Addressing ruling party supporters over the weekend, Botswana’s president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, said he will soon meet his Zimbabwean counterpart, Emmerson Mnangagwa, to discuss the issue.
Botswana reached a similar deal last month with Namibia, and Masisi said he also plans to discuss the issue with the Zambian president.
Some analysts are wary of Botswana’s aim to extend the open border to Zimbabwe, which has a struggling economy and is a major source of illegal migration. But Masisi said there is no reason for security concerns, as smart technology will be used at entry points.
“Don’t think by opening borders, we will open for criminal elements,” he said. “Criminals will be caught as we will be using advanced technology.”
National security expert Pius Mokgware said while the move will benefit Botswana’s economy, it could allow criminals to cross the 840-kilometer border undetected.
“We have to think twice on matters of security. The identity cards should be machine readable. Security features will ensure that identity cards of either country are not forged and used for other things,” Mokgware said.
Mokgware added that the proposed border arrangement could keep law enforcement agents vigilant.
“Right now, what we are using to pick illegal immigrants is the passport, because we ask for the passport. The passport will definitely indicate when you came into Botswana and when you are expected to leave the country,” Mokgware said. “That element was not done for fun; it was done as a measure of security, because you have to control the people who are coming into the country.”
The number of Zimbabweans living illegally in Botswana is not known, but a Zimbabwean government report last year said 47,000 Zimbabweans had left for Botswana over the past decade.
South Africa-based economist Colls Ndlovu said promoting the free movement of people within the region is key to boosting trade.
“This is a very positive move by Botswana, which sends a very strong signal that Botswana is an outward-looking economy,” Ndlovu said. “If it continues to do so, very soon, Botswana will be the key economy in Africa characterized by free trade, free movement of people, free movement of goods and services. These are policies that are long overdue.”
Masisi’s push to engage neighbors on opening up borders is in line with the Africa Union’s Protocol on Free Movement of Persons.