Dalai Lama elated at maiden visit to Africa amid confusion ….as Gaborone says it has not granted him visa
By Mpho Tebele
Gaborone -The Dalai Lama has broken his silence by expressing happiness at his visit to Botswana where he will speak at a conference about botho/ubuntu, a belief in humanity’s goodness.
In a message sent to this publication, the Dalai Lama stated that he was “looking forward to being in Botswana and joining scholars, scientists and humanitarian leaders in the forthcoming Mind & Life Dialogue in Africa.”
He added: “My dear friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu has told me about the beautiful African notion of botho/ubuntu, which means ‘I am because you are’. This resonates powerfully with the ancient Indian idea of interdependence.”
The Dalai Lama said, in participating in the Mind and Life Dialogue, as well as meeting and talking with members of the public, he hoped “to gain a clearer understanding of this idea and explore ways in which it may help promote compassion and understanding in our world.”
The public dialogue with the Dalai Lama is expected to be held on August 17-19 in the capital Gaborone.
Local media reports suggest that the Dalai Lama’s impending visit has been clouded by confusion with the event organisers insisting he has been issued a visa while government says the contrary.
Event coordinator representing Mind & Life Institute, also one of the speakers at the upcoming conference, Donald Molosi told Mmegi newspaper that government has long issued the Dalai Lama with a visa.
In fact, the reason the country was chosen to host the Buddhist spiritual leader was that “the government of Botswana opened its doors to the Dalai Lama, which is historic as he has never been allowed in any African country before”.
However, they did not state the date of visa issuance. Molosi is quoted as saying that when looking for a place to host the conference, they looked at countries’ willingness to welcome the Dalai Lama. Moreover, Botswana’s virtues of botho, democracy and respect for the rule of law also came into play.
In his knowledge, Mmegi reported, government has opened its borders to the leader and President Ian Khama will introduce the exiled Dalai Lama at the conference. The Dalai Lama’s birth names are Lhamo Thondup, in other instances spelt ‘Dondrub’. He also goes by the names Tenzin Gyatso, shortened from Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso.
“The opening address will be delivered by His Excellency the President, Lieutenant General Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama,” Molosi is quoted as saying. A press release from the US Mind & Health Institute also corroborates that. Though aware of the political pressures within Botswana surrounding the visit, he does “not foresee the visa revoked”.
However, the foreign ministry told Mmegi that “it is not true that His Excellency the President will attend and give a keynote address at the event in question,” said spokeswoman Wame Dechambenoit.
The ministry’s permanent secretary Gaeimelwe Goitsemang, also said government supports the long standing “One China” policy, and Botswana will not breach biletaral relations between the two by coordinating the Dalai Lama’s visit. Despite the organisers maintaining visa has long been issued, the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs says no application for his visa has come through.
The “One China” policy has been a controversial issue whenever the spiritual leader had to visit any country with bilateral ties with China. Neighbouring South Africa, for instance, has denied him entry three times in the past five years.
The policy in question states that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China yet Tibet maintains its sovereignty. As things stand, it is not yet clear whether any African country has issued a transit visa to the India-based Dalai Lama.
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 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.
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 Chinese embassy in Botswana refused to comment on the matter.