The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Botswana Breaks Ranks With AU, SADC

Botswana President Seretse Khama Ian Khama has broken ranks with Sadc and the rest of Africa, saying his country will not participate in future Sadc election observer missions as he claims that there were irregularities in Zimbabwe's polls last year.

He has also gone against the African Union (AU), saying sitting heads of state should be brought before the Western-controlled International Criminal Court (ICC).

The AU last year resolved that no sitting African head of state should be taken to the court.

In an interview aired on BTV last Sunday, the Botswana leader disclosed that he was against the AU resolution.

On Zimbabwe, he announced that his country will no longer participate in any Sadc election observer missions as the regional bloc appears to have let the country "off the hook".

Without citing specific examples, he also said he was convinced that the elections, which saw Zanu-PF gallop to a massive victory and receive congratulatory messages from such bodies as the United Nations, the AU and Sadc, among others, were neither free nor fair.

"I want to correct the word fairness... the Sadc observer statement said the elections were free and peaceful, they never used the word fair... that's why we asked for an audit of the Zimbabwe election," he said.

"Sadc has set itself guidelines for the conduct of free and fair elections and, therefore, it's incumbent on all of us in Sadc to conform to those set of guidelines and if there is a breach of those guidelines then we have to say, 'Fine, we have breached these guidelines; what now happens? What do we do about it?'

"And in Zim, we sent 80 plus or so observers and almost every one of them said there were irregularities in that election, and there were. I am convinced of it.

"So, the point was just to say that we must fix the problem because if the guidelines were violated and you create that precedent in Zimbabwe, then it means the next election, because Zimbabwe is gonna have elections again, they are likely to repeat the same irregularities. So, do we say Zimbabwe is an exception to the Sadc guidelines?"

Quizzed if he was comfortable with making Botswana the only African country calling for an audit of the Zimbabwean election, Mr Khama replied, "I am very comfortable, I would sleep better at night knowing that I have taken that stance."

He also claimed that Sadc's alleged failure to deal with Zimbabwe would give rise to a situation whereby other countries will flout the bloc's election guidelines before telling it to go hang.

"If we say this year, there are going to be elections in South Africa and Botswana . . . there are one or two other Sadc countries that are going to be holding elections this year . . . 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?

"So, we have written to Sadc and the head of the Sadc organ on defence and security and we sent them a dossier of all the irregularities our people picked up. But we have gone on to say until we get a response, we, as Botswana, are not going to participate in any more Sadc observer missions because there is no point going there . . . these observer missions cost money and we are not going to throw money down the drain.

"So, we are making a statement."

He, however, reiterated that he was ready to work with President Mugabe's Government.

"Zimbabwe is a neighbour; we cannot get away from that.

"Despite what has happened, that Government has been recognised and we will do business because it's in our interest, because it's for the benefit of both peoples that we work together," said the Botswana leader, adding that he would have no problems with visiting Harare as well as hosting President Mugabe.

Asked about his opinion on the ICC indicting sitting African leaders, Mr Khama once again stepped out of line with the AU position on the matter.

"Now someone once said to me, 'Should a sitting president, while he is in office, have to appear before the ICC, shouldn't he rather wait until his term of office has concluded and then he goes to the criminal court?'

"My answer to that person was that (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?

"I think being president shouldn't protect us from appearing before the court," he said.

In October last year, an AU summit agreed to a resolution that no sitting African president should be tried in international courts while in office.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Sudanese leader Omar-al Bashir are some of the African leaders who have been indicted by the ICC.

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