A plan by the united states government to turn president Khama into an agent of political change in Southern Africa failed so badly that at some stage regional leaders were even conspiring to close the Botswana out of high level meetings, it has emerged.
Khama, who shared the US and western countries position on Zimbabwe found himself isolated by counterparts in Southern Africa. According to WikiLeaks cables, Khama confided to James McDee former Canadian Ambassador to Zambia, also responsible for Botswana that “SADC had scheduled an Extraordinary Summit to exclude him since the secretariat knew he was in the U.S. on private wildlife conservation business.”
The extraordinary summit was to discuss solutions to Zimbabwe.
McDee is quoted saying Khama “admitted that his outspokenness is leading to his isolation within SADC.” From their confidential interactions with SADC leaders, America was able to pick growing resentment in the region against the president of Botswana.
For example, American Charge d’Affaires in Mozambique Todd Chapman, reported how Mozambique Foreign Minister Oldemiro Baloi criticized Khama for breaking ranks with SADC. This frayed SADC relations with Botswana and Baloyi revealed how he intervened and pleaded with other SADC member states to treat Botswana normally. “Baloi criticized Botswana statements against Mugabe “which flagrantly contradicted SADC” but said Mozambique pressed other member-states to treat Botswana normally”, reported Chapman.
This was part of a pattern, and even Zambia once an ally of Khama spoke out against Botswana’s position on Zimbabwe. Former American Ambassador in Zambia, Donald Booth reported in a confidential cable how Zambia’s former President, Rupiah Banda “advocated a common SADC approach and chided Botswana for “saying what they want publicly.” Banda took over from Levy Mwanawasa who was a close ally of Khama on the Zimbabwe situation.
Banda told Booth that as Mwanawasa’s Vice President, he of course supported and agreed with the late leader’s statements, “but to repeat them would be academic.” The American government was concerned that Project Khama may fail because Botswana’s president seemed not to have it in him to build alliances with likeminded leaders in the region.
Noted former American ambassador to Botswana, Stephen Nolan: “Khama has made it clear he has no time for the longstanding practice of African leaders presenting a united front to the world, showing himself unafraid to buck the regional and continental consensus on issues like Zimbabwe, Sudan, and cooperation with Washington, particularly on military issues. The President also seems to have little time for organizations like the Africa Union and Southern African Development Community, which he sees as talk shops.
In this arena, Khama is showing himself to be a leader unlike any other the continent has seen — although it remains to be seen if this boldness will yet result in anti-Khama backlash from Botswana’s neighbors.
“Our policy challenge is to encourage Khama to seek to build alliances with like-minded countries within SADC and the AU and try to influence policy outcomes. Being “right” on issues like Zimbabwe is a virtue, but being effective in ensuring change is harder and more important for Botswana’s longer term interests.
We see several potential allies for Khama in the sub-region, including potentially Presidents Kikwete and Zuma, depending on the issues, but it is not yet clear that Khama is willing to invest time in this coalition-building effort. Our view in Gaborone is that personal encouragement by senior USG officials would be the first and most valuable step towards a more regionally effective Khama.”