Diplomatic relations between Botswana and America were being stress tested this week after the Ministry of Justice Defence and Security denied a New York based American journalist permission to interview Eritrean footballers who were recently given refuge in Botswana.
The Botswana government stuck its index finger at the American Ambassador in Gaborone, Earl Miller who tried to intervene on behalf of the American journalist, Alexis Okeowo. The youthful American journalist who has worked in Cuba, Mexico and across sub- Saharan Africa had engaged Dick Bayford to help her get an accreditation to interview the Eritreans.
“A letter from the Office of the President dated November 9th 2015, signed by Jeff Ramsay states: “This communication serves to officially confirm that the following journalist from the New Yorker Magazine in New York United States of America has been accredited to interview members of Eritrean football team who have recently been granted political asylum in Botswana. The accreditation covers the period from 9th 016th, November 2015. The Botswana government reserves the right to withdraw accreditation for activities that violate the laws or the codes of journalism. The government can at any time revoke this accreditation if it is put to improper use or abuse. You are only permitted to cover stories in the areas stipulated in your application.”
The following day, November 10th the visiting American journalist however received a letter from the Ministry of Defence Justice and Security stating: “Reference is made to your letter dated 6th November 2015….. Addressed to the Ministry of Defence Justice and Security”, requesting permission to visit the Dukwi refugee camp. The letter signed by Samma Tabudi states, “We regret to inform you that the request to visit the camp has not been approved.”
Last week the American Ambassador took up the issue with the Office of the President. Sunday Standard is not privy to the e ÔÇô mail correspondence between Miller and Ramsay. The result of the correspondence; however was that the American journalist was advised to appeal the decision by the Ministry of Defence Justice and Security. About that time, the Office of the President tried to wean the visiting journalist from Bayford. In what harks back to the recent dirty tricks attempt by government to drive a wedge between Bayford and the Eritrean refugees, government spokes person Jeff Ramsay quizzed the American journalist on why she chose to use Bayford to help her apply for the accreditation and permission to visit the camp. Ramsay allegedly lied to the American journalist that the Eritrean football team that was recently granted asylum in Botswana had disowned Bayford as their lawyer.
The visiting American journalist took Ramsay’s advice and decided to approach the Ministry of Defence Justice and Security to appeal their decision. The plan, however unraveled after deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry Augustine Makgonatsotlhe three the journalist out. The New Yorker journalist then decided to go back to Bayford who prepared an appeal for the Ministry of Defence Justice and Security Thursday morning and copied it to the American Ambassador. The Ministry however just sat on Okeowo application. At the time of going to press on Saturday 14th, the Ministry had still not responded to the appeal although Okeowo’s accreditation with the office of the president expires tomorrow Monday. She is believed to have flown back to America yesterday morning.
In an interview with the Sunday Standard, Ramsay confirmed asking the American reporter why she had decided to use Bayford for the accreditation explaining that he was just wondering why she had to use a lawyer to apply for accreditation. He also confirmed having a conversation with the American reporter about Bayford’s relationship with the Eritrean team. He told the Sunday Standard that, “I do not know if Bayford was still representing the Eritrean team. I do not know the status of his relationship with the team, all I know is what I read from the papers”, he said, pointing out that there had been reports that the Eritrean team had disowned Bayford.
Makgonatsotlhe would not discuss the issue saying he was in Francistown. Bayford recently foiled a clandestine plan believed to have been hatched by DISS to turn 10 Eritrean players seeking political asylum in Botswana against him. Bayford told reporters that the spy agency may be held in contempt of court for violating a court order granting him access to the Eritrean football players. The recent decision to deny the American journalist access to the Eritrean football players is believed to be the latest attempt by the Ministry of Defence Justice and Security to spite Bayford.