Zimbabwe sidelined as US-Africa Command Conference kicks off in Gaborone

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Defense chiefs drawn from 32 African nations, excluding Zimbabwe, are attending a two-day U.S Africa Command conference in Gaborone, Botswana, focusing on the security situation on the continent.

Zimbabwe was not invited to the conference but a junior officer, Charles Shumba who is attached to the country’s embassy in the country, is attending the meeting at the invitation of the host nation.

A senior U.S military official attending the conference says Botswana included Zimbabwe in the list of participants but Washington objected.

U.S-Africa Command (AFRICOM) director of intelligence, Rose Keravouri, told VOA, it was the decision of the “civilian leadership” to exclude Zimbabwe.

U.S Africa Command conference in Botswana
U.S Africa Command conference in Botswana

“We take instructions from our civilian leadership. Because of some policies in Zimbabwe, the Security Council said they will not be invited to the conference,” Keravouri said.

However, she said the move does not mean Zimbabwe is being isolated.

“(But) that’s not to say we cannot learn lessons from Zimbabwe. I want to push back on the statement that we are isolating Zimbabwe. That is not the intent. The intent is we come in when we are asked. If any African partner wants support or wants us to help in a certain region that is what we help with.”

U.S Africa Command conference in Botswana
U.S Africa Command conference in Botswana

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa in a meeting with Russian leader, Vladimir Putin earlier this month, said his country was being isolated by the U.S. He said America was aiding neighbors Malawi and Zambia with security and military support.

The statement has angered Zambian President, Hichilema Hakainde’s administration, which has reported the issue to regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as well as the African Union (AU).

USA imposed targeted sanctions on Mnangagwa and his inner circle over alleged corruption, human rights violations and election rigging. The southern African nation has strong relations with Russia backdating to the country’s 1960s liberation war. Its support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also angered the West.

Meanwhile, while officially opening the conference, Botswana President, Mokgweetsi Masisi expressed concern over Africa’s spate of military coups. He said undemocratic removal of leadership presents a challenge for the continent’s security chiefs.

“It is imperative that we come together as one cohesive force to achieve Africa’s noble vision of silencing the guns by 2030 and ensure peace and stability across the continent,” he said.

“Furthermore, there is an urgent need to face a growing disquiet about the disrespect of the democratic ideal of constitutionally elected governments on the African continent by the military,” Masisi added.

U.S Africa Command conference in Botswana
U.S Africa Command conference in Botswana

Between 2021 and 2023, West Africa witnessed seven coups.

Masisi said the Gaborone meeting provides the right platform to find solutions to the conflicts.

“This kind of regression in our continent’s political order portends a serious threat to the stability of nations, which should be functioning as well as interconnected units and planks for both regional cooperation and integration, continental unity, peace and sustainable development.”

U.S-AFRICOM commander, General Michael Langley, it is time for “hard discussions” on security and stability threats in Africa.

U.S Africa Command conference in Botswana
U.S Africa Command conference in Botswana

The coups have provided opportunities for Russia to expand its influence by making security support deals with the military juntas.

“This year we look to understand a bigger picture on how we expand our cooperation and how we share our values,” Langley said.

“We discuss how we bring all the instruments of national power together and put them on the table and also the importance of civil-military relationship and closing that gap,” he added.

It is the first time since the inaugural conference in 2017, that the annual meeting is held in Africa.