Botswana spared Chinese wrath after Dalai Lama cancels visit
By Mpho Tebele
Gaborone – Botswana has escaped the consequences of the aftermath associated with hosting Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama with the Asian giant this week expressing its happiness at the cancellation of his scheduled visit to the Southern African country.
Following reports that the Dalai Lama had cancelled his visit to Botswana due to exhaustion, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in a statement: “We hope the bilateral relations will move forward in a steady and sound way.”
In a press statement dated 11 August, the Dalai Lama’s office stated that “His Holiness the Dalai Lama has written to both His Excellency Ian Khama, President of the Republic of Botswana, and Dr Susan Bauer-Wu, president of Mind and Life Institute today, expressing profound regret at having to cancel his impending visit to Botswana due to exhaustion.”
Reports indicate that the scheduled visit of the Dalai Lama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, has irked China, a major investor in Botswana, which regards him as a dangerous separatist. China, a major investor in the Botswana economy, was livid about the impending visit saying it hoped Botswana could make the “correct” decision about the trip.
Without stating what kind of economic consequences Botswana would have witnessed if it had gone ahead with its plans to host the Dalai Lama, Chunying reiterated that “China firmly opposes the Dalai Lama to go to any country to engage in anti-China activities in any capacity or name.”
The Mind and Life Institute in Botswana had invited the Dalai Lama to speak at a three-day human rights conference in Gaborone dubbed Ubuntu/Botho which literally means compassion or good behaviour.
The event, held on August 17, was expected to be graced by President Ian Khama. The Dalai Lama had confirmed his presence.
Despite unconfirmed reports that Botswana and the Dalai Lama had bowed to pressure from Chinese authorities to abandon the latter’s planned presence at the event, Botswana’s Foreign Affairs Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi insisted this week that Botswana had not changed its position on Dalai Lama. She is quoted as saying that the position that was announced before Parliament still stands.
Venson-Moitoi had told Parliament: “Our immigration laws, as supported by our citizens, allow for anyone who does not pose a threat to come in. This country belongs to Batswana and we are not going to allow favours from other countries to dictate who comes here and who does not.”
In cancelling the visit, the Dalai Lama’s office said: “During the past few weeks, His Holiness has found that carrying out his activities has left him unusually tired. Although he had been eagerly looking forward to visiting Gaborone from August 15 to 20 and participating in the Mind and Life Conference and other engagements, His Holiness has reluctantly had to concede that his 82-year old body was telling him to rest.”
The statement added that in his letter to President Khama, the Dalai Lama expressed deep admiration, respect and gratitude to him and “the Government of Botswana for their unwavering principled stand to welcome him to their country, despite overwhelming pressure not to do so.”
It added that “His Holiness repeated his disappointment at being unable to come to Botswana at this time.”
It further stated that “…Despite my absence, I urge all of you to continue with the conference, to hold valuable discussions and publish the results. Many of you are familiar with how I think and can share those ideas with others during the proceedings.”
Venson-Moitoi had also told Parliament that a Chinese delegation had held one-on-one meetings with Members of Parliament and traditional leaders. She had added that this included President Ian Khama’s uncle, Chief Sediegeng Kgamane who took over as regent of the Bangwato tribe when President Khama, who is the Paramount Chief of the same tribe, joined politics in 1998.
“As government, we have met with the Chinese who have registered their displeasure, but we are failing to understand what their issue is.
Our view is that he is a man of peace and we have done our security checks through Interpol. He does not pose any threat,” said Venson-Moitoi at the time.
Observers were crossing their fingers that the Dalai Lama’s scheduled visit to Botswana would go ahead as planned as they wanted to see how China would react after the visit. They believed 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.
The Dalai Lama, who fled from Tibet into exile in India in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule, has long been at loggerheads with China, which brands him a dangerous separatist. Reports indicate that even African giants like South Africa had to bow to China twice and refused to host the Dalai Lama.