In what is evidently gross abuse of the United Nations system, six western nations, one a member of the Security Council, have falsely claimed that Botswana’s journalists are being persecuted by the state.
“Botswana’s human rights record criticised in United Nations review – UN Member States recommend action,” reads the headline of a press statement that summarises Botswana’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for 2023, that was released by the UN last Thursday.
There are multiple layers of oddity regarding this UPR.
Firstly, six western Europe nations raise questions about an election that has not even taken place. Secondly, those nations raise concerns about civil and political rights, including freedom of expression and the press, without undertaking the most basic first step – consulting Botswana’s premier media watchdog and the political opposition. The nations in question are the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain and The Netherlands. The UPR quotes what the first four nations said about civil and political rights ahead of next year’s general elections.
The United Kingdom called on Botswana to “take effective measures to address threats to democracy by strengthening media freedom, freedom of expression, and transparency and accountability”; Germany said Botswana should “guarantee the protection of politicians, journalists and dissidents”; “investigate intimidation and threats against them”; and “eliminate from legislation all provisions that undermine freedom of the press”; Switzerland called on Botswana to “guarantee freedom of the media and freedom of expression and information and take measures to protect media professionals against attacks, harassment and intimidation, especially as the 2024 election approaches; and, Italy said Botswana should “strengthen efforts to ensure freedom of expression as well as independence and freedom of media; and guarantee a safe and enabling environment for journalists and human rights defenders.”
Spain and The Netherlands are said to have “also emphasised the need to repeal legislation restricting those rights” – which (supposedly deficient) legislation the UPR doesn’t specify.
MISA Botswana is the primary media rights organisation in Botswana and historically, all issues relating to the violation of press freedom are routed through it. Where a journalist is harassed, the matter is reported to MISA, which, in turn, issues an alert to the international community. In this particular case, the (fourth) oddity is that MISA doesn’t know anything about any Botswana journalists having been persecuted in the manner the UPR describes.
“At this juncture, we have not received any case of threats or intimidation of any journalist in Botswana nor are we aware of any. I guess the media as a watchdog would have picked it and reported about it,” said Thomas Nkhoma in response to Sunday Standard’s query on whether MISA Botswana is aware of what the UPR alleges. “As MISA, we recently met with government representatives among them the Minister of State President, Mr. Kabo Morwaeng, to build relations between government and the media. Our plan is to also meet with all political parties, civic organisations and other stakeholders to make sure we exchange notes on issues surrounding the media landscape in Botswana and the welfare of journalists.”
Indeed, had any journalist been subject to the alleged persecution, the media would not only have known about it, it would also have reported on it. Nkhoma added that it is surprising that the UN would make the allegations in its report without having first consulted relevant parties.
“As much as we are a watchdog, we must – as the media in Botswana – guard against manipulation by powerful interests for narrow political, business or sectarian interests,” he cautioned.
When it comes to the Third World, especially Africa, western nations and institutions typically cross the line between reporting and creative writing. The 2023 UPR (a work of fiction dripping with a pack of blatant lies) ventures into a completely new territory and could portend a future in which Botswana is targetted for such treatment in western media.
The irony of lying about Botswana is itself layered because while western entities have always told lies about the country, the colour of such lies has always been white: “shining example of democracy”, “rich nation”, Switzerland of Africa” etc. The UPR tells blue lies. The second layer to a time period when they were genuine concerns about civil and political rights and the persecution of journalists: 2008-2018. Never once during that period did the UN criticise Botswana or Lieutenant General Ian Khama, who was president then. It is doing so now (and this will be the third layer of irony) because it has clearly taken Khama’s side in his battle against his successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi. To be perfectly clear, the latter is himself no choirboy but to compare him to Khama is ridiculous.
That the UN is siding with Khama is evident from the packaging of the UPR. Reports of this nature typically target the state and not the president of a state being reviewed. In the 2023 UPR, the UN deviates from the norm and goes after Masisi, mentioning him by name in a 1009-word screed that quotes people on Khama’s payroll (his lawyers being Cherie Blair and Unoda Mack) as well as an unnamed “former spokesperson.” Tellingly, the report refers to Masisi without the honorifics that are typically used when referring to a president – then again, the established practice is to refer to a state and not the sitting president by name. Conversely and throughout the report, his predecessor is unfailingly referred to as either “President Khama” or “Former President Khama” 19 times. The part of the report that is directed at the Botswana government, the one written the normal way, is only 239 words.
By any measure, this is corruption and one being perpetuated by nations (and an institution) that have arrogated to themselves, the right to morally police everyone in the world. The UPR is oddly and suspiciously concerned about the outcome of the 2024 general election and no rationale for such obsessive focus is given.
This is Botswana’s first baptism of fire by a well-oiled propaganda machinery and could well portend a future in which more of same baptism could become a ritual.