Official speech given by President Alain Berset on the occasion of the State Visit to Switzerland by President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi of Botswana.
Dear Federal Council colleagues
Ladies and gentlemen
We are delighted, Your Excellency, to welcome you and your delegation to Switzerland. Your state visit is a highlight in relations between Switzerland and Botswana!
Until a few years ago, contacts between our two countries were friendly but somewhat loose. This has recently changed. I myself was able to visit your beautiful country in February. I look back on that visit with fond memories.
Botswana and Switzerland have a number of things in common:
- Both countries are blessed with very beautiful scenery, and so have a tradition in tourism.
- Both countries have a dominant commodity – water in the case of Switzerland, diamonds in Botswana.
- Top-level research is being conducted in both countries. The omicron variant of the coronavirus was first detected at the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership, for example.
- And both countries have strong democratic and communal traditions. As you saw yesterday, Excellency, the Kgotlas in Botswana and our Landsgemeinden are comparable in many ways. The Landsgemeinde tradition contributed to Switzerland’s choice of a democratic model of society. Procedures were practised here that have shaped us as a democratic country. At the same time, the tradition was in urgent need of renewal so as not to fall out of step with the times. I am thinking here of the very late introduction of women’s suffrage.
Free and fair elections and popular votes are among our proudest achievements. But the number of people living in democracies has declined considerably in recent years. According to Freedom House, ten years ago that figure was still around 50 per cent of the world’s population. Today, it is only 20 per cent. This is a worrying development. And one that makes it all the more important for countries with strong democratic values like Switzerland and Botswana to work together, both bilaterally and multilaterally.
Discussions on issues relating to democracy are already taking place at expert level. Another topic that has connected us for a long time is cooperation in the health sector. We signed a memorandum of understanding to that effect in February. It is about exchanging experiences and underscoring our joint commitment to a strong WHO. Today’s greatest challenges transcend borders, and as such, the world needs robust multilateral platforms.
Beyond the health sector, we want to intensify contacts between our two countries in further areas, including culture and the economy, with the plan being to sign a wide-ranging declaration to this end.
The impact of the pandemic and Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine loom large. But they should not prevent us from seeing the positive developments that are taking place. I am thinking here, for example, of steps towards economic integration in Africa and the strengthening of African multilateralism. Botswana is part of this movement, recently ratifying the agreement on the Pan-African Free Trade Area and acting as host state of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
We will also discuss cooperation at the international level, for example, with regard to Switzerland’s seat on the UN Security Council. Starting today, Switzerland holds the Council presidency for the month of May and it will place the protection of civilians in conflict areas (firmly) on the Council’s agenda.
Your visit underlines our commitment to closer bilateral cooperation with Botswana – and to a vibrant partnership with countries in Africa that addresses both humanitarian needs and that harnesses economic potential.
In coming together, we are also emphasising the great importance of democratic traditions and social models, which form the foundations for successful and strong multilateralism.
Mr President, Madam Masisi, the full Federal Council extends to you and your delegation a very warm welcome to Switzerland!