Controversy surrounds proposal for borderless travel between Zimbabwe and Botswana


Controversy Surrounds Proposal for Borderless Travel between Zimbabwe and Botswana

A proposal put forth by Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his Botswana counterpart Mokgweetsi Masisi to allow citizens to cross borders using national identity cards instead of passports has sparked heated debate and criticism in Botswana.

The announcement, made by President Mnangagwa during a festival in Gaborone, indicated that laws were being changed to facilitate this new arrangement.

However, the proposal has faced strong opposition in Botswana, leading the labour minister to clarify in parliament that no agreement has been finalized, and procedures are still underway. Legislators expressed their discontent, accusing President Masisi of failing to consult the citizens of Botswana who disagree with the proposed change.

The concept of a borderless Africa has been a long-standing aspiration, with international relations researcher Rodreck Matsveru highlighting the arbitrary nature of colonial borders that were drawn to “divide and rule.” He described the idea of using national identity cards for cross-border travel as a “noble” proposal.

Despite ongoing concerns about human rights abuses and electoral fraud in Zimbabwe, relations between President Mnangagwa and President Masisi have been improving.

Matsveru noted that some people in Botswana believe that Zimbabwe still needs to work on implementing democratic values. Meanwhile, doubts persist among lawmakers about President Masisi’s sympathy towards the proposal.

While some East African states have already removed visa requirements, lawmakers and citizens in Botswana expressed concerns that eliminating passports at the Zimbabwe border could lead to an increase in illegal migration and job losses, potentially fueling xenophobic sentiments similar to those experienced in South Africa.

Botswana is home to the second-largest Zimbabwean emigrant population after South Africa, and analysts predict a potential rise in the number of refugees seeking shelter if the borders were to open, which could also result in an upsurge in criminal activities.

Trade between Zimbabwe and Botswana has experienced a decline in recent decades. According to 2021 data, Botswana exported US$46.8 million worth of goods to Zimbabwe, while imports from Zimbabwe only reached US$31.8 million.

As Zimbabwe’s domestic systems continue to falter, some Zimbabweans already travel to Botswana in search of affordable goods and healthcare.

The proposal for borderless travel between Zimbabwe and Botswana remains a topic of intense debate, with supporters highlighting the potential for regional integration, while opponents express concerns about its impact on migration and job markets. The final decision will undoubtedly require careful consideration of the interests and concerns of both nations involved.

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