Recently the President of Botswana and Namibia recently signed an agreement scrapping passport requirements between the two countries. This means that nationals of both Botswana and Namibia will only require a national ID document in order to cross the border between the two countries. Some people in Zimbabwe have been asking why the government of Zimbabwe has not signed similar agreements with Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and other neighbouring countries. The truth is that will never happen-not unless there is a dramatic change in circumstances.

First, you need to understand why Botswana and Namibia did this. The rationale behind the Botswana-Namibia agreement was clearly spelt out by the two leaders when they signed the agreement:

Our two countries not only share a common border, but also a common people and heritage. A symbiotic and inter-dependent relationship exists along our common borders,

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Therefore, I call on our senior officials to fast-track the implementation of the usage of Identity Documents (IDs) as travel documents between the two countries, without delay.

Namibian President Hage Geingob

Countries are a colonial construct

The countries we have today are a colonial construct made to suit the needs of our former colonial masters sometimes at the expense of local geopolitics. We also enjoyed a great deal of freedom of movement before the colonialists came along and drew the borders we have. Sometimes borders separated a tribe into two for example the Manyika in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, the Venda in Musina and Beitbridge and the Tonga in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Often times people have relatives on either side of the border.

It, therefore, makes sense for countries like Namibia and Botswana that share a deep heritage to get rid of passports as they present an unnecessary hindrance to the freedom of the people involved. They can also afford to do so because both countries not are generally economic equals with very little economic migration going on between the two. Their unemployment rates for example are so close. Their GDP per capita is not very close but respectable. There are no hordes of either nationality seeking to illegally cross into another’s territory.

It’s different with Zimbabwe

The government of Zimbabwe is probably well aware of the value of reaching such a similar agreement with its neighbouring countries but is doubtful they would be as eager to ink such a deal with Zimbabwe. Recent data shows that we have almost a million Zimbabweans living abroad with most of them being economic refugees we colloquially call the diaspora.

South Africa is teetering on age and the first scapegoats have always been refugees and illegal immigrants. South Africa is the favourite destination of Zimbabweans which is already creating tensions. The ANC, the ruling party in South Africa, is already in a vulnerable position thanks to economic hardships and high levels of corruption. It would be political suicide for them to sign such a deal at a time when tough border laws, permit scrapping and deportation are polling well. In addition far fewer South Africans would benefit from such a deal anyway.

The same goes for Botswana. While the population of Zimbabweans there is much smaller than that of South Africa, Zimbabwean immigrants are just as unpopular. There is no real reason why Botswana would sign such a deal because just as in the case of South Africa, Botswana citizens have little to gain anyway.

In conclusion, there is little chance that a Southern African country would ink such a deal with Zimbabwe. Passports give these countries a way to regulate the immigration of Zimbabweans into their territories that national IDs do not have. There is no way to track how long a Zimbabwean has stayed in South Africa using just an ID for example and such a setup would be open to abuse. While it does not seem like it requiring passports actually limits the number of people who are able to get into a neighbouring country because not everyone has a passport which you actually have to pay for as opposed to IDs which are free and ubiquitous.