Botswana’s decision to suck up to China by refusing to fund former president Lt General Ian Khama’s visit to the Dalai Lama has backfired.
The High Court ruled this week that the 2019 refusal by government to fund the trip to Tibet was unlawful and ordered that the former president be reimbursed.
Khama, in line with his retirement benefits, had requested for travel funds and security detail in order to honour an invitation by the Central Tibetan Administration in India to officiate at the 60th National Uprising Day in March 2019. But the government, under pressure to abide by the ‘One China’ policy, wanted to impose the same on the former president.
The One China policy is the diplomatic acknowledgement of China’s position that there is only one Chinese government. China views the Dalai Lama as a separatist working to split Tibet from China. Under the policy, governments are to recognize and have formal ties only with mainland China rather than Tibet or the island of Taiwan.
With pressure from the Chinese President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s administration has pulled all stops to distance itself from any relations between Khama and the Dalai Lama.
Relations between the two countries suffered multiple blows under former president Khama’s government which had adopted a ‘no nonsense’ foreign policy on issues relating to China and other countries. Khama became one of the loudest critics of China, at some point even reminding China that Botswana was not their colony.
Relations between the two reached an all-time low when Khama granted The Dalai Lama a visa to take part in a public conference with African leaders, which aimed to address issues around human rights.
China threatened to impose economic sanctions on Botswana if she allowed The Dalai Lama to enter the country but Khama stood his ground.
The Dalai Lama however did not make the trip allegedly due ill health, and released a statement thanking Khama’s government “for your unwavering principled stand to welcome me to your country despite overwhelming pressure (from China) not to do so.”
Since taking office President Masisi has charted his own foreign policy course particularly in relation to China.
It is against this that his administration were caught between the devil and the deep blue sea when Khama requested for support to visit The Dalai Lama.
Now the High Court has ruled against the decision to deny Khama the necessary support for the trip. In February 2019 Khama through his Senior Private Secretary wrote a letter to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation informing them of his impending trip to India at the invitation of the Central Tibetan Administration in India. The savingram gave details of Khama’s entourage requesting the Ministry to facilitate visa applications for him and his security detail.
The Court heard that the reply to the savingram however did not come from the Permanent Secretary but rather from then Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Carter Morupisi. In the response Morupisi said on account of the fact that Botswana subscribes to the One Chinapolicy, the government advised that Khama should not accept the invitation from Tibet as this would offend China whose relations with Botswana had recently been mended.
It was further stated that Botswana does not recognize Tibet as an independent state. The PSP said it would not auger well for the government of Botswana to sponsor or support financially, diplomatically and logistically any personality especially a high profile individual as a former president to interact with the Tibetan group which is in exile in India.
He said should Khama insist on honoring the invitation then he should be aware that it would be difficult for the government of Botswana to facilitate the trip for the occasion.
Later the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) which is in charge of Khama’s security also took the view that the trip was not authorized by government as it violated the one China policy. The DIS declined to approve the funds for the security officers attached to Khama. Consequently the security personnel were ordered not to accompany Khama as the government of Botswana was not supportive of the trip.
Khama informed the DIS that such an order was unlawful and that in terms of the law the security detail had to accompany him and give him security at all times. The former president and his security detail and entourage proceeded to India as scheduled. The government did not pay for the trip expenses such as tickets and per diem. Khama covered all expenses for the trip.
Upon return from India, the three security officers were charged with several counts including insubordination and disobedience of lawful orders not to go to India. Khama then filed a case challenging the refusal to afford him transportation, revocation of his security detail, and the disciplinary action taken his security detail.
Delivering his judgement this week Justice Gabriel Komboni ruled that the refusal to avail Khama the benefit of international air travel and per diem allowance during his trip to India was unlawful.
“It is hereby declared that the Government of Botswana is liable to reimburse the Applicant (Khama) all his travel costs incurred during his trip to India from 8 to 12 March 2019, and to pay Applicant all the travel costs incurred in respect of the Applicant’s personal security officers during the said trip.”
Komboni also ruled the decision by DIS to take disciplinary action against the security personnel was unlawful. The government was also ordered to pay the costs of the suit.