Botswana: Cuba Relations from a historical perspective

Botswana: The foreign policy of Cuba under Fidel Castro has always been driven by proletarian internationalism, which was anchored on solidarity with Third World countries against colonialism and apartheid hence involvement in Southern African liberation struggles ( Angola and Namibia).

For Botswana, the first official meeting between Cuba and Botswana was on 30/03/1977, and those present at the meeting were Foreign Affairs Minister Mr Archibald Mogwe and Mr T.D Mogapi ( Sec for External Affairs). Cuba was represented by ambassador Oscar Omas ( based in Lusaka) and one official called Luiz Martinez.

* Cuba as an influential member of the Non-Aligned Movement, asked Botswana how they could assist the country in attending the Non-Aligned Movement conference in Delhi, India.

*Botswana also thanked Cuba for their support at a UN security council meeting where they supported Botswana on Rhodesia- Botswana border crisis.

* Independence of Namibia and Soweto uprising of 1976. Cuba inquired from BW of any possibility that a guerrilla war could be launched against South Africa to stop apartheid. Cuba was ready to intervene.

Mogwe advised against the idea citing unfavourable terrain for guerrilla warfare!

The contacts between the two countries continued in the following years, and in 1978 Cuba committed itself to sponsor Botswana delegates to the Havanna conference of the Non-Aligned Movement. Cuba further warned Botswana to be careful with US imperialist propaganda against Cuba.

Cuba exchanged many papers with Botswana on their political philosophy. However, as most correspondences from Cuba ( Fidel Cadtro) were written in Spanish, it was a problem with translation. 

As a result, Lebang Mpotokwane, who was Sec For External affairs, wrote a letter to Cuba advising them to use English in their correspondence.

In 1981 Cuba officially opened its embassy in Botswana with Jose Sobrado Sid as the first ambassador to Botswana.

The most important turning point in the relationship between the two countries was in 1982 when Cuba invited 36 UN African ambassadors to Cuba, and Botswana was one of the 11 countries that honoured the invite, represented by Rre Legwaila, who was Botswana UN ambassador at the time.

In Cuba, Legwaila, through the tours that they were taken through, was shocked at the progress that Cuba ( a small country under a brutal US blockade) made.

  • The Isle of Youth was a state-of-the-art school for foreign students from the 3rd world. Cuban officials told him that their country had to sacrifice to promote solidarity with the people from oppressed nations.
  • Legwaila was also shocked to find that at Lenin park, young children were trained in glass work, telecommunications, Agric, Sugar Milling etc.
  • Legwaila further wrote in his report about the trip that, to him, it was a shock to see excellent road networks in both urban and rural areas, many veterinary surgeons, and local materials used to build roads, houses, and roads.

“This was a shock to us because we had thought that nothing was working in Cuba, that people were starving to death and infrastructure such as roads were either full of potholes or did not exist in any meaningful way”, said Legwaila.

To sum it up, the relationship has been solidified and entrenched throughout the Mogae and Ian Khama era.

In fact, Ian Khama visited the country twice as a Vice President and President ( 2007 and 2010, respectively). The diplomatic relations are deeply anchored on health, education, culture and sports cooperation.

Amelia Jones

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