- Relations between Botswana and Zimbabwe are reported to be deteriorating as the Batswana government continues to construct an electric fence along the two countries' border. Botswana is fencing out the increasing numbers of Zimbabweans fleeing their country's economic and political collapse.
The Zimbabwean government has claimed that "Botswana is trying to create another Gaza Strip" by constructing an electric fence, according to Zimbabwe's High Commissioner to Botswana, Phelekeza Mphoko. In Harare, the 2.4 metre high fence has caused protest and frustration, as it is seen as a symbol of the growing stigmatisation of Zimbabweans.
Botswana is faced with a major immigration problem because of the Zimbabwean crisis. The country's immigration officers are repatriating at least 2,500 illegal Zimbabweans a month, according to the Batswana independent newspaper 'Mmegi'. The electric fence is widely seen as a response to the growing problem of illegal immigration to Botswana, one of Africa's richest countries.
Another reason is however given by Botswana's authorities, which are referring to the repeated spread of the foot-and-mouth disease from Zimbabwe. Each time Batswana herds are infected with the disease, export markets for Botswana's successful meat industry are closing, costing the country millions of US dollars.
The electric fence, Batswana authorities hold, is mainly constructed to keep wildlife and livestock separated. The 500 kilometre fence effectively will stop interaction between Batswana and Zimbabwean cattle herds, thus stopping foot-and-mouth infections on common pastures.
These Batswana arguments are however not accepted in Zimbabwe, which is officially objecting to the construction of the fence. Also Zimbabwean citizens are reported to be provoked by the measures from their rich, southern neighbours and Batswana immigration officers are reporting increasing acts of sabotage from the Zimbabwean side, including the removal of parts of the fence.
Zimbabweans have found allies in the region's environmentalists, calling the fence a "futile and bizarre move." While other countries in the region are creating transnational parks and game reserves, the Batswana fence will be an obstacle to the free movement and reproduction of wildlife in the zone. Further, ecologists hold, much of the region's wildlife anyhow carries the foot-and-mouth disease.
The political implications of the fence are an even more soured relationship between Harare and Gaborone. Botswana, as all countries in the region, has already suffered from the economical collapse caused by Zimbabwe's political crisis.
Botswana's President Festus Mogae, however, has been one of very few African leaders to speak openly out against the policies of his Zimbabwean counterpart, Robert Mugabe. Relations therefore already were cool before Botswana started building its new "protection shield" on the Zimbabwean border.
For Zimbabweans, the Batswana fence is just another negative consequence of their country's collapse. With the growing influx of Zimbabwean immigrants in the region - Botswana authorities alone estimate up to 100,000 Zimbabweans live in the country illegally - they are increasingly stigmatised in neighbouring countries.
Government officials in Botswana have blamed Zimbabweans for robbing houses and harassing children. Zimbabweans are increasingly met with the same attitudes in South Africa and other neighbour countries, where xenophobia is reported to be on the rise. Most Southern Africans however principally question their governments' inability to address the political problems in Zimbabwe.
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