Thursday, July 9, 2020

No grounds for regime change in Botswana

At least the one thing good about the on-going election petitions filed by the opposition following their disastrous performance in last year’s general elections is that they have given us a short break from General Ian Khama Seretse Khama’s public outbursts which often take place away from home, in South Africa to be specific. Since the start of the hearing of the petitions, Khama who uses South Africa as a launching pad for verbal attack on President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s government, has been quiet as if he is observing the terms of a ceasefire agreement. But there is no truce. He is still on the war path. He is quiet perhaps because he is awaiting the outcome of the cases of which he is very much interested. These petitions were filed at his insistence as he cited among other reasons, voter trafficking, mix-up on ballot papers and inaccuracies in the voters roll.

Addressing an opposition gathering in the North West after the results were announced Khama said “ke ne ke tsaya go re borre Boko kgang e ba tla e isa ko pele, they will take it to court ka go re e ne e le lantlha re utlwa gotwe batho ga ba re ba go tlhopha ga ba mo voters roll”.

His hope is that the outcome   should be favourable to the petitioners.

As soon as the courts have dispensed with the petitions,  Khama will definitely contact his handlers in South Africa to organise press conferences in that country for him to continue from where he left off when he took leave recently. He wants to collapse the Masisi government no matter how. During the festive season, while people were holding picnics, some busy at dikhwaereng or blowing fireworks to welcome the New Year, the Khama/Duma Boko team was busy at Stellenbosch in South Africa planning the downfall of Masisi. There is nothing wrong with that gathering as everybody is entitled to consult with his legal team anywhere in the world. What is offensive is when people use other countries to cause chaos in their own countries for flimsy reasons.

The following message which found its way into my Whatsapp page from a relative in South Africa is an example of what I find as acceptable. It reads, “things are getting difficult for the criminal syndicate. From the Stellenbosch meeting which lasted for five days from 29th December 2019 to 3rd January, the Cartel comes out in a more vulnerable and compromised position. The meeting that was under Blair chairmanship failed to come up with any concrete plan for regime change programme in Botswana and Syria”. It is said that the meeting resolved that no “concrete grounds for economic warfare in Botswana have been established”. Malcom Monney, the Cartel’s strategic team is reported to have called Paul’O Sullivan forensic reports on Botswana election “a piece of paper only to convince mad pigs”. It was resolved that the forensic expert go and do “more work until they can fabricate proper narrative to suit their stance”.

According to the Whatsapp post, “150 000 USD had been reserved for that. They all admit that Masisi regime is a step ahead of them”, also reasoning that, he “has infiltrated them. The Cartel was infuriated by the clumsy filing of UDC election petition, failing to comply with mere electoral act thus rendering their petition dead”. A team of 19 senior advocates have been sanctioned to help file documents with the court of appeal. One senior advocate from Denmark is said to have remarked that the “task is as difficult as mating an elephant”. It is said that through his lawyers, Ramaphosa said he could not intervene until there is concrete ground. How that Stellenbosch meeting escaped the detection of the press both in Botswana and South Africa is unclear. Could it be that the meeting took place at the time most people were on leave and only the skeleton staff remaining in the newsrooms? Perhaps in Botswana the answer could be in the affirmative because all newspapers which usually run stories of this nature were closed for business. What raises an intriguing question is the reported presence of Ramaphosa’s lawyers at the Stellenbosch meeting. If indeed they attended that meeting, then there is more to it.  Again, the use of the word, “fabricate” makes an interesting reading. The Oxford dictionary describes this word as to invent false information in order to trick people. Now the question is who wants to trick who?

What about the South African press. It is not clear but at least all the television channels including those that Bridget Motsepe have identified and recommended for Khama’s crusade were operational. The Stellenbosch meeting raised issues which naturally would be attractive to the newspaper and would have been treated with juicy headlines. Before I wrote what is said to have transpired out at the Stellenbosch meeting, I repeatedly asked my sources in South Africa to confirm whether what they posted into my Whatsapp space was real or fake. I did so through another relative in Gaborone. The response was that the report is not fictitious. On the strength of that assurance, I therefore, decided that this is something a journalist cannot ignore, hence this article. The deliberations at the Stellenbosch meeting are to some extent horrifying to say the least. Imagine people gathering to fabricate stories or events.  

Last year, a local newspaper said, “in his string of interviews, reportedly organised for him by some public relations consultancy firms he hired in South Africa to help him deal with Masisi and the ruling party, Khama is out and about saying things that give the international community an impression that Botswana under the current president has been plunged into anarchy and crisis where the ruling party is pursuing a dictatorial modus operandi on citizens, especially those generally opposed to the party”. The story continued, “so busy has been the former president-trotting from one media house to the other away from home – suggesting that Batswana are unhappy since he retired from the presidency”.

This is an example of utterances I find dangerous to our economic and democratic stability. To the contrary, Batswana are happy that they are no longer led by Khama or any of his relatives or collaborators. They are happy that of late, the intelligence services (DISS) are the people’s friends, no longer feared as during the General Khama’s days. They are also happy that at least they have a president who has fought tooth and nail to bring back Botswana to the international community where it never participated during the ten years of Khama’s presidency. They now have a president who briefs the nation through press conferences which were unheard of during the ten years of Khama’s presidency. Matters on foreign policy are now being handled in a more dignified and professional manner by Masisi himself and Dr Unity Dow as his foreign affairs and international relations minister. Since our foreign affairs policy fell into their hands, Botswana has never seen a situation where she was forced to be on the defensive while other countries are on the offensive like the case of China during the Khama regime.

If Masisi was indeed pursuing a dictatorial modus operandi on those opposed to him as Khama wants the international community to believe, countries such as the United States which have the most sophisticated intelligence community in the world, would have long detected that and swiftly imposed travelling sanctions on the president’s ministers and officials. In the absence of this, the meaning that can be attached to his crusade is that he is fooling his sponsors only.

Way back in the 1980s, Botswana had a foreign policy on South Africa which worked for us so well even though it never saved us from attacks by the hostile and trigger happy South African military agents. I cannot remember the exact wording of it but it was something like, “Botswana Government will not allow anybody to use the country as a launching pad for attacks on any country militarily or verbally”. That policy was crafted at the height of international pressure on apartheid South Africa.       During that time, the PW Botha regime in Pretoria, had decided to turn the heat on neighbouring countries of Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe because of sanctions imposed on the regime by the international community. Swaziland and Mozambique had already entered into a non-aggression pacts with South Africa and so they were no longer on the receiving ends. The apartheid regime in Pretoria targeted Frontline States more than others. So Botswana had to content with acts of aggression carried out by South Africa including violation of Botswana’s airspace. Those military raids on Botswana were carried out despite South Africa’s knowledge that this country would, while continuing to receive refugees from there, not allow any body to use it as a launching pad.

One wonders as to whether democratic South Africa does not have a policy similar to that of Botswana so that they can use it to stop General Khama from destabilising Botswana from South African soil. Even if Khama prefers the South African media for whatever reasons, Cyril Ramaphosa should be able to tell Khama to invite that country’s media to cough into their microphones while inside Botswana. After all, Khama knows very well that freedom of speech is guaranteed in the constitution of Botswana and therefore nobody can instruct him on what to say or not to say. He knows that he can only be in trouble with the law only if he says something seditious or treasonous.

Sometime last year, Ramaphosa sent an emissary to Masisi to allay fears about his government’s purported involvement in horrendous acts reported by media and attributed to Khama as well as the involvement of his sister-in-law, Bridget Motsepe.  That was good. South Africa is our economically powerful neighbour. We need each other, not only for the economies of the two countries. There are compelling reasons why both countries should work together as friendly neighbours.  Several sections of Batswana societies are related by blood with others in South Africa. For instance, Bakgatla have their remnants in South Africa. Batlokwa, Balete and Barolong are in that same position. The reason Botswana fought so hard for majority rule in South Africa during the apartheid era was to ensure that the majority were allowed to decide their destiny. It is in the interest of both countries to nurse the existing relationship. But allowing Ian Khama as South Africa does to continue using that country to destabilise Botswana is a potential threat to the two countries’ mutual respect. 

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.