Sunday, March 3, 2024

Actually, it was Khama who introduced ‘blood policy’ over wildlife

This is a trick question: what does former president Ian Khama see when he looks in the mirror? The answer is not a light-skinned, newly-minted pseudo-comrade with an Afro-hair but a dark-hued, much younger man with a buzz cut.

In the painfully long decade that he was president, the dictatorial Khama, who is now the spiritual leader of the Botswana Patriotic Front, unleashed a terror squad and everyone outside his mostly-white inner circle lived in perpetual fear of falling victim to it. With the straightest of faces, Khama now tells the world that it is actually his successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who is a dictator and that under the latter, Batswana are living in perpetual fear of a terror squad. That is the correct answer: when Khama looks in the mirror, he sees Masisi.

Following his latest visit to the mirror, Khama now tells South African Broadcasting Corporation television that “lifting the hunting ban is Masisi’s blood policy.” Last month, Masisi lifted a hunting ban that Khama imposed in 2015. However, given how blood-stained the 2008-2018 period was, the former president doesn’t really want to talk about any blood policy relating to wildlife ÔÇô or any blood policy for that matter.

As president and to the joy of bloodthirsty westerners, Khama introduced the so-called “shoot-to-kill” policy which was in fact an unlawful anti-poaching tactic – not lawful public policy. One very important law-and-order standard that Botswana has traditionally observed since independence – but was relaxed under Khama – is arresting suspects and subjecting them to legal processes. “Shoot-to-kill” – which had no legal character, was enforced by Khama’s younger brother and then Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama. Explaining this tactic to Tom Hardy, a British film-maker, Tshekedi Khama said that even citizens were not exempt from it – there was actually an incident in which snipers shot upon suspected Bushmen poachers from a police helicopter in the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve. 

Under normal circumstances, laws are published in the Government Gazette and fully explained to members of the public ÔÇô MPs included ÔÇô because they are the ones who are expected to obey those laws. That never happened with the shoot-to-kill tactic and hadn’t Tshekedi Khama done Hardy’s interview, it is likely people would still be expected to steer clear of danger with absolutely no sign posts.  Tshekedi Khama added that even if suspected poachers surrendered, they would still be killed. Speaking about this tactic and its specific application to foreign poachers, he stated: “That is a position we adopted to send a clear message to say, if you want to come and poach in Botswana, one of the possibilities is that you may not go back to your country alive.” By “we” he would not have been referring to the government because it never had any such public policy but to him and his brother ÔÇô then President Khama.

“Shoot-to-kill” not a public policy but an edict – a decree issued by a person in power. Given that it fell outside what the law prescribed, “shoot-to-kill” was essentially extra-judicial killing ÔÇô which places both Khama brothers in legal jeopardy because they broke the law and in the event they are charged, the prosecution could very well the video footage of Tshekedi Khama’s “confession” in Hardy’s film as evidence.

During Khama’s administration, some 30 Namibians and 22 Zimbabweans were killed on suspicion that they were poachers. There have been reports that some of the dead were actually fishermen or ordinary people walking along an unmarked border. It is likely that some of the latter may have surrendered but as Tshekedi Khama has stated, even if suspected poachers surrendered, they would still be killed. Given that shoot-to-kill has no basis in law, those 53 people were in fact murdered.

The terror squad that Khama ran from the Office of the President ÔÇô the then dreaded Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), was also into wildlife poaching. In 2017, a year before Khama stepped down, Sunday Standard published an article about how DISS agents were caught with a stash of elephant tusks in an operation that was mounted by the intelligence unit of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. Part of the story reads: “Information gathered by the Wildlife Intelligence Unit suggests that the DISS has been smuggling ivory and diamonds out of the country in their Pilatus PC 12 aircraft as diplomatic cargo which enjoys immunity from search or seizure.” As the one person with oversight authority over DISS, Khama would also have to answer for human blood that was spilled in operations that the spy agency carried out.

It was during Khama’s administration that the term “extra-judicial killings” was introduced into public lexicon. A year after Khama took office, the Law Society of Botswana delivered a petition to the Office of the President asking Khama to give an unequivocal assurance that he does not support torture and extra-judicial killings. In the same year and for the first time in history of Botswana parliament, questions were asked and startling assertions were made about extra-judicial killings. A minister (Ndelu Seretse) had to field questions about extra-judicial killings by state security forces. Then Gaborone South MP, Akanyang Magama, had asked whether “the increasing number of extra-judicial killing of suspects by state security does not necessitate an independent inquiry to restore confidence in the law enforcement agencies.” Dumelang Saleshando, Botswana Congress Party president and MP for Gaborone Central, boldly asserted that Botswana has had an average of “one state-sponsored killing a month since April 2008.” He added that such development coincided with Khama becoming president and the establishment of DISS.

Still in 2009, a hit squad from the army gunned down a Gaborone man called John Kalafatis. According to army sources, the type of weapon and ammunition carried by on-duty soldiers determine the type of operation (be it arrest or kill) they are going on. In the case of Kalafatis, the soldiers set out carrying weapons and ammunition used for kill operations. Kalafatis was shot and killed in cold blood with eight anti-terrorism bullets, one from a distance of 15 centimetres. While this was evidently a shoot-to-kill operation, Khama would later pardon the killers after they had been found guilty and imprisoned.

Khama’s Vice President at the time was the now deceased Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe, a man who was never lost for words and was fiercely opposed to the autocratic excesses of Khama’s rule. However, Merafhe found himself tongue-tied when BCP Vice President, Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang accused security services of “slaughtering people” during a live Btv debate ahead of the 2009 general election.

Only happier to do interviews where his crown gets sniffed than where he has to answer tough questions, Khama doesn’t have to worry about his hypocrisy.

The only safe context in which Khama can talk about “blood” is in reference to what colour his own blood is ÔÇô blue. That is probably why he has become a full-time blues singer, churning out a steady output of chart-topping, non-lyrical laments like “I Can’t Fly No More”, “87 Dead Elephants”, “But I Need Four Chefs” and “Masisi’s Blood Policy”. This connection may also help explain why blue is the prominent colour in the one BPF document that has been publicly revealed so far.


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