Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Inside Project Khama ÔÇô How US planned to use Khama for their political agenda

A personal profile of President Khama, put together by the United States government portrays the President of Botswana as an Oreo sandwich biscuit ÔÇô black outside and white inside – and an atheist who fears the church and steers clear of discussing spiritual issues.

Khama’s profile, classified as “Confidential” and sent to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) the US Defence Agency , the National Security Council , Secretary of Defence, US Africa Command and the Secretary of Defence was put together to help the US government exploit Khama’s personality for their political agenda in Africa.

The US project Khama was part of an elaborate plan aimed at addressing aspects of the U.S.-Botswana partnership “that may be of strategic relevance to the United States.”

The “Confidential” which is part of the WikiLeaks dossier document does not exactly use the words “Oreo sandwich” biscuit and “atheist” however this is how they described the president of Botswana: “Whether characterized as reformist zeal or dictatorial meddling, Khama’s political style is clearly very different from the consensus-based approach favoured by Batswana, both politically and otherwise. Khama’s personal history as son of the country’s first President, chief of the country’s largest tribe, and long-time head of the military were widely cited as reasons for his approach. Khama’s family background bestowed upon him a sense of exceptionalism — if not necessarily entitlement — practically from birth. Several observers also cited the fact that Khama’s mother Ruth was a white Englishwoman as an important factor that shaped his personality.

The President was not raised as a typical Motswana and still prefers English to Setswana in personal conversation and public speeches. Hence, while his role as paramount chief of the Bamanangwato should have exposed him to Batswana cultural traditions, his overriding political and cultural influences have been Western in nature. Khama’s military career was even more widely cited as a reason for his tendencies to give orders rather than consult. Khama was appointed as a brigadier general at age 24 (possibly the youngest ever in the world) and Deputy Commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) upon its 1977 creation, later serving as BDF chief from 1989 until becoming Vice President in 1998. Hence, Khama has spent most of his adult life in a professional context in which his orders were followed with neither negotiation nor dissent. The political fray is still not a natural arena for him.”

Stephen Nolan, former US Ambassador to Botswana further states in the profile: “Khama is not religious – one observer said Khama “fears church.” He will talk to religious leaders on pertinent policy issues, but not on spiritual matters.”

Nolan advised on how Khama’s character could be exploited to further US political interests. “Khama knows that Botswana’s diamonds are not forever and understands he must push hard to encourage economic diversification; his opponents’ attacks on Khama’s disregard for protracted political debate are best understood as reflecting a lack of comfort with his intention to move faster than conservative Batswana culture is used to. Nevertheless, while Khama may never morph into a natural politician, he clearly possesses the courage and conviction that mark a true leader. Our policy challenge is to ensure that Khama applies the same energy and commitment he brings to domestic issues to the task of building coalitions of like-minded countries to make progress on key regional and Africa-wide challenges. Personal engagement by senior U.S. leaders is the most likely way to encourage him to invest time in this effort.”

According to the profile, this was “the third in a series of cables intended to address aspects of the U.S.-Botswana partnership that may be of strategic relevance to the United States. The viewpoints expressed below come from the observations of Embassy staff (local and American), as well as a broad variety of academics, journalists, and politicians.”

The report expressed concern that, “Khama also has yet to (and may never) develop a close relationship with the local media that would help him communicate his goals in a more informal manner; he tends to disdain them as unprofessional and instead focus on international media, like CNN, the New York Times, and the Financial Times, with all of whom he has developed a positive rapport.”

Says 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 neighbours.

“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.”

Indications are that, a number of international conservation awards bestowed on Khama may be part of the US government broader agenda to flatter Khama into pushing their political agenda. As part of the US strategy, Ambassador Nolan advised that, engaging Khama informally “on environmental issues would likely pay significant policy dividends and could lead to his broader regional engagement.”

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