The Sunday Mail
Last week’s inaugural Zimbabwe-Botswana Bi-National Commission (BNC) accomplished a series of milestones set to galvanise relations in all spheres of cooperation between the two countries.
The BNC, which came a year after President Mnangagwa was in Botswana on his first Official State Visit as Head of State, is another feather in the cap for the Second Republic’s re-engagement drive. Several areas of cooperation that were stunted or unexplored during former President Robert Mugabe era, received a jump-start, highlighting the breath-taking intensity of President Mnangagwa’s policy thrust.
Most importantly, the two countries made firm undertakings to come up with implementation mechanisms to ensure that the engagements would bring meaningful benefits for the peoples of both countries.
As President Masisi noted, the engagements; “were not just for the cameras” but for the transformation of the lives of people from both sides of the border.
The commission deliberated on four clusters of cooperation — political and diplomatic, economic, social, and defence and security.
Political and Diplomatic
The two countries agreed to turn over a new leaf and bury past differences that saw relations between them reaching a nadir during former President Mugabe’s era.
It was noted during the summit that the inaugural BNC was the highest level of cooperation in diplomatic relations as the two countries’ Heads of State would meet annually to take stock of progress on new and old areas of cooperation. Before the BNC, diplomatic cooperation between the two countries was founded on the Joint Permanent Commissions that were signed in 1982.
To affirm their commitment to enhanced diplomatic cooperation, the two countries’ Ministers of Foreign Affairs signed two MoUs on Diplomatic Consultations and the Rules of Procedure that will guide the framework for the annual BNCs.
It was decided that the two countries would fully implement the MoU by meeting regularly on the sidelines of regional, continental and international conventions such as SADC, AU and UN. Furthermore, implementation of the MoU would be achieved through review meetings to be held by officials from both countries before the next BNC to be hosted by Botswana early next year. In that spirit it was agreed that a mid-term review of the BNC would be held in Gaborone in November this year.
President Masisi was also emphatic in calling for the unconditional removal of sanctions against Zimbabwe, as he noted that the restrictive measures do not affect Harare alone, but Gaborone was also negatively impacted owing to the structural bonds between the two countries.
In his address at a State banquet held for him at State House on Wednesday, President Masisi said: “We wish to add our voice in calling for the unconditional removal of sanctions on Zimbabwe.
“We recently made the same call as SADC leaders and we all stand by that announcement. “There is no doubt that the sanctions on Zimbabwe are a major stumbling block, with serious deleterious effect on the country’s efforts towards full economic recovery.”
In light of the Zimbabwe is Open for Business mantra, President Mnangagwa made it clear that countries in African would be key partners in the country’s drive to achieve an upper middle income economy by 2030.
It was in this spirit that Botswana extended a 1 billion pula line of credit to Harare to be taken up by the private sector. The importance of this facility cannot be overemphasised as struggling industries, which had not been able to access capital from hostile western funders, now stand in line for a new source of financing.
The two countries also agreed to convene a business forum on the sidelines of future BNCs to enhance trade and investment.
It was also agreed that a Zimbabwe-Botswana business forum would be held at the forthcoming Zimbabwe International Trade Fair where the private sector would be further appraised on the 1 billion pula facility.
In the energy sector, an MoU was signed for energy development while discussions were also held on cost-effective strategies for fuel importation. Plans are also underway for establishment of a One-Stop Border Post at the Plumtree/Ramokgwebana border for the benefit of travellers from both sides. The Kazungula rail and road bridge project which also involves Zambia was given due attention after a resolution was made for ministers of transport from the three countries to meet this year and discuss modalities for the US$259 million project.
“I wish to once again express Zimbabwe’s appreciation to Botswana and Zambia for accepting Zimbabwe’s inclusion in the construction of the Kazungula Bridge and the associated One Border Post.
“My Government will accelerate the conclusion of the necessary preliminary work,” President Mnangagwa said at the State Banquet.
Zimbabwe had virtually abandoned the project during former President Mugabe’s tenure.
President Mnangagwa noted that infrastructure projects provided “immense opportunities for economic cooperation” in the region.
Another project that was deliberated on was the railway line project between Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique and commitment was made for further discussions that are currently ongoing between the three countries. Other areas of cooperation that were touched on include tourism, trans-frontier conservation, animal disease control and forestry and wildlife.
Defence and Security
One hot topic during the deliberations was immigration issues in view of previous reports about ill-treatment of illegal Zimbabwean immigrants.
The BNC made a resolution for the two countries’ immigration authorities to work together and also finalise computerisation of remaining ports of entry between the two countries to facilitate speedy response to complaints and also curb irregular migration.
A decision was also made for the two countries to expedite the process leading to the repatriation of returnees to Zimbabwe who are currently residing at Dukwi refugee camp.
The signing of the MoU on the Extradition Treaty between Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister and Botswana’s Minister of Defence, Justice and Security was also expected to facilitate greater cooperation on all matters related to justice.
Defence Forces from the two countries also undertook to cement cooperation in various areas.
At the State Banquet held last week, President Masisi gave full-backing to Zimbabwe’s economic reform agenda, saying it would uplift the standards of living for the ordinary person in due time. He also lauded President Mnangagwa’s call for political dialogue, saying this would “serve as a catalyst for national reconciliation and also energise the people of Zimbabwe to work together for a common purpose.”
At the end of the BNC, President Masisi donated an assortment of medical drugs worth more than 2 million pula with the consignment expected to ease the current shortage of medicines.
The BNC also encouraged the two parties to sign an MoU that comprehensively addresses issues affecting Zimbabwe’s health sector.
Botswana and Zimbabwe also agreed to open new avenues of cooperation for provision of low cost housing to people from both countries to improve the housing delivery system.
Zimbabwe also proposed a draft MoU on protection of unaccompanied, deported and trafficked children.
Co-operation was also discussed in the media and information sector with the two countries expected to sign an agreement in that regard by September this year.
In his closing remarks at the BNC, President Mnangagwa said “the reinvigoration of our strategic partnership that transcends artificial barriers will undoubtedly give focus and impetus to the economic prosperity and development of our countries.”
It cannot be in doubt that the BNC was a beginning of greater bilateral cooperation between the two countries and another milestone for President Mnangagwa’s re-engagement drive.