The ever defensive Botswana government is this time around mum on the numerous Wikileaks reports detailing cable communication between America’s Gaborone-based ambassadors and their Washington principals.
The past few weeks have seen the local private media feasting on secret cables by former American ambassadors on Botswana’s state of affairs to their principals.
The cables have delved on Ian Khama’s presidency, including his tenure as the country’s vice-president.
The reports further revealed that Botswana sought military assistance from the Americans after Khama publicly denounced Robert Mugabe’s legitimacy of the Zimbabwean presidency after he lost to rival Morgan Tsvangirai in a tightly contested presidential election.
Other leaked reports range from the ill-treatment of the Basarwa and their forced removal from their ancestral land in the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve to remarks made by some of Khama’s most trusted lieutenants, like Jacob Nkate and Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, who described him as unfit to lead and surrounding himself with ‘idiot yes-men’, including his disdain for dissent.
As more damning reports continue to be churned out from the secret diplomatic cables, government spin doctor and damage controller, Dr Jeff Ramsay, is lost for words save to say government is not in a position to comment on the reports.
“We are not commenting on Wikileaks reports. We are not reacting on the issues raised,” was all Ramsay said at the time of going to press.
Ramsay could not even entertain requests to seek a comment from President Khama regarding the damning reports.
Attempts to reach Khama’s private secretary, Colonel Duke Masilo, were also unsuccessful at the time of going to press as he was continually locked up in meetings according to his secretary, Boitumelo Silimbani.
Even Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Phandu Skelemani who last year threatened that Botswana would prosecute Wikileaks if it leaked information on Botswana’s national security issues is this time around silent.
The silence by government on the issues raised has added credence to the reports, which to some extent, paints Botswana in a negative and bad light.
Botswana Congress Party Youth League vice-president Dithapelo Keorapetse concurred that government silence proved that the Wikileaks information is credible.
“We are very happy with the revelations because they bolster our argument that our democracy is regressing and failing to consolidate. A case in point is the revelation of Khama’s character that he does not tolerate dissent and has surrounded himself with yes-men who can not question his unilateral decisions. That is exactly what is happening. Our concerns are shared by some in Khama’s administration. It confirms many more secrets that the opposition has always lamented,” said Keorapetse.
He observed that Wikileaks does not process information but rather releases the information intact.
“There is no dispute in what they have said. No government has contradicted their information.
Foreign Affairs Minister Skelemani was apprehensive that if they leaked national security information, they would be prosecuted in terms of Botswana laws. He did not dispute the information,” said Keorapetse, who said former minister Jacob Nkate is the only exception who has refuted the reports pertaining to his utterances.
The reports date as far back as during Joseph Huggins’s tenure as America’s ambassador to Botswana to Stephen Nolan’s stint as the US representative in the country.
It emerged in one of the cables that Botswana approached the US for arms of war and related military equipment to help prepare for an expected attack by Zimbabwe as tensions mounted between the two countries.
Major General Thokwane, then deputy commander of the Botswana Defence Force, is said to have approached a defence cooperation official at the US Embassy in Gaborone on July 14, 2008 and claimed that Zimbabwe had massed military forces on the border region.
He asked US to help with global positioning systems, anti-tanks, short range air defence systems, F5 under-wing tank system and helicopter gunships to help Botswana prepare for the expected attack.
“The request for anti-tank missiles and short range air defence system makes sense in the context of the current situation as Zimbabwe has more numerous and more advanced tanks and aircraft in their inventory than Botswana,” the US Embassy cable reads.
Embassy officials, however, advised against granting Botswana’s request warning that provision of the equipment could harm America’s interests in the region and trigger an arms race.
Another cable revealed that in 2005, Nkate is said to have told a US diplomat that President Ian Khama (then vice-president) was unfit to lead Botswana.
The confidential cable quoted Nkate telling Huggins that the country would have in Khama a president “unfit for the job” and, unlike Festus Mogae who is an economist, Khama lacked grasp of economic and development related issues which a president must make important decisions on.
It is said Huggins was surprised by Nkate’s utterances, especially that Nkate feared Khama would surround himself with ‘idiot’ yes-men.
In another shocking revelation, cabinet minister Pelonomi Venson is said to have said in 2005 that president Khama had little patience for dissent or criticism and that no one in cabinet dared voice his disagreement with the Vice-President except for President Mogae himself.
Former President Mogae has not escaped the wrath as, during his last years of presidency, several BDP insiders viewed him as a lame duck president and Khama as a real political ruler of Botswana.