Saturday, June 15, 2024

US VIP protection units have also bullied our own

Judging by the conduct of the United States Secret Service, Americans either don’t have the equivalent of “moeng ga a di bedi” in their culture or just choose to ignore the wisdom of counsel that requires visitors to conduct themselves with the most unimpeachable decorum. 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 outside the security perimeter they had set up. One of Masire’s bodyguards, Edward Muyaluka, would have none of it 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 up 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 Gaborone Sun with full knowledge that the metal detector that the Secret Service had set 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 (PAT) 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. “Any questions?” an American asked of the Botswana officials when he finished his presentation, making crystal clear the fact that the latter were not expected to make any input but to only seek clarification on the roles they were being assigned. Bush would be feted at a state banquet at the Gaborone International Convention Centre. Only one incident of harassment was reported in the media ÔÇô 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.  Another incident involved one of President Festus Mogae’s bodyguards and happened not too far from a Sunday Standard journalist.

It is highly likely that following the Muyaluka incident, the Secret Service wrote an incident report whose contents Bush’s detail would have been privy to and determined to avoid a repeat situation. Mogae and Bush’s bodyguards were positioned at the same area in the GICC and the latter (said to have been the size of the taller i-Tower in the Gaborone CBD) decided that his Botswana counterpart shouldn’t have been that near to his protectee. So the American rolled up on Mogae’s bodyguard and barked in a very loud voice: “Back off!” When the local guy tried to explain who he was and why he was there, the American cut him off, mid-sentence and repeated in a much louder voice: “I said baaack off!” Being no Muyaluka, he backed down. The journalist says that felt bad for his countryman as he watched him leave his spot, shame written all over his face. Botswana is not the only country that has been taken over by the US Secret Service which, at one point, tried to not only take over Buckingham Palace, but redesign it as well. Then Bush was visiting London and staying at the palace as a guest of Queen Elizabeth. The PAT, which has been descried by the Britain’s Daily Mail as “the most complex, expensive and thorough presidential or premier advance guard unit in the world”, wanted to make substantial alterations to the palace.

Another British newspaper, The Telegraph, quoted a senior palace courtier as saying, “They wanted blast and bulletproof windows, they wanted strengthened curtains and strengthening to the walls and the president’s suite and other rooms that he would be spending time in during his two-day visit.” The queen refused but Third World nations can never be that assertive with Americans. When he was foreign affairs minister, the late former Vice President, Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe, may have summed up the American world view perfectly when he remarked at a breakfast meeting that was organised by the Botswana Export Development and Investment Development: “As far as they are concerned, Americans are the only ones who are living in this world; everybody else just helps them to live.”

The misdeeds of US Secret Service become topical in the aftermath of an incident involving two separate (and apparently oppositional) convoys bearing President Ian Khama and the Premier of South Africa’s North West Province, Supra Mahumapelo. The latter was hightailing it back home in a convoy of high-performance BMWs, having earlier spent the day at the Global Expo 2018 which had also attracted British tycoon, Richard Branson. When the president and the premier literally crossed paths, protocol was not applied and the media soon reported how Mahumapelo’s convoy tore through Gaborone streets at the speed of greased lightning, forcing Khama’s off the road. Once more, the local VIP protection unit had been overshadowed.

This incident raises grave questions about what security protocols are in place to prevent a shoot-out between local and visiting VIP bodyguards. Around the world, these bodyguards carry the biggest, most sophisticated and most powerful weaponry. One shudders to think what would have happened if, in this high-stakes business where decisions are made in split seconds, Khama’s bodyguards had mentally calculated that their convoy was under attack.


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