Botswana President Ian Khama has made a U-turn on Zimbabwe’s elections telling reporters on return from the weekend Southern African Development Community summit in Malawi that he is ready to work with President Robert Mugabe, whose election Gaborone had castigated saying the polls that saw him re-elected were a ‘circus’.
Soon after the July 31 election Botswana called for an independent audit of Zimbabwe's disputed vote saying the elections could not be considered acceptably free and fair in the regional southern African community.
But after attending the SADC Heads of States and Governments Summit in Lilongwe where President Robert Mugabe received a standing ovation from regional leaders, who also endorsed his re-election, Khama was singing a different tune.
The Botswana president, who held a closed door meeting with Mr. Mugabe Sunday said his government is ready to work with Harare and build strong relations with its neighbor.
Gaborone and Harare appeared on a collision course when Botswana demanded the audit of last month’s polls, calling them a ‘circus’.
Speaking during the campaign trail, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai told supporters President Khama was his friend, adding he had given Mr. Mugabe a torrid time at another SADC summit in Maputo over the crisis in Zimbabwe telling the veteran leader the colonial era was long gone and that the two MDC formations were not enemies of Zimbabwe.
“Zimbabwe is our neighbor and they now have a government in place for the next five years and we have to continue to cooperate and improve cooperation between us and them and we shall be doing so,” said Khama.
He, however, said Botswana has submitted its dossier on the Zimbabwe elections to SADC.
“On the elections, we have now deposited the dossier with SADC so now it’s in their hands – the SADC organ’s hands – but I must go on to say that be that as it may, we have done what we needed to do,” said Khama.
His comments come days after Gaborone was seen to be backtracking and disowning statements made by Khama’s former vice president, Mompati Merafhe, who headed Botswana’s observer mission for the Zimbabwe elections.
Merafhe called the Zimbabwe elections a ‘circus’, adding SADC was ‘sick and tired’ of the country’s political troubles.
Botswana’s Foreign Affairs Minister Phandu Skelemani then called for an audit of the election as the MDC-T maintained the polls were rigged in favour of Zanu PF. Gaborone was expected to lobby other SADC countries at the summit over the issue, but has instead, now endorsed Mr. Mugabe’s re-election.
Khama is expected to attend Mugabe’s inauguration scheduled for Thursday.