If the United States Embassy believes what Thea Khama, the wife of Serowe North MP Tshekedi Khama has alleged, the governments of Botswana and the United States may be headed for a showdown down the road.
Alongside her husband and brother-in-law, Anthony, Thea was arrested by the Directorate of Intelligence Services and Security (DISS) in March this year as part of a corruption probe. Following their release, the Khamas relocated to South Africa, where the patriarch and former president, Ian Khama, fled in November 2021. The flight happened on a day that Khama was supposed to meet a DISS headline to hand over some pistols in his possession. Writing from South Africa, Thea has alleged to the United Nations that she was “brutally shoved” into a dark cell and told to “shup up” because she “had no rights whatsoever for the next 48 hours.” Of that cell, she alleged that as she walked towards it, she could “smell human excrement coming from inside.” Thea has alleged that her arrest and all other actions surrounding it are politically motivated because of her husband is an opposition politician.
Good sources tell Sunday Standard that despite being married to a high-profile Motswana and having obtained Botswana citizenship, Thea retains her US citizenship. She all but confirms that herself by stating, in her letter to the UN, that the US Embassy had told her what rights she had as a detainee.
Botswana is said to be mulling applying for extradition of former president Khama and it is likely that it may make similar application with regard to his younger brothers and Thea. Investigations into the corruption matter that Thea was arrested over are still ongoing and for that reason, it is likely that investigators may want to have another very long session with her.
When Thea was arrested in March this year, the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act had not yet been codified into law with presidential assent. That happened on July 19 when President Joe Biden signed an executive order that did so. Among other punitive actions, the order authorises the federal government to impose financial sanctions on those who are involved — either directly or indirectly — in wrongful detention Americans abroad. In the particular case of Thea, President Mokgweetsi Masisi is indirectly involved and the DISS Director General, Peter Magosi, is directly involved.
The criteria for wrongful and unlawful detention includes some of the things that Thea has alleged: US officials receiving or possessing credible information indicating innocence of the detained individual; the individual being detained in violation of the laws of the detaining country; independent non-governmental organizations or journalists raising legitimate questions about the innocence of the detained individual; the US mission in the country where the individual is being detained receiving credible reports that the detention is a pretext for an illegitimate purpose; the individual being detained in a country where the Department of State has determined in its annual human rights reports that the judicial system is not independent or impartial, is susceptible to corruption, or is incapable of rendering just verdicts; the individual being detained in inhumane conditions; and, due process of law having been as sufficiently impaired as to render the detention arbitrary. Sanctions include ineligibility for visa and admission into the US as well as blocking and prohibiting all transactions in property and interests in property.
It is highly unlikely that any confrontation between Botswana and US could reach that level but such options remain open to the US. Then again, Masisi is in a do-or-die battle with the Khamas and it remains unclear how far he is prepared to go in order to win.