Botswana has caved in to the United States of America’s demand for an apology following a vitriolic public statement from the Office of the President slamming the American government’s reaction to the arrest of Sunday Standard Editor Outsa Mokone last month.
At the time of going to press Saturday morning, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was drafting a public apology following pressure from the American government. The Office of the President last week instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to draft an apology following a visit by an American delegation which is reported to have taken Botswana to task over the public statement. Foreign Affairs Minister Phandu Skelemani and Permanant Secretary in the Ministry, Ceaser Lekowa are also expected to leave for America this week to personally apologise to the American government.
This comes after Botswana reacted angrily to concerns raised by the US following the arrest of Sunday Standard newspaper editor for alleged sedition. In a press statement published last month on the US Department of State website, the US stated that it was deeply concerned by the arrest of Mokone by the Government of Botswana on charges of sedition relating to an article published in the Sunday Standard. “The United States strongly values freedom of the press, which is a key component of democratic governance. Freedom of expression and media freedom, both of which foster the exchange of ideas and facilitate transparency and accountability, are essential components for democracy.
Outsa Mokone’s arrest is inconsistent with these fundamental freedoms and at odds with Botswana’s strong tradition of democratic governance,” said deputy department spokesperson, Marie Harf. In a no hold barred response, Botswana issued a public response stating that it was dismayed with a press statement attributed to Harf, which expressed concern over the arrest of Mokone. “We find it unfortunate to say the least that a foreign government, much less one that professes to be a friend and partner of Botswana, should issue such a statement about an ongoing judicial process in our country, without even having first approached the appropriate authorities for clarification on the matter.
In this respect, we can confirm that at no point prior to the issuance of the said press statement did any representative of the US government approach our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, as is the accepted diplomatic norm,” said government spokesperson, Dr Jeff Ramsay. Ramsay said that the case involving Mokone was still before the courts and would be resolved through the judicial process. “It would thus be inappropriate for us to comment on the case in the context of sub judice.
In this respect, the executive branch of the government of Botswana remains mindful of its responsibility to uphold the rule of law, without fear or favour, in the context of the well-known independence of our judiciary and law enforcement agencies. We can only hope that outsiders who profess to be informed will exercise similar restraint and not encourage lawlessness in Botswana,” said Ramsay. That Botswana’s staunch adherence to the rule of law is widely recognised and is reflected in the country’s position in the 2014 World Justice Project Rule of Law Index. Botswana ranked 25th in the world, just below the Americans who were at number 20.
Ramsay said: “Further to the above, we would note that as a nation under the rule of law the Government of Botswana does not detain anyone indefinitely, much less hold them in occupied portions of third countries in violation of international law, e.g. Guantanamo.” He continued: “We are, moreover, of the view that if the government of the United States of America is concerned about the detention of journalists, they might be better placed to deal with current allegations of abuse in their own country, such as the recent alleged assault and detention without charge by law enforcement personnel of the Washington Post reporter, Wesley Lowery, while he was attempting to cover the unrest in Ferguson Missouri, subsequent to the fatal police shooting of 18 year old Michael Brown.”
Given the above, Ramsay said the American government might wish to put its own house in order before rushing to hastily comment on the judicial affairs of others. “It may be noted that the government of Botswana does not normally discuss such matters in the public domain as we recognise that there are appropriate diplomatic channels and protocols for the exchange of views among our international partners,” Ramsay said.