Thursday, October 28, 2021

Should General Khama be attacking Donald Trump?

For the third time in less than a year, President Lieutenant General Ian Khama has taken pot shots at the United States’ Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump.

At a point where he was just getting into his stride as a primary elections candidate, Trump announced that if elected, he would ban all Muslims from entering the US as well as mass-deport some 11 million illegal immigrants. As the Special Olympics start on September 7, Russia will not be participating after the International Paralympics Committee banned all athletes from that country as punishment for state-sanctioned doping. A keen sportsman, Khama felt the need to post a statement on Facebook.

“We strongly condemn the decision by the International Paralympics Committee (IPC) for imposing a Donald Trump-style ban on all Russian Paralympic athletes,” the president’s statement reads.

At his party’s Extra Ordinary Congress in Mogoditshane last month, Khama pointed out people in the crowd who had combined the national and party colours before observing that, “I can see there are those who are very smart in the crowd; they managed to combine all the colours. If you look around you will realise the people who I am talking about.” In reference to his own attire, he added: “Anyway I do not want to brag about it; I do not want to be like Donald Trump.” The president did not mention Trump by name the first time he tackled him on Facebook. That was in February this year when Khama expressed concern about “some of the utterances that have come out during the recent [US] presidential debates.” It was in one of those debates that Trump revealed his plans for Mexicans and illegal immigrants ÔÇô some of whom could possibly be Batswana.

 Largely due to a series of missteps and outrageous statements, the New York billionaire businessman is doing poorly in the polls, trailing his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, by a wide margin. However, following a shake-up of his campaign team and revelations of how Clinton compromised herself through her family’s Clinton Foundation, Trump is climbing back up in the polls. Nobody can say with certainty what will happen on election day and for that reason, a future Donald Trump presidency is a possibility that can be ruled out. In a hypothetical scenario in which Trump is sworn into office on January 20 next year, Khama will have 435 days left in his last term and there is a likelihood of the two men meeting before the latter leaves office. In the past, Trump, who is reckless with language, has said that he won’t be diplomatic with foreign leaders. On meeting the Supreme Leader of Iran, he said he will dispense with diplomatic protocol and refer to him with a distinctly American casual form of address: “I guarantee you I will be never calling him the Supreme Leader… I’ll say, ‘Hey baby, how ya doin?’ I will never call him the Supreme Leader.” What language would President Trump use to publicly remind Khama of the things that the latter said about him when he was still a candidate? And, can Khama ÔÇô who is in the habit of publicly attacking other leaders, give as good as he gets if a target of his ire chooses to retaliate?

Khama’s personal attacks on Trump are an extension of the ungainly rooftop diplomacy that his government has doggedly pursued since he became president. While this policy lacks consistency because it discriminates between favourite and non-favourite leaders, it has consistently boomeranged on him. Through the immediate former foreign affairs minister, Khama has attacked presidents Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Andre Rajoelina of Madagascar, Robert Mugabe and later found himself having to work with them.  While Botswana has attacked Mugabe for autocratic rule, Botswana has been at pains to explain why similar censure was not directed at Swaziland.

Quizzed on the wisdom of his attacks on Trump given the possibility of the latter becoming president, Khama’s spokesman toldMmegi that diplomatic relations are not based on individuals. Indeed strategic interests underpin relations between states but cordial interpersonal relations between leaders also account for a lot. Part of what explains why Mugabe was able to get away with his most egregious excesses in 2007 is that he had a liberation-struggle history with Southern African Development Community leaders like Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola and Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia. The so-called “special relationship” between the US and Britain has been at its most special when the incumbent US president and British prime minister have a close bond. Famous examples are of the personal relationship between Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, Harold Macmillan and John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as well as that between Tony Blair and both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, is running for the position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission and the fact that Khama has never attended a single AU summit, has been adjudged to work against her candidacy. The situation would have been different if he had attended those summits and established a personal relationship with other African leaders.

Diplomacy among world leaders seems to be receding. Three weeks ago, the new president of Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who has publicly declared that a journalist who is a “son of a bitch” is a legitimate target of assassination, referred to the US envoy to his country as “the gay ambassador son of a whore” at a public event. As mayor of a Philippines town, Duterte expressed regret (“The mayor should have been first”) that he was not among men who raped a “beautiful” Australian nun. Naturally, there will be those looking forward to the first Trump-Duterte press conference where casual use of the most colourful, private-parts insults cannot be ruled out. In the United Kingdom, a man (Boris Johnson) who not long ago disparagingly described US president Barack Obama as “half-Kenyan” because of his anti-Brexit position, is now his country’s chief diplomat as foreign secretary.

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