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‘Botswana prevented civil war in Zimbabwe’

BOTSWANA’S active involvement in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe after the disputed elections of 2008, helped avert a potential civil war in the country, a recent research has revealed.

BOTSWANA’S active involvement in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe after the disputed elections of 2008, helped avert a potential civil war in the country, a recent research has revealed.


The research, entitled Botswana and Pivotal Deterrence in the Zimbabwe 2008 Political Crisis, sought to explain the crucial role that Botswana played in the light of the Zimbabwe political crisis after the 2008 election.

It argued that Botswana was able to apply “pivotal deterrence” in Zimbabwe, between the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that won the March 2008 presidential election, and Zanu PF that claimed to have won the June 2008 run-off election where President Robert Mugabe was uncontested.

The research by three Botswana-based academics, Obonye Jonas, David Mandiyanike and Zibani Maundeni, says Zimbabwe nearly slid into a civil war following the disputed elections which returned Mugabe to power.

This was after his arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai of MDC withdrew from the presidential race citing escalating State-sponsored violence directed against his supporters. According to the recently published report, Zanu PF began “arming to the teeth, seemingly in preparation for war”. 

The party allegedly attempted to import military hardware from China. Tsvangirai on the other hand was being hosted by President Ian Khama of Botswana amid accusations that the neighbouring country was training MDC-T militias in preparation for a regime change.

But the report says actions by Botswana defused a potential violent confrontation between Zanu PF and the MDC-T, and influenced the two parties to cooperate in forming a Government of National Unity (GNU).

It says as the Zimbabwean crisis was escalating following the disputed elections, there was no doubt that relations between Botswana and Zimbabwe went frosty. “Botswana entered the war talk, and was decidedly on the MDC side,” reads the report.

“Botswana began efforts of posturing — a move that was interpreted by pundits as preparatory work to attack Zimbabwe.”

The study says Botswana allegedly took a decision to deploy a Botswana Defence Force contingent along the border, armed with heavy artillery. Justice and Security minister, Brigadier Dikgakgamatso Seretse was reportedly quoted as saying: “This is a very sensitive matter; therefore, I can neither confirm nor deny any deployment of soldiers along the Zimbabwe-Botswana border.”

But the study argues that the minister’s equivocations pointed to the direction that indeed plans were afoot in Botswana to participate militarily if civil war broke out in Zimbabwe.

It said well-placed sources, as confirmed by cables leaked by WikiLeaks, revealed that in anticipation for war against Zimbabwe, Botswana approached the United States for arms of war and related military assistance.

“This shows that while Botswana had always been friendly to Zanu PF, it was ready to switch sides in defence of democracy and on the side of the MDC,” reads the report. “The fact that it was seeking material support from the US suggests that it was readying itself for a military confrontation against the Zanu PF government in Zimbabwe.”

The report says the US through its mission in Botswana, turned Gaborone down on its request, advising that provision of military assets could harm America’s interests in the region and possibly trigger an arms race.

But it says Botswana’s manoeuvres were having an effect on the Zanu PF-led government amid reports of Mugabe warning “neighbours” to “think twice” before going to war with Harare. Then Justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa also accused Botswana of  what he called “extreme provocation”.

“The overall impression as gleaned from Botswana’s actions clearly point to the ineluctable conclusion that should Zimbabwe had descended into a civil war in 2008, Gaborone would have intervened,” the researchers noted.

They said it was in Botswana’s national interest to have intervened and playing the role of a “pivot” in the likely civil war in Zimbabwe.

In this regard, the report argues, it was important to note that the concomitant feature of every civil war was an exodus of refugees fleeing their own countries and seeking sanctuary in neighbouring countries.

“No doubt Botswana, a country that shares the longest border line with Zimbabwe, would have become the destination of choice for most refugee seekers from Zimbabwe,” it says. “The problem of refugee influx into Botswana would have created great problems for Botswana in its wake.”

The report says Botswana clearly believed that her stand would find favour with both Britain and the US. Regionally, Zambia under the late President Levy Mwanawasa, had also adopted a stance against Zanu PF’s aggressive tendencies.

“Thus, Botswana was not isolated in the position she took. The likelihood of being supported by the US and the British therefore might have provided some sort of impetus for Botswana to Pivot,” the reports read.

It says for Botswana to be regarded as a pivot between MDC-T and Zanu PF, it had to show that it had leverage over the two parties.

The country had been sending strong messages to Zanu PF that any violent takeover of power would not be tolerated and was most likely to invite it into the conflict.

Even after the power-sharing agreement was brokered, Khama continued to express misgivings about such an arrangement.