Amity, concord attend Botswana–Russia 50th anniversary of Diplomatic Relations
Botswana and the Russian Federation commemorated the 50th Jubilee of their diplomatic relations on Friday March 6th at the National Museum and Monument in a jovial atmosphere characterised by amity and concord.
That should not surprise anybody. Both countries have enjoyed longstanding ties of friendship, mutual respect and cooperation that predate our independence. At the dawn of the birth of the newly independent state of Botswana in September 30, 1966 the former Soviet Union (USSR) government proposed to establish diplomatic relations with Botswana.
According to Russia’s Ambassador to Botswana, this proposal would only be put into effect on March 6, 1970 when then USSR and Botswana Ambassadors to London Smirnonsky and Gaositwe Chiepe exchanged the respective Notes.
“This historic event was followed by opening of the Russian resident diplomatic mission in Gaborone in 1976,” Victor Sibilev told the gathered crowd in Gaborone comprising former President Festus Mogae, former ministers of foreign affairs – Dr. Gaositwe Chiepe, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Phandu Skelemani (now Speaker of National Assembly) as well as members of the Diplomatic Corps. So much has changed since those early days.
Russia is no longer the great part of the former Soviet Union but its successor-state while Botswana is no longer a country at the foot of a “dangerous volcano about to erupt”, as described by the first president Seretse Khama in 1978 while receiving Letters of Credence from the first Soviet resident Ambassador to Botswana, Mikhail Petrov. Ambassador Sibilev enumerated some of the milestones that define the mutual cooperation of Russia-Botswana bilateral relations. For example in the legal framework, eleven (11) bilateral documents have been signed by the respective governments and ministries of the two countries.
These include the Trade Agreement (1987), Agreement on Cultural, Scientific and Educational Cooperation (1999), Protocol on Political Consultations (2002), Agreement on Visa Free Travels on Diplomatic and Service Passports (2005), Memorandum of Understanding in the Field of Education (2016), Agreement on the Exemption of Visa Requirement for the Nationals of the Russian Federation and the Nationals of the Republic of Botswana (2019) and others.
Russia and Botswana are also working on several interministerial MOUs and other Agreements to expand cooperation in the fields of healthcare, environmental protection, industry and investment. In the political arena the Foreign Ministries of both countries regularly hold political consultations in accordance with the Protocol signed in 2002 to raise their level and agenda. Botswana is hosting the bilateral political consultations this year (2020) and the Russian envoy expressed confidence that both sides will do their best to reach “new heights” in their relations.
Last year former president Festus Mogae visited Russia and toured Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi. Mogae was received by Special Envoy for African countries and Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia M. Bogdanov.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Dr. Unity Dow also met for negotiations on the sidelines of last year’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Ambassador Sibilev said it is such gestures which give meaning to “our bilateral relations.”
To add cherry to both countries’ cooperation. Russia and Botswana are this year Chair and Vice Chair of the Kimberly Process respectively. Ambassador Sibilev said trade volume between Russia and Botswana increased from 20 to 28 million US Dollar, which “less than our desire” but hoped that .Botswana would reap benefits from President Vladimir Putin new goal that he outlined at the Russia–Africa Summit in Sochi in October 2019 to double the mutual trade with Africa from US$20 billion to US$40 billion in the next five years. On the field of education Russia continues to train Botswana specialists in mining, engineering, machine, medicine, IT and others under the MOU signed by Dr. Dow in Moscow in June 2016 when she was minister of education.
Under this MOU Sibilev explained that the quota of the Russia government scholarships annually allocated to Botswana has been increased up to 30, out of the five (5) – for medical specialties. At present around 3, 000 Botswana students study at Russian Universities, both on state-sponsored and commercial basis. Speaking at the same event Assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Administration Dumezweni Mthimkhulu, who came instead of Minister Dow hailed the Russian Federation for having been among the first ten foreign Diplomatic Missions in Botswana. He said over the years, the bond of friendship between the two countries has grown from strength to strength as demonstrated by the highly collaborative engagement across various sectors – military cooperation, trade agreements, scholarships, technical assistance and skills development. He expressed gratitude to Russia for the skills acquired from training offered to Batswana, which have contributed to Botswana’s national development efforts.