. But with this summit in Maun, it seems like the new President of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, who was Vice-President under Ian Khama, has chosen to follow a different approach to the Post-Mugabe government of Emerson Mnagagwa.

It is still not clear to me exactly what the substance of a new relationship between the two countries will be. But readers can consult with the excerpts posted below, from articles in the Zimbabwean newspaper The Herald – and it should be remembered that this is the communication channel of the Zimbabwean government. I have not changed anything in the articles written by Prosper Ndlovu, but I have allowed myself the freedom to delete some sections that do not offer much information.


Zimbabwe-Botswana to sign 7 Memorandums of understanding

The Herald – Prosper Ndlovu in MAUN, Botswana – 28 February 2020

Zimbabwe and Botswana are poised to sign seven agreements and memorandums of understanding (MoUs) today, when Presidents Mnangagwa and Mokgweetsi Masisi meet to mark the climax of the four-day Second Zimbabwe-Botswana Bi-National Commission. The President and his delegation were welcomed at Maun International Airport by Dr Masisi, his International Affairs and Cooperation, Minister Dr Unity Dow, Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Botswana Henry Mukonoweshuro, and Foreign Affairs and International Trade Secretary, Dr James Manzou.

President Mnangagwa was accompanied by Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube; Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa; Health and Child Care Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo; and Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet in Charge of Presidential Communications, Mr George Charamba. Six ministers and other senior Government officials were here since Tuesday for preliminary talks with their Motswana counterparts. The ministers include Dr Sibusiso Moyo (Foreign Affairs and International Trade), Dr Sekesai Nzenza (Industry and Commerce), Cde Oppah Muchinguri (Defence and War Veterans Affairs), Cde Kazembe Kazembe (Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage), Cde Mangaliso Ndlovu (Environment and Tourism) and Cde Winston Chitando (Mines and Mining Development).

Relations between Zimbabwe and Botswana improved in the Second Republic led by President Mnangagwa, whose engagement and re-engagement drive continues to impact positively on economic transformation.

Since the inaugural session of the BNC in Harare in February last year, there have been several meetings between Zimbabwean and Motswana officials in pursuance of the common objectives under the upgraded relations. Dr Dow yesterday said a lot of progress has been recorded since last year’s engagements:

“The status of MoUs and agreements between the two countries currently stands at 39, and 13 of these have been signed, with six MoUs signed during the inaugural session of the BNC in February 2019, in Harare. Twenty-seven (MoUs and agreements) are still pending, out of which I am happy to note that the seven are ready for signature during this session.” she told delegates to a ministerial session held yesterday.”

Dr Moyo, who co-chaired the indaba with Dr Dow, concurred and commended senior officials from the two countries for working hard to lay the foundation for monitoring and implementation of the agreements and decisions.

The decision by Presidents Mnangagwa and Masisi to elevate bilateral engagements to a Bi-National Commission was in recognition of the rising scope and scale of cooperation in the different sectors of the two countries’ economies. Cooperation between Zimbabwe and Botswana covers a wide range of areas including agriculture, energy, health, defense, security, education, culture, tourism, environment, immigration, mining, science and technology, transport, trade and industry as well as sports and recreation.


Masisi calls for Zim sanctions removal

Prosper Ndlovu in MAUN, Botswana – 29 February 2020

Sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the United States and its Western allies are not only suffocating Harare’s economy, but also regional development and should be unconditionally removed, Botswana President Dr Mokgweetsi Eric Masisi has said. In his remarks at a State Banquet he hosted in President Mnangagwa’s honour on Thursday, Dr Masisi said sanctions were eroding investor confidence and impacting on economic revival.

“I also reiterate that Botswana, specifically Botswana, strongly appeals for the repeal of the Zimbabwe Democracy Recovery and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera) and the targeted sanctions programme imposed on Zimbabwe by the United States. We do so fully cognisant of the debilitating impact of sanctions on the economy, her (Zimbabwean) citizens and undoubtedly the economies of the neighbouring countries such as Botswana. The effects of the sanctions are far-reaching. They do not only deny Zimbabwe the dignity and pride it deserves, but also erodes investor confidence, which is essential for the country’s economy to flourish.”

In the context of the United Nations global development agenda under the auspices of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Dr Masisi said it was hypocritical for world leaders to expect Zimbabwe to transform the economy when it remained under the yoke of illegal sanctions. Zimbabwe was slapped with sanctions at the turn of the millennium after redistributing land to correct colonial land ownership imbalances.

“I, in my own way, wonder how we can commit to SDGs while denying Zimbabwean children and its people a fighting chance to realise the SDGs,” said Dr Masisi. “The neighbouring Botswana looks forward to Zimbabwe’s economic recovery. This will be a boom for Botswana and the entire region because of the linkages between our neighbouring economies.”

Dr Masisi commended President Mnangagwa for ongoing socio-economic and political reforms meant to steer the country to prosperity. He noted, in particular, the noble drive towards achieving political stability through engaging opposition parties towards national dialogue under the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD).

Dr Masisi said President Mnangagwa had been a good steward of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defense and Security Cooperation since he became chairman last August.

In response, President Mnangagwa said sanctions continued to weigh heavily on national development efforts. He said Zimbabwe was not burying its head in the sand and will strive to accelerate development in line with Vision 2030 of attaining an upper middle income economy and the aspirations of the SDGs Agenda 2030, and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

“With friends such as Botswana and others who continue to stand with us during difficult times, no challenges are insurmountable,” said President Mnangagwa.

He paid tribute to Botswana and the SADC regional leadership for backing Zimbabwe’s call for the unconditional removal of sanctions in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe.


Zimbabwe-Botswana seal seven bilateral agreements

Prosper Ndlovu in MAUN, Botswana – 29 February 2020

Zimbabwe and Botswana yesterday signed seven bilateral agreements covering housing, education and health, reaffirming their commitment to develop their economies. The agreements covered: mutual legal assistance in criminal matters; a memorandum of understanding on health matters; sport development; cooperation in the field of media information and publicity; provision of sustainable, affordable and functional low-cost housing; cooperation in technical, vocational education and training; and employment and labour.

In his remarks, President Mnangagwa said the high-level bilateral platform helped the two countries identify common challenges and new opportunities that should be addressed between now and the third session of the BNC next year: “There is no doubt that in working together and consistently, we can achieve much more. Let us introspect and ask ourselves whether we have exerted enough energy and shown adequate commitment to realise progress in our cooperation.”

President Masisi reiterated his country’s support for Zimbabwe, including the call for the lifting of sanctions imposed on the country. He concurred with President Mnangagwa on the need to ensure the swift implementation of agreements and decisions throughout the year, as opposed to waking up a few weeks before the convening of the next BNC.

In a joint communiqué issued at the end of the BNC, the two leaders reaffirmed the significance of the BNC as a bilateral instrument to give strategic direction to the growing ties between Zimbabwe and Botswana.They renewed their commitment towards the speedy conclusion of joint regional projects such as the Points Techobanine Heavy Haul Railway Line, which is a vital trade corridor envisaged to contribute towards greater regional integration. They emphasised the need to speed up the completion of joint infrastructure projects, increased synergies on clean energy generation, environmental cooperation and unlocking earnings from their rich wildlife resources.

Botswana and Zimbabwe have set aside substantial areas for wildlife conservation and have coordinated joint programmes such as the convening of the Elephant Summit in Kasane in May last year and the Africa Wildlife Economy Summit in Victoria Falls in June.

“This collaboration is expected to facilitate the contribution of the wildlife estate towards sustainable economic and ecological benefits for the local communities, and Africa as a whole,” reads the communiqué.

The two Heads of State expressed concern over the outbreak of Covid-19 in China and the serious health risks it poses to humanity. They expressed solidarity with the government of China and commended its efforts in dealing with the pandemic