More twists and turns have emerged in the Africa Youth Games opening ceremony debacle, at which Gaborone mayor Haskins Nkaigwa was conspicuously absent. While Nkaigwa is adamant that he boycotted the games because he could not be a spectator when outsiders were welcoming guests in his own backyard, chairperson of Botswana Africa Youth Games Organizing Committee (BAYGOC) Regina Sikalesele-Vaka says protocol does not allow the mayor to speak at such an occasion.
Nkaigwa boycotted the opening ceremony in protest against his exclusion from the program. Uproar broke out as information sieved through that the mayor deliberately absconded from the opening ceremony after learning that he would not be partaking in the day’s proceedings. “I decided to stay home rather than sit by and remain a mere spectator as guests are welcomed in my city,” said Nkaigwa. To add salt to injury, a special dispensation was made to allow acting Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, Vincent Seretse, to speak while Nkaigwa was relegated to obscurity.
BAYGOC was saddled with the task of fielding difficult questions from incensed members of the public who wanted answers as to why Nkaigwa, as the first citizen of Gaborone, was nowhere to be found during the AYG opening ceremony. In an interview with Sunday Standard, Nkaigwa said he snubbed the invitation because he was not included in the program to welcome visitors to Gaborone. He revealed that he was part of the bidding process by virtue of his position as Mayor of Gaborone. He said his understanding with the games’ organizing committee was that he will be welcoming guests to the city as its first citizen.
“But I detected some changes as the games’ drew nearer. BAYGOC avoided talking to me when I tried to seek clarification on the program of the opening ceremony and my role in the ceremony,” he said. Nkaigwa added that he tried to call the BAYGOC secretariat on numerous occasions but they never got back to him until the day of the opening ceremony came to pass. “Up to today they have not responded to my calls or messages. So I decided to stay at home,” he said.
However, Nkaigwa said he will attend some of the games to lend support to team Botswana. When commenting on the issue, BAYGOC Chairperson, Ms Regina Sikalesele-Vaka, said it was disappointing that Nkaigwa chose to snub the games without first informing her committee about his grievances. She said she called Nkaigwa several times to confirm if he had received an invitation to the opening ceremony, but he never expressed unhappiness at being excluded from the program. “During our communication, he never expressed any concern or ask whether he will be part of the games,” said Sikalesele-Vaka.
She added that Nkaigwa should have known about the program of the opening ceremony because he had two representatives in the organizing committee. She added that if the Mayor did not know about the program then it would be the fault of his representatives. She also denied that the BAYGOC secretariat informed her of the mayor’s concerns, adding that in any case the Mayor should have spoken to her directly if he had a query. She also dismissed assertions that protocol dictates that Nkaigwa, as the Mayor, should have given the opening remarks, saying there is no allowance for such in the opening games’ protocol.
“As per the games protocol, there is no allowance for the mayor to speak at the opening ceremony. As you may be aware, these games are qualifiers for the Nanjing Youth Olympics and are thus part of the Olympic Games. In accordance with Olympic Games protocol, only the chairperson of the Local Organizing Committee, the President of the international committee overlooking the games as well as the President of the host nation are allowed to speak during the ceremony,” said Sikalesele-Vaka.
Asked why the Mayor was excluded while the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture was given a slot in the program, Sikalesele-Vaka said Seretse was included after agreement by BAYGOC and the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA).