Sunday, February 5, 2023

Khama’s humiliation in Lesotho is nothing his enemies should celebrate

The public humiliation of former president Ian Khama at the Moshoeshoe International Airport is just the sort of thing that the France Museveni Facebook page will celebrate. However, there is a future in which the man whose interests this page serves and protects at all costs will also be out of office, travel abroad and experience the same humiliation. In international sports, notably African football, a strategy that host countries have typically and historically applied is to weaken the opposing side even before the match starts. That explains why you would have heard stories about the Zebras being accommodated at seedy no-star hotels swarming with thieves, prostitutes and cockroaches when they played abroad. The food, such as it was, would have had an extremely high laxative effect.

While inexcusable, there is a pragmatic reason why nations do this. Despite the much-vaunted “sportsmanship”, there can be no running away from the fact that sports intersects very strongly with outright crime or anti-social conduct. On the other hand, there cannot be any good reason why dignitaries making friendly visits to supposedly friendly nations and are supposed to be hosted under norms of international diplomatic protocols, are routinely treated dastardly. Khama was in Maseru for the inauguration of Lesotho’s new prime minister, a businessman-turned-politician called Sam Matekane. The former president was accompanied by his younger brother and Serowe North MP, Tshekedi, as well as Bridget Motsepe, the South African businesswoman whom he is very close with. A video posted to the France Museveni page shows the Khama brothers coming out of the terminal building and walking towards a waiting executive car.

Among a group of people this trio is a young woman in a striped blue dress who is talking on her cellphone and dangling a bundle of keys in her left hand. All the while, the Khama brothers are on their cellphones: Khama is speaking on his while the casually-dressed Tshekedi appears to be either texting or scrolling through his. A bodyguard rushes ahead to open the rear near-side door for Khama as Tshekedi walks around to get in on the other side. With the phone still glued to his ear, Khama slips in, the bodyguard closes the door, then opens the passenger door and gets in the car as well. At this point, a second bodyguard faces the camera to engage in conversation with someone off-frame.

Motsepe, who is part of a group standing by, enters the frame, says something about “a car” and appears to remonstratively point a finger at the young woman in the striped blue dress who herself enters the frame as she strides towards the waiting car. The woman, possibly a protocol officer assigned to Khama, says something to the bodyguard through the window. The second bodyguard opens Khama’s door and a split second later, both Khama and the first bodyguard step out of the car. Having got out as well, Tshekedi comes around to his brother’s side and the brothers stand around behind the car. Khama is still talking on the phone and stands behind the rear wheel of the car. The second bodyguard can be seen signalling to someone off-frame and in an apparent exchange about cars, Motsepe asks the young woman “Which one is supposed to take [inaudible]?”

What is supposed to have been happening is narrated on the France Museveni page, which some are convinced is a state intelligence operation. “I said it before that IAN thinks and still behaves like he is still the President of Botswana, and expects other Countries to treat him as such.  Earlier yesterday he arrived in Lesotho for inauguration of the Kingdom’s Prime Minister accompanied by TK and BPF financier Bridget Motsepe. After landing at the Airport him and TK quickly forced themselves into a black Mercedes’ Benz reserved only for Heads of States arriving at Avani Maseru hotel.  Bodyguards instruct them to get back inside hotel lobby and wait and reminded him to get back inside and wait. He is told that there is no special convoys for visitors like him and that a car will come and pick them.

Bridget tries to explain that IAN is the President and the Bodyguards tell them to get out of their way as specific cars are reserved for Heads of State. Bridget tries to explain that IAN is HE and is President too. IAN and TK kept to themselves, acting busy on their phones to avoid visible embarrassment and got back in the terminal whilst Bridget was like a lost chicken waiting for a car.  BOKO advice your Patron that he is no longer the President [five laughting-face emojis],” reads an October 28 post whose description of some plot episodes is clearly exaggerated. The Boko in question is Duma Boko, the leader of the Umbrella for Democratic Change. Once upon a time, (2014-2019) when he was Leader of the Opposition on account of being Gaborone Bonnington North MP, Boko threatened to imprison Khama upon assuming official power. He no longer feels the same way about Khama and the Botswana Patriotic Front, which the latter founded after quitting the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, is now a UDC member.

The Moshoeshoe International Airport incident is not an aberration but par for the course during visits by heads of state, especially when Africans are visiting other Africans. American leaders are the probably the only ones who don’t suffer any humiliation at all because when they visit a country, their arms of force first occupy it. Following his retirement, President Sir Ketumile Masire was called upon to mediate the never-ending armed conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo. A book that gives a blow-by-blow account of this task says that Masire received less-than-courteous treatment when he attended an African Union summit and sought to speak to former presidential colleagues. If not 2024, Masisi will certainly be out of office in 2029. He too will be subjected to this humiliation.

Incidents of this nature take many more forms and often include stand-offs between VIP bodyguards – who are always armed to the teeth. When US Vice President Al Gore visited Botswana during the presidency of Sir Ketumile Masire, the Secret Service decided that they would banish the local VIP protection unit from the security perimeter they had set up. One of Masire’s bodyguards, Edward Muyaluka, would have none of that and refused to leave Masire’s side. Both parties were armed and if the conflict had escalated, guns would definitely have been drawn. Getting stock of the situation, the Secret Service backed down. At least as far as the public record reflects, that was the only time that the local VIP bodyguards have stood their ground against foreign counterparts who would want to not only undermine but bully them as well.

The Americans would come back and get their revenge. Away from public eyes, there was reportedly an incident in which, out of malignant mischief, a senior government official (you won’t believe who) sent a VIP bodyguard to Avani Gaborone (then called Gaborone Sun) with full knowledge that the metal detector that the Secret Service had installed at the hotel’s entrance would sense the gun he was carrying and the bodyguard would get beat up. That is exactly what happened. When the alarm went off, the Americans tackled the Botswana VIP bodyguard to the ground, disarmed and dragged him behind the hotel where they slapped him around, all the while ignoring his genuine explanation and protestations of innocence. George Bush was the next US leader to visit Botswana and the first thing that happened was that Americans took over not just Gaborone streets but a division of the law enforcement department that ordinarily runs those streets.

A security source recalls a meeting with the presidential advance team which had been called to discuss traffic control during Bush’s two-hour stop in Gaborone. The source’s recollection is that the Americans laid out a city map on the table, pointed out streets they needed closed off for what period of time and how many officers they wanted to man the roadblocks. Bush would be feted at a state banquet at the Gaborone International Convention Centre. Only one incident of harassment was reported in the media – of the Secret Service tackling the late Batlokwa kgosi, Moshibidu Gaborone, to the ground. As was common among men of his generation, the kgosi was carrying a jack knife in a belt sheath and the knife would ordinarily be used to cut meat at feasts. Gaborone had been invited to a feast and it made perfect sense that he would be carrying that knife as he had many times before. 

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