Mnangagwa’s Botswana Passport Pipe Dream
29 February 2024
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By Farai D Hove | Analysis | In a narrative deeply imbued with Zimbabwe’s eagerness for enhanced connectivity with its neighbor, the state-run Herald has been ardently documenting the discussions between Zimbabwe and Botswana on the potential elimination of passport requirements for travelers between the two nations. Despite the enthusiastic portrayal by Zimbabwean officials and their media, Botswana’s reaction remains notably restrained, introducing an element of ambiguity into the envisioned arrangement.

Through its coverage, the Herald sketches an optimistic scenario, suggesting a near-realization of this agreement, bolstered by comparisons to successful precedents in the East African Community and the recent inclusion of Romania and Bulgaria into the EU’s Schengen area. This framing suggests a global momentum toward simplifying cross-border movements. However, the absence of an equally affirmative stance from Botswana raises questions about the actual stage and commitment towards these discussed changes.

At the conclusion of the Zimbabwe-Botswana Bi-National Commission Summit, while Presidents Mnangagwa and Masisi did vocalize a shared goal of facilitating smoother transit of people and goods, the details regarding the abolition of passport necessities were left indeterminate, with no fixed schedule or defined methodology shared by Botswana. This gap between Zimbabwe’s publicized readiness and Botswana’s less explicit engagement suggests that Zimbabwe’s optimism might be more aspirational than indicative of imminent policy shifts.

Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister Kazembe Kazembe of Zimbabwe expressed that “everything is in place” for abandoning passport requirements, implying Zimbabwe’s unilateral preparedness. Yet, in the absence of a mirrored commitment from Botswana, this preparedness seems more reflective of Zimbabwe’s unilateral hopes rather than a bilaterally agreed upon course of action.

President Mnangagwa’s reflections on the historical redundancy of passport requirements in the context of regional integration tap into a broader critique of colonial legacies. However, these powerful reflections alone do not constitute the formal agreements or operational strategies necessary to bring such a vision into reality.

Conversely, President Masisi’s remarks, as captured by the Herald, center on the humane and social facets of enabling easier cross-border visits, especially for families living on either side of the border. He advocates for the use of IDs over passports for such travels, a stance that showcases a governance approach grounded in compassion. Nonetheless, these remarks stop short of explicitly confirming the progress or existence of a formal agreement with Zimbabwe on passport requirements elimination.

Zimbabwe’s state media’s portrayal of a forthcoming passport-free travel deal with Botswana underscores Zimbabwe’s desire for closer bilateral ties and regional cohesion. However, the tangible progress appears to lag behind the optimism conveyed, highlighting the complexities inherent in regional policy harmonization and the nuanced dance of diplomatic exchanges.

A true commitment to a passport-free travel deal between countries transcends the realm of public speeches and rests on the formulation and execution of a legally binding agreement that outlines the terms, conditions, and implementation timeline of such an arrangement. This involves a series of steps and mechanisms to ensure that the agreement is not only theoretically sound but also practically enforceable. Below are key components that constitute a genuine commitment to a passport-free deal:

1. Formal Agreement

A formal, written agreement is the foundation of a true commitment. This document should be detailed, specifying the rights and obligations of each party. It must cover all aspects of the passport-free arrangement, including the scope (who is covered), duration, and any exclusions or special conditions.

2. Definite Implementation Date

A clear, agreed-upon date for the commencement of the passport-free travel arrangement is crucial. This date provides a tangible target for both parties and stakeholders, facilitating the planning and preparation necessary for a smooth transition.

3. Legal Framework

For the agreement to be enforceable, it must be embedded within the legal frameworks of both countries. This may require the enactment of new laws or amendments to existing ones, ensuring that the arrangement has a solid legal basis and is protected against future political or policy changes.

4. Infrastructure and Systems Integration

Passport-free travel necessitates adjustments to border control processes and systems. This includes the integration of digital systems for identity verification, data sharing agreements to allow for the seamless exchange of information between countries, and the physical infrastructure necessary to support increased volumes of travelers.

5. Security Protocols

A key concern in passport-free travel is security. The agreement must detail collaborative security measures, including joint protocols for vetting travelers, handling lost or stolen identity documents, and addressing potential threats. This ensures that easing travel does not compromise the safety of either nation.

6. Monitoring and Evaluation Mechanism

Implementing a passport-free deal requires ongoing oversight. The agreement should establish mechanisms for monitoring compliance, evaluating the arrangement’s impact on travel and security, and resolving any issues that arise. This could include the formation of a bilateral commission or task force.

7. Dispute Resolution Process

Given the complexity of international agreements, a predefined process for resolving disputes is essential. This process ensures that any disagreements or misunderstandings can be addressed promptly and fairly, without undermining the overall arrangement.

8. Public Communication Strategy

Beyond the legal and operational aspects, a commitment to a passport-free deal includes a strategy for communicating with the public, stakeholders, and border officials about the changes. Effective communication ensures that all parties are informed, prepared, and supportive of the new travel regime.- ZimEye