Thursday, October 22, 2020

Khama ‘fake news’ actually sourced from official government documents

In his first 2019 media interview, former President Ian Khama repeated his accusation about the Botswana media not only being purveyors of “fake news” but also having “invented” it. The interview was with Argus Online.

With “fake news”, Khama is co-opting a term that has been popularized by United States president, Donald Trump. As used by Trump, “fake” doesn’t carry its dictionary meaning of false information. Instead, it means 100 percent accurate news that portray Trump in bad light. His “fake news” is therefore a phony claim, wholly designed to manipulate members of the public, especially his supporters. Like Trump, Khama’s fake news claim is phony, not least because he never actually states what is false. News is made up of details and like Trump, Khama has never actually pointed out what details are false and presented facts to disprove it.

More interesting though is the fact that some of what Khama has described as fake news is actually sourced from leaked documents, bearing the official government seal. In 2017, Sunday Standard published a story about a highly confidential letter authored by former Botswana Defence Force commander, Lieutenant General Louis Fisher. In the letter, Fisher expresses grave concern that as Vice President and chairman of a committee in charge of army procurement in 2001, Khama may have leaked confidential tender pricing information to Seleka Springs in a bid to help the latter win a multi-million pula tender to supply BDF with combat fighting vehicles. Seleka Springs is a company owned by Khama’s younger brothers. Fisher’s letter says that “immediately” following the presentation to the committee Khama chaired, a company represented by Seleka Springs revised its pricing substantially. Also in the category of Khama’s “fake news” would be a story about a P75 000 cheque from Seleka Springs that was issued to him personally on March 24, 2011.

A document from Khama’s own office has also been the subject of a “fake news” story. In 2013, his office issued a presidential directive to the Ministry of Minerals, Energy Water Affairs (as it then was) to regulate the prices of aviation gas and jet fuel.  The directive directed the Ministry to pay Puma Energy Botswana around P10 million per month as subsidy for aviation gas. The biggest beneficiary of this presidential directive was Wilderness Safaris, a company that Khama has a stake in.

The former president has himself personally peddled what is demonstrably fake news. In an interview with Weekend Post last year, he unfavourably compared President Mokgweetsi Masisi to him in terms of adherence to democratic rule. In the latest interview with Argus Online, he says that Botswana’s score on democracy kept improving under him. The fact of the matter is that such score declined under Khama. However, there is no need to rely on foreigners because those who had lived under Khama’s predecessors, noted a big change when he took over. To The Voice, Khama mentioned agriculture as his main achievement. On the other hand, research from the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis says that Khama’s signature agricultural programme, the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development, “may have worked against the achievement of the government objective of promoting acreage and broader agricultural diversification.”

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