SADC-PF in Cash Squeeze …cancels SA elections monitory mission
Gaborone – Botswana Parliament this week announced that the SADC Parliamentary Forum has decided to cancel its observation mission to South Africa for the May 7, 2014, Election Day.
In a statement, the legislature says whereas national parliaments pay for participation of the MPs and staff members in the SADC Parliamentary Forum all the other secretarial costs relating to staff travel, hiring of vehicles, hiring of conference venue, and hiring of interpreters and translators are met by the Secretariat through its mobilisation efforts.
SADC Parliamentary Forum has unfortunately not been able to mobilise the required funds resulting in the cancellation of the mission.
This came days after Botswana announced that it will not send election observers to be part of the SADC Election Observer Mission to observe elections in the region, including the upcoming South Africa’s national and provincial elections.
“We wish to clarify that the cancellation affects all delegation of SADC member parliaments and was not motivated by Botswana’s decision not to take part in the election observation missions in SADC member countries.
“The observation mission to Malawi, to which Botswana Parliament will send two Members of Parliament as observers, will not be affected and will go on as planned,” read the parliamentary statement
But the government spokesperson, Jeff Ramsay, has said Botswana would welcome observer missions into the country during elections set for October despite President Ian Khama’s decision to withdraw from observing elections in Southern Africa.
President Khama reiterated Botswana’s position in a statement released this past week.
“In the interest of public understanding and in light of recent media speculations over Botswana’s participation in SADC election observer missions, the Government of Botswana wishes to re-affirm its position to not send official observers to participate in such missions,” the statement said.
“Further to the above, Botswana’s position is based on a matter of principle and thus not targeted at any institution or state,” the statement added.
Meanwhile, observers say Botswana risks becoming isolated regionally following its recent announcement that it will no longer take part in regional election observer missions.
University of Botswana (UB) political lecturer, Professor Zibani Maundeni, has said this move by Botswana only serves to encourage disunity within the region, which he said is in contrast to the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s objective of unifying member states.
“We are unnecessarily isolating ourselves. We are a dependent country. For instance, we depend on South Africa and Namibia and isolating ourselves from neighbouring countries could put us in a difficult position,” he said.
Referring to the government’s announcement that it would accept foreign election observer missions to take part in the upcoming general elections, Maundeni said, other countries could also fight back and stop their observer missions from participating in Botswana’s elections.
“If things go wrong during elections in our country without foreign observers, who is going to mediate because their presence provides legitimacy to elections.
I don’t see the move taken by Botswana as beneficial because we are required to work together for the benefit of the region,” said Maundeni.
He added that “they may have a good reason for that but I don’t think isolating ourselves from the region is a good thing.”
Another UB political analyst, Lesole Machacha, is of the view that Botswana is not qualified to be making such announcements because it does not have a codified foreign policy.
“We do not have a codified foreign policy which is recognisable by international standards.
When you comment on something that borders on foreign diplomacy without a codified foreign policy it becomes a problem.
“In addition to that no convincing reasons have been proffered thus far except that the country is doing that on principle,” he said.
He shared Maundeni’s sentiments that the country’s move was an assault on the region’s call that SADC members’ states should be united.
“What does this mean to other countries, especially in the region where we are regarded as a shining example of democracy when we pull out from participating in the regional election forum without convincing reasons?
Botswana is not clear why it decided not to take part,” said Machacha.
He said the move is also likely to polarise unity within the region citing recent accusation levelled against South Africa that it intended to pull out of Southern African Customs Union (SACU) because it was not benefiting from the organisation like other members.
South African political commentator and former clerk to the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, Drew Cohen, hopes that President Khama reconsiders his stance.
“Botswana's active oversight is integral to ensure the continued realisation of free and fair democratic elections in the region,” he said.
At least five SADC member states are going to the polls this year and Cohen says in such an important year for the region, the community would be foolish to allow President Khama's threat of non-participation to fall on deaf ears.