Dalai Lama visit to test China-Africa relations

By Mpho Tebele

Gaborone – In what is expected to stoke diplomatic tension between Botswana and China, President Ian Khama will officiate at an event where the Dalai Lama will be a guest speaker in the capital Gaborone in August.

The historic visit by the Dalai Lama to Botswana is his only planned destination in Africa.

A statement from the organisers of the event, Mind and Life Institute states that “The historic visit by the Dalai Lama to Botswana is his only planned destination in Africa”.

Botswana and China have had diplomatic relations for over four decades now, and have been supportive of each other’s stance.

While permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Gaeimelwe Goitsemang was recently quoted as saying that the government has not deliberated on the Dalai Lama’s visit and has thus not taken a position, the statement from Mind and Life Institute says that the opening address will be delivered by President Khama.

Conference participants include former Mozambican first lady and ex-wife of the late South African president Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, and Botswana’s former Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe.

Observers are crossing their fingers that the Dalai Lama visits Botswana as they want to see how China would react after the visit. They believe that this would provide a peep show into how China relates with not only Botswana but Africa in general because unlike Botswana, other African countries do not want to offend China because they know how this could affect them economically.

China and the Dalai Lama have been feuding over the sovereignty of Tibet. China pursues an aggressive One-China policy through which it wants the world to accept that there is only one China and no independent states of Taiwan and Tibet. On account of advocating for an independent Tibet, China sees the Dalai Lama as a separatist.

China regularly deploys its economic and political muscle to pressure governments to limit contact with the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama was denied entry into South Africa for three times, in what was believed to be pressure from the Chinese government which accuses the Dalai Lama of secretly seeking Tibet’s independence.

Reports show that in 2009, Africa’s powerhouse, South Africa refused the Dalai Lama entry to attend a Nobel laureates’ conference. The reason given was that the Dalai Lama’s presence would “detract attention from the 2010 football World Cup”. Then, Desmond Tutu, a central figure in the struggle against white minority rule before the end of apartheid in 1994, denounced it as “disgraceful,” accusing the government of “shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure”. That event was cancelled. Reports also indicate that as on the previous occasion, South Africa denied acting under Chinese pressure.

Reports further indicate that in 2011 the Dalai Lama was denied a visa by South Africa as he intended to attend the former Archbishop of Cape Town and fellow Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday celebrations.

The three-day conference in Botswana takes place at the new Indoor Sports Centre on the campus of the University of Botswana in Gaborone, 17-19 August.

The conference, dubbed “Botho/Ubuntu A Dialogue on Spirituality, Science and Humanity with the Dalai Lama,” brings African humanitarian and spiritual leaders, scholars and healers into conversation with the Dalai Lama and international neuroscientists about the African worldview of Botho/Ubuntu (compassion).

The director of Political Affairs at the Chinese Embassy in Botswana, Tang Shenping, reportedly was at pains to explain the circumstances surrounding the Dalai Lama’s impending visit to Botswana.

He said the matter is very sensitive and promised to issue a press release in due course.

“This is a sensitive matter and I’m not at liberty to disclose anything to you at the moment, please. But I promise you that I will issue a press statement relating to this matter,” said Tang.

Conference organisers say that in addition to the two-and-half day Mind & Life Dialogue with scholars, spiritual leaders and scientists on the topic of Botho/Ubuntu, the Dalai Lama will also speak from his heart to the public during a separate address that culminates in his three days in Botswana. The public address on Saturday 19 August will include a musical performance by special guest, Vusi Mahlasela.

Thupten Jinpa, chair of the Mind & Life Institute’s Board of Directors and the principal English interpreter to the Dalai Lama since 1985, described the upcoming conference in Gaborone as a historic opportunity for the people of Africa to benefit from the unique wisdom of “His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as he encounters profound issues of modern African society through the lens of Botho/Ubuntu”.

Guided by presentations and conversations with an international panel of experts, the conference will explore African issues, from its sacred pre-colonial history to the importance of gender equality, healthy communities and peaceful coexistence.

June 2017
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