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Opinion - The 2018 Botswana-Namibia border political saga

2021-06-04  Prof Makala Lilemba

Opinion - The 2018 Botswana-Namibia border political saga
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Abraham Lincoln, the sixth president of the United States of America defined democracy as government of the people, by the people and for the people. This implies that in a democracy, the people themselves must rule themselves. This is not limited to the holding of elections on a regular basis only, but it goes beyond that. It requires that the masses should be consulted in many issues, which affect their daily lives. This is what democracy is all about; to let the people govern themselves at all costs. Anything outside that norm is not a democratic rule. This sounds cumbersome, expensive and time consuming, but this is what Namibians opted for in November 1989 elections by casting their votes in large numbers and consequently sealed their democratic voices on 9 February 1990 through the people’s constitution. It, therefore, sounds stunning when both traditional and political leaders in the Zambezi region are voicing out and protesting that they were not consulted when their islands were snatched away from them without their knowledge and consent. This begs the question of assuming that all people in the Zambezi region were consulted on the boundary realignment between Botswana and Namibia. It even becomes more confusing when the people of Zambezi and the national government of Namibia start pointing fingers at each other in a case, which was supposed to be clear and straightforward. These counter accusations will not take Namibia anywhere, as it seems, one party has failed to carry out its obligation in the whole saga. If consultations were indeed made, maybe the technical language during the process was too problematical for the traditional leaders to comprehend, but definitely not too hard for both the regional and national politicians from that region. What about the intellectuals and other stakeholders from the Zambezi region, though always divided and power hungry and prepared for any moment to fill their bellies at any opportune time? Prof Diescho points out in one of his presentations that African leaders are not capable of handling regional problems, because they regard these challenges as tribalistic and threatening their positions. Consequently, these little cases usually lead to full blown out conflicts and eventually spilling into civil wars and cross border wars. Flying traditional leaders in a helicopter without explaining to them thoroughly the main purpose of the mission cannot fully instil and inculcate into their minds the essence of the assignment. The new boundary agreement was supposed to carry and include the voices from the affected people in the region if not all Namibians. Government should understand that those islands Botswana grabbed had been the source of food and income for the affected people. This has been their land for years and to evict them is to render them landless. The delimitation commission sessions in Katima Mulilo in 2013 did not touch any realignment of the border with Botswana let alone getting the islands from Namibian soil. It happened with Kasikili Island, where Botswana dribbled us at the International Court of Justice. Our neighbour went to the court prepared after consulting their people and in addition sourced out Cambridge and Oxford men who knew the whole geography of Botswana and definitely that of Namibia and the tenets of river boundaries. We lost and while we were still licking our wounds, Botswana struck again, by slaughtering our people in our own eyes! Honestly, is this what Namibians sacrificed their lives for all those years in the bush? To make matters worse, when Namibians of Zambezi region started complaining through Zambezi Lives Matter (ZLM), the government went ahead in discrediting the movement. Although river boundaries tend to shift as the channels meander depending on the rain patterns over the years, there should have been a compromise over the number of islands each country was supposed to inherit. Still, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) resolved to respect the colonial borders, so the 1890 Heligoland treaty was supposed to be taken into consideration.

Amidst all these misfortunes, it is disheartening for one renowned scholar from the region to accuse the members of parliament then through the social media that those honourables were there for their bellies and could, therefore “not hear” when the agreement was being ratified in the august house. Surely, all seven members of parliament from the region then could not listen properly when the treaty was ratified. Although the scholar is not from those affected areas, the gist of his patriotic sentiments should linger around his nationalist conscience and obligation and should have taken a stand to condemn the move of non-consultation. There should be no iron cast in stone here, but the issue should be revisited and if need be renegotiated, although Hon. James Sankwasa, the former member of parliament remarked that we are trying to close the gate when the horses had already fled from the stable. Despite that, the voices of the affected people should be heard, because that is what democracy is all about. One wonders what action could have been taken if this scenario took place in other regions. All Namibians should be treated equally and exercise their inalienable rights as stated in the preamble of the constitution. It is time that the Zambezi region should be taken seriously with regard to issues and evils emanating from that side of Botswana.

2021-06-04  Prof Makala Lilemba

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