President Ian Khama on Wednesday hosted a mini East and Central African conference with two of his counterparts from Uganda and Kenya within an interval of two hours.
The meetings are believed to be Khama’s way of improving relations with fellow African heads of state in addressing pertinent issues involving the continent. While the one-day visit of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta to Botswana-was made public a few days before his arrival, the same cannot be said about his Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni whose arrival was only known a few minutes before he landed at the Sir Seretse Khama international airport. In what is believed to have been some kind of arrangement, president Museveni touched down at least one and half hours before the 10am scheduled time of arrival for his neighbour, Kenyatta and went into talks with President Khama at the airport in a closed meeting which closed out even senior government officials such as permanent secretaries.
The meeting lasted for about 45 minutes before Museveni returned home. This is the second time that Khama has met with Museveni within a short time. They last met in July in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan during that country’s Independence celebrations. Khama has a soft spot for South Sudan and his government is among the first to exchange notes in many fields such as education, mining, civil service, trade and investment. At that meeting, Museveni warned Africans against tribalism and division, stressing that they create room for foreign interference.
Fighting between ethnic groups, cattle raiding and rebellions have blighted South Sudan since it attained independence. Jonglei state has been the worst affected with rebels there accusing the state of marginalising minority groups. At the Juba meeting president Khama urged South Sudanese to continue with the spirit of martyrdom and for the young nation to develop a mechanism for national reconciliation and unity. At the time of going to press no official statement had been issued concerning the meeting of the presidents. However in an interview, Kenya’s High Commissioner to Botswana Jean Kimani said Kenyatta told the Kenyan Diaspora in Botswana that his government appreciates the role they play outside their country.
He encouraged them to make meaningful contribution, as they are Kenyan ambassadors in their own right. She could not be drawn to discuss what the two presidents discussed stating that: “This was their meeting, which I was not party to,” but she emphasised that Botswana and Kenya enjoy longstanding and cordial bilateral relations. She said Kenya appreciates and likes promoting regional trade.
Among issues disussed were of bilateral concerns then economic cooperation between the countries, to speed up the agreement agreed in 2008 to negotiate a Free Trade Area (FTA) between Southern African Development Countries (SADC) Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and East African Community (EAC). The countries have a combined population of about 600 million people and a total GPD of about USD 1.0 trillion. The region is believed to make up half of the African Union in terms of membership as it is about 57 percent of the total population of the AU. It is the leadership’s belief that the FTA will bolster intra regional trade by creating a wider market, increasing investment flow and enhancing competitiveness as well as developing cross regional infrastructure.
The leaders have agreed that the tripartite initiative is a decisive step to achieve the African vision of establishing the African Economic Community envisioned in the Lagos Plan of Action of 1980, Abuja Treaty of 1991 as well as the resolution of the Africa Union summit held in Gambia in 2006. It is also suspected that Khama and his counterparts discussed a pact on terrorism to pull their resources to fight M23 rebels and other security threats, which threaten the security of the entire central, eastern and southern African region. The M23 rebel group is based in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Thousands of people have fled their homes since the M23 took up arms in 2012. Khama and his peers are also believed to have discussed the contentious issue of war crimes and their adjudication by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Kenyatta and his vice, William Ruto are some of the high-ranking African heads that have been dragged before this court to answer charges of war crimes. Former Liberian president, Charles Taylor has since been sentenced to a long prison term while a warrant of arrest has been issued against Sudan’s president OmarAlBashir.