Saturday, June 22, 2024

Khama pulls stunt to undermine Botswana China relations

Former President Lt Gen Ian Khama was behind posters of Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama and Taiwanese Head Tsai Ing-wen which were displayed on Gaborone Street poles thrusting Botswana into a maelstrom of political, diplomatic and administrative controversy – Sunday Standard investigations have revealed.

To China’s leaders, the Dalai Lama is public enemy No. 1 for, they claim, fomenting Tibetan separatism. Put him on a pedestal alongside the Taiwanese leader and you have mainland China’s worst “splittist” nightmare.

Sunday Standard can reveal that no sooner had the posters been put up than Botswana Government summoned top officials to come and explain how the posters ended up being displayed in Gaborone along Nyerere Drive between 14th and 16th May this year. 

Unconfirmed reports indicate that China is putting pressure on Botswana to explain herself as details emerge that former President Ian Khama was behind the display of posters profiling the Dalai Lama alongside the Head of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen, documents seen by Sunday Standard show. 

In a Savingram dated 09 June 2021 from Acting Permanent Secretary to the President Emma Peloetletse, addressed to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Molefi Keaja states: “acknowledged receipt of the brief on ‘illegal advertisements’ as well as the interventions you proposed.”  

By the “interventions you proposed,” Peloetletse was making reference to a document compiled by Keaja’s Ministry in which he details how Khama got access to the advertising space in the said area to display the posters of the two leaders. 

It emerges in the documents that the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Gaeimelwe Goitsemang enquired from Gaborone City Council Town Clerk about the public display of Dalai Lama and the head of Taiwan’s posters. Among other things, Goitsemang sought to know who issued the permit for displaying the adverts, whether Gaborone City Council was aware of the adverts, who put the adverts and who instructed that the adverts be removed immediately.  The Gaborone City Clerk revealed that the advertising space along Nyerere Drive by Middle Star Shopping Complex had been leased to Apex Media for street pole advertising. 

“Upon enquiry by City Clerk, Apex Media owner, Mr Umesh confirmed that the advertising space in mention is under their control and has been leased to the office of the Former President Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama on the 14th May 2021,” stated Keaja.

Apex Media was then instructed to remove the said adverts. According to Keaja, there is no provision of vetting or approving adverts that will be put on public spaces. The government has since instructed Gaborone City Council to start the process of revising its outdoor advertising guidelines and leases as a matter of urgency. 

Peloetletse instructed Keaja to expedite and among others consider termination of the leased advertising space to Apex Media within the confines of the contract.

“All Councils should put measures in place to censor adverts to ensure that they are consistent with the laws and comply to the orders of the Republic of Botswana,” said Peloetletse. 

She also urged Keaja to warn companies which have been allocated advertising space that failure to comply with the above should attract a penalty which may result in summary termination of the contract. 

It is understood that China had not taken kindly to the displaying of the Dalai Lama and warned that should Botswana entertain him or fail to reprimand those who continue to do so within its territory, it impose sanctions on Botswana and even close its embassy in the country.

This is not the first time that the Office of the President and Khama have clashed over the Tibet spiritual leader. A few years ago, Khama defied the Government by going ahead with his trip to meet the Dalai Lama. 

In a separate statement, The Government strongly condemned what it called “these disturbing acts, which were clearly intended to undermine the Republic of Botswana’s robust, friendly and fruitful relations with the People’s Republic of China. We further condemn the sponsors and those who publish such materials for their recklessness and ill-intentioned actions.”

The Government of Botswana reiterated its unequivocal principled position on the One China Policy which is integral to our country’s foreign policy towards China.

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