Friday, July 12, 2024

Khamas own lawyer thought pro-Khama statement was official report from UN

As part of a juggernaut that former president Ian Khama has assembled to fight President Mokgweetsi Masisi, Unoda Mack should, at the very least, be in the loop with regard to how the PR machinery of this juggernaut works. That may not the case and became apparent last week when the high-powered Gaborone lawyer spoke to South African media about the outcome of a recent universal peer review (UPR) process regarding Botswana at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. Mack appeared on Power Talk, a mid-morning talk-show programme hosted by Lerato Mbele on Power 98.7 FM, an online radio station based in Johannesburg.

The latter cut her teeth in broadcasting at SABC and has worked for CNBC Africa and BBC. A profile of that nature necessarily means that Mbele, who was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2014, has very wide reach and is considered highly credible. Mbele began her programme by noting that in the past week, the world had commemorated press freedom, which is encapsulated within a human-rights framework which is administered by the UN Human Rights Council. She then stated that the UNHRC has “criticised” the human rights record of the Botswana government. She said the UN body had cited concerns over the country’s civil and political rights, freedom of expression and the press and called for the implementation of reforms before Botswana goes to the 2024 elections. A minute later, she introduced Mack and backgrounded her first question to him by referring to the UNHRC putting out “a scathing report on Botswana’s human rights record in general, on the political front, the civil liberties front, the freedom of expression front.” She asked him whether this criticism was valid.

“I have read the report as well and obviously, you would have noted that there is somewhere where I made a comment as well,” Mack responded. “To answer your question directly, there is some truth in what has been said in the report.”  Both Mbele and Mack were under the impression that a 1254-word “draft press release” that had been crafted by the PR function of Khama’s juggernaut was actually an official press release from the UNHRC. The official UN report on Botswana’s UPR doesn’t mention Mack because he never addressed the Human Rights Council in any capacity. What his name is mentioned in, is the press release which quotes him referring to a matter that the Council never discussed and could never discuss – the Butterfly case. The latter refers to a case that puts a Directorate of Intelligence Services and Security (DISS) employee codenamed “Butterfly” at the centre of an elaborate hoax. Butterfly’s real name is Wilheminah Maswabi and in late 2019, the state alleged that alongside Khama and former DISS Director General Isaac Kgosi, she stole P100 billion from the Bank of Botswana and that the money was deposited into the bank account of companies owned by Bridget Motsepe-Radebe, a South African mining magnate. Upon mention of P100 billion, which Mack expressed in US dollar ($10 billion), Mbele emitted the high-pitched “hmm” with which Sotho-Tswana tribes express pity and shock. It is likely she is a Mosotho because her first name is a Sotho rendering of what is Lorato in Setswana.

Now and then, Mbele would refer to Mack as “ntate” – the Sotho equivalent of “Mr.” Mack seemed keener to talk about the Butterfly case and of businesses being “raided” by law enforcement in full glare of press cameras. Mbele would patiently let him speak, then coax him back to discussing what she evidently thought was an UNHRC report but was actually a press release issued by a PR machinery that Mack is himself part of. There is no way in the world that the UNHRC would have discussed Botswana’s politics. Botswana’s UPR began with Botswana’s Minister of Justice, Ronald Shamukuni making a presentation about what the country is doing to safeguard the human rights in the country. At the start of the part of the session where other delegates were invited to respond to Shamukuni’s presentation, the UNHRC Vice President, Muhammadou Kah of Gambia, reminded the gathering of the house rules. “As usual, issues of political, bilateral and territorial nature should be kept out of our deliberations and UN terminology should be used when referring to state and territories,” he said.

“Only the use of the words ‘recommend’ or ‘recommendation’ will ensure that the relevant part of our statements are included in the recommendations sections of the working country report.” These house rules necessarily mean that delegates – whose submissions were summarised in a report, couldn’t have criticised Botswana. It also means that contrary to what Mbele said in her introduction, UNHRC could not have put out “a scathing report on Botswana’s human rights record … on the political front.” Mack also featured on Newzroom Africa, a South African TV channel that also reported that “the United Nations has criticised Botswana for the way it is treating people in that country and in particular, the way its current government, has treated its former president, Ian Khama.”

It also quoted a former South African judge as saying “there is a rising tide of political persecution and violence.” The interviewer’s first question to Mack was, “Coming from the United Nations, this looks like really strong criticism of Botswana. What’s the government there doing that’s led to this?” Mack’s response was that he had also read “the report from the United Nations” and that he hoped that the Botswana government would act on recommendations made by UN member states. He described the report’s criticism as “quite sharp.” One understands why Mbele – and other outsiders, would be duped into believing that a press statement from a highly-sophisticated and well-financed PR run from a First World country was an official UN report.

However, Mack is in a wholly different category because he is not an outsider. On that basis, he should have known that the report he was asked about was actually an in-house press statement. The irony of it all though is that while Khama may be taking a victory lap at the secret location he currently lives in in South Africa, he has committed a strategic blunder. From now on, journalists will be wary, if not downright sceptical, of any pro-Khama document that lands on their desks.

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