Praising President Khama's principled - but lonely - position

By Richard Lee | January 27th, 2014

President Khama’s government has come in for quite a lot of criticism on this website over recent months for its secretive dash for gas and its treatment of Botswana’s San communities. But now it’s time for some well-deserved praise – because President Khama has once again shown himself to be the only SADC leader who is prepared to take a principled public position on issues as divisive – and critical – as Zimbabwe’s flawed elections and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In an interview with BTV on Sunday, Khama announced that Botswana would no longer participate in SADC election observer missions because SADC had let Zimbabwe “off the hook” following its 2013 elections, which he reiterated were not fair.

But Khama went beyond that stressing that SADC’s failure to hold Zimbabwe to account would – indeed had already – set a dangerous precedent. By allowing SADC’s election guidelines to be violated with total impunity, the regional bloc has paved the way for other fraudulent elections in future.

"…if the guidelines were violated and you create that precedent in Zimbabwe, then it means the next election, because Zimbabwe is going to have elections again, they are likely to repeat the same irregularities,” said Khama. “If we say this year, there are going to be elections in South Africa and Botswana…if we breach the SADC guidelines and they then try and point a finger…we will say to them, 'So what? You let Zimbabwe off the hook, you have to let us off the hook.' Then where does it end?”

It ends with the guidelines being worth little more than the paper they are written on - and flawed elections being endorsed across the region.

Needless to say, Khama is unlikely to receive much support from his peers, who have all stuck to SADC’s usual mode of silent consensus on the most touchy subjects – i.e. those that involve dubious dealings by the region’s leaders.

Another of which is the ICC. Malawian President Joyce Banda did refuse to allow Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to visit Malawi because he has been indicted for crimes against humanity by the ICC but no SADC leader has spoken out openly against the AU’s criticism of the ICC – let alone publicly refused to back its demand that sitting Heads of State should not be tried while in office.

But Khama made it crystal clear that he does not think that those in power should be above the law. “I think being president shouldn't protect us from appearing before the court,” he said. “(Muammar) Gaddafi was in power for 40 years. We have others on this continent who have been in power for 30 years, 20 years. Are you suggesting that if any president commits a crime, maybe earlier on in his term, the victims have to wait 10, 20, 30, 40 years before there is justice?”

And he is absolutely right. The ICC only prosecutes the gravest crimes – genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. No one should be immune from prosecution if they have committed these kinds of crime. No one should be above international law.

But don’t expect any of his fellow SADC leaders to join him on this – or his Zimbabwe – bandwagon any time soon.

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