Zimbabwe: Botswana-Zimbabwe Meeting Advances Regional Integration

Botswana and Zimbabwe have taken a giant step in advancing regional cooperation and integration at a meeting in late February little noticed by other countries in southern Africa.

When the leaders of the two countries met in Harare, they discussed issues that will have far-reaching benefits for accelerating development in neighbouring countries and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as a whole.

They agreed to strengthen trade and investment between the two neighbouring countries that share a common border and some common languages, and called for the lifting of sanctions imposed against Zimbabwe by the United States and the European Union.

The agreements signed at this first Bi-National Commission (BNC) between Botswana and Zimbabwe cover geology, mining and metallurgy; energy; science and technology; and diplomatic consultations.

Before this BNC, operational diplomatic relations between the two SADC Member States were rooted in agreements signed in 1982. They also signed a long-awaited extradition treaty. Other discussions included trade, transport routes, conservation and wildlife management.

Zimbabwe and Botswana have different strengths that combine well in these areas, but had cool relations under previous administrations, headed by former Presidents Robert Mugabe and Ian Khama, respectively.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe and President Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana are both former vice-presidents who have been in the top office for about one year.

Both presidents inherited development challenges that can be addressed more easily in collaboration with the other and in the context of regional integration.

The two countries are at the hub of the SADC region of 16 member states, and both are landlocked, relying on other neighbours for access to transport routes and seaports.

This meeting that is critical to regional development will be noticed in South Africa where President Cyril Ramaphosa is preparing for a similar bilateral meeting in Harare on 12 March.

In a major breakthrough, Zimbabwe and Botswana have agreed that Zimbabwe diamonds will go to Botswana for processing, cleaning, polishing and marketing, rather than sending raw diamonds to Europe, to Antwerp in Belgium and other places.

The Diamond Trading Company in Gaborone, Botswana has facilities that are second to none in the world, and it is regarded as a leading global hub for sorting and valuation. This cooperation will start immediately with exchange of experts and officials to assess and develop the process.

Both countries are members of the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) and they agreed to expand cooperation in the energy sector through various means, including electricity, coal, fuel and other aspects.

Both countries have massive deposits of coal and this extraction requires heavy transport and port facilities. Therefore, President Masisi spoke of the need to resuscitate Zimbabwe's southern railway line that that goes through Chicualcuala to Maputo in Mozambique, and there are plans for the link to extend to a new coal port to be built further south of Maputo.

A tripartite agreement signed by the three governments two years ago committed to share the cost of the US$600 million Port Techobanine Heavy Haul Rail Project to develop a deepwater coal port south of Maputo for delivery of coal from northern Botswana and Zimbabwe, a distance of about 1800 kilometres.

The railway goes to Bulawayo in Zimbabwe and can feed into the rail network from there to Francistown in Botswana, which can be further developed later to the port of Walvis Bay, thus fulfilling the dream of a railway line that runs from coast to coast.

Transport routes were a key regional issues discussed by the two Presidents who, in addition to the southern route, talked about their collaboration with Zambia in building the new Kazungula bridge across the Zambezi river to carry traffic to northern ports via the North-South Corridor.

President Mnangagwa brought Zimbabwe into the joint Kazungula Bridge initiative that replaces a ferry across the Zambezi River to Zambia, at the point where the three countries meet.

The two neighbours also signed agreements on Diplomatic Consultations, and on the Rules and Procedures that will guide their engagement at top level, and they agreed to meet annually.

Botswana extended a one billion pula line of credit to be taken up by the private sector, who cannot access capital from hostile western funders, due to sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe.

They agreed to convene a joint business forum on the sidelines of future BNC meetings.

A Zimbabwe-Botswana Business Forum will first be held during the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair which takes place at the end of April in Bulawayo, which is located just 100 kilometres from the border with Botswana.

There was also agreement to strengthen the Zimbabwe economy which still suffers from sanctions imposed by the US and Europe, and the leaders called for the unconditional removal of sanctions against Zimbabwe.

"I wish to add our voice in calling for the unconditional removal of sanctions on Zimbabwe," Masisi said. "We recently made the same call as SADC leaders and we all stand by that announcement."

"There is no doubt that the sanctions on Zimbabwe are a major stumbling block with serious deleterious effect on the country's efforts towards full economic recovery."

In this regard, President Masisi also brought a contribution of much-needed drugs and supplies for the health sector in Zimbabwe.

A statement issued by the SADC Chairperson, President Hage Geingob, following a consultative meeting of SADC Heads of State and Government in early February, said the Zimbabwe government's efforts to transform the economy were "negatively affected by the illegal sanctions that were imposed on the country since the early 2000s."

SADC leaders expressed solidarity with the government and people of Zimbabwe and called "upon the international community to unconditionally lift all sanctions imposed on the country."

There was significant discussion on conservation issues, with agreement to collaborate on protection of their rare rhinocerous populations, and to share expertise and information in that regard.

The two countries also share the largest elephant population on the continent, well-protected and growing too large for the habitat.

Zimbabwe requested Botswana to consider joining the joint visa agreement for the cross-border conservation area of Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) where the boundaries of five countries converge in the world's largest Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) - Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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