Tag: Ian Khama

Trouble in paradise for Botswana’s democratic credentials

Botswana's President Ian Khama. (Pic: Reuters)
Botswana’s President Ian Khama. (Pic: Reuters)

When the news media turns a penetrating gaze on Africa, Botswana rarely makes headlines. The southern African nation is best known for diamonds, heart-stopping natural beauty and inoffensive politics. It ranks second behind Mauritius in the latest Ibrahim Index of African Governance.

But there is trouble in paradise. So far this month an editor has been arrested and a reporter has fled, triggering a diplomatic spat with the US, while a South African politician has been barred from entering the country and there are concerns over its use of the death penalty.

The unpleasant side of Botswana came to light when President Ian Khama, who once appeared on Top Gear with Jeremy Clarkson and co, was reported to have been involved in a late night car crash which resulted in the other driver being given a new jeep.

The editor who published the story, Outsa Mokone of the Sunday Standard, was arrested and charged with sedition. “I would rather spend 100 years in their prisons rather than be a prisoner of guilty conscience,” he said upon his release.

Police raided the offices of Sunday Standard and seized documents and computer equipment. Mokone’s colleague, journalist Edgar Tsimane, fled to neighbouring South Africa where he applied for asylum. In an interview with that country’s eNews Channel Africa (eNCA), he painted a highly unflattering picture of a country that many revere as a beacon of democratic progress for the continent.

“There was information from my sources that my life was in danger,” said Tsimane, explaining his decision to leave Botswana, which he went on to describe as increasingly repressive.

“I think it’s been a gradual process. It’s now becoming more and more visible. I can tell you that we’ve been experiencing extra-judicial killings in the country. The public is losing confidence in the government of the day.”

He cited the case of a petty criminal shot dead by military intelligence, who riddled his body with 10 bullets. “How can you kill a man without subjecting him to the court of the law?”

Former army general Khama’s Botswana Democratic Party has ruled for nearly half a century. Tsimane added: “The president is just too powerful. He’s using all the powers in the constitution to govern himself. Even if he can do any wrong, because he knows he cannot be prosecuted.”

The media crackdown caused shock and disappointment. Sue Valentine, Africa programme co-ordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists, said: “These events tarnish Botswana’s reputation for good governance and media freedom in southern Africa. It can be restored by allowing a free flow of news and opinion.”

America joined the condemnation. The state department said Mokone’s arrest is “inconsistent with… fundamental freedoms and at odds with Botswana’s strong tradition of democratic governance”.

That provoked a backlash from Botswana’s government spokesperson Jeff Ramsay, who said he noted the US reaction with “dismay” and suggested the American government “might wish to put its own house in order before rushing to hastily comment on the judicial affairs of others”.

Ramsay added: “We find it unfortunate… that a foreign government, much less one that professes to be a friend and partner of Botswana, should issue such a statement about an ongoing judicial process in our country.”

Meanwhile firebrand politician Julius Malema, from South Africa, was denied a visa to visit Botswana because of apparent security concerns. Malema has previously called for the overthrow of the government, claiming that Khama is a western stooge.

Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters party reacted angrily, condemning Botswana’s “autocratic military government”. It said: “There are absolutely no grounds for a so-called democratic country to refuse a person a visa merely on the basis that he holds a different political view to that of the government.”

Edwin Samotse, however, did make the journey from South Africa to Botswana, his home country, where he is to stand trial for murder. Human rights lawyers says they are worried that South Africa ignored its own constitutional court by deporting Samotse without receiving an assurance he will not face the death penalty.

The next Ibrahim Index of African Governance will be released in London on 29 September. Tsimane, Malema and others will be curious to see if Botswana can maintain its lofty position.

David Smith for the Guardian Africa Network

Praying for rain in Botswana

When a few drops of rain spluttered on the ground on Sunday, my son and his friends, who a few minutes before had been running around shirtless, ran across the yard excitedly screeching, “Pula, Pula!” (Rain! Rain!). Although I warned them that they would catch a cold, even I couldn’t resist the joy in the moment as I stepped out for a few minutes to feel the slithering cold drops on my skin. Perhaps the gods had finally answered our continued prayers?

Last month, during a series of kgotla (an open court area where members of the public convene) meetings, President Ian Khama encouraged Batswana to come together to seek divine intervention and collectively pray for rain. He declared September a month of prayer for rain. Many religious entities heeded his call. Various churches converged at the Gaborone Dam for prayers. In the midst of song, dance and chants, the men and women in attendance broke into loud heartfelt prayers, hands raised to the skies, begging the Lord above for the heavens to open.

Botswana's President Ian Khama. (Pic: AFP)
Botswana’s President Ian Khama. (Pic: AFP)

The water level of the Gaborone Dam, which is the main water supplier for the south of the district, currently stands at 19%, the lowest it has been in history. According to the Water Utilities chief executive officer Godfrey Mudanga, at that capacity and without rain, the dam can only supply the nation with water for the next eight months. Although grey skies frequently tease Botswana with the promise of downpours, we only ever get drizzles which soon make way for the scorching sun. It has rained very little in the past four consecutive years, particularly in the southern districts. The past year’s rainy season (November to March) was recorded as the worst by the local meteorological services.

The country is already experiencing dire water shortages, particularly in the southern districts. The Bokaa Dam in the west of Gaborone stands at 10%, while Nnywane Dam, situated to the south of the city, dried up in March. The South Africa Water Authority has agreed to supply 22-million cubic litres per day to Botswana; but only if the water level in its Molatedi Dam rises higher than 26%.

The long dry spells have frustrated crop farmers, who rely on the rains for their livelihoods. Although Batswana and the meteorological services are hopeful that it will rain again, the dry grass, sullen soil, brown trees, thin cows and dried up rivers don’t paint a positive picture. And if we do enjoy some much-needed downpours, it’s uncertain whether this will be enough to fill up the drying rivers and dams.

Due to long periods of no rain, water levels in the Gaborone Dam and other dams across the country are alarmingly low. (Pic: Flickr / Al Green)
Due to long periods of no rain, water levels in the Gaborone Dam and other dams across the country are alarmingly low. (Pic: Flickr / Al Green)

This is not the first time Botswana, a semi-arid country, has experienced drought. The country has endured spates of dry spells in the past two decades. However, with climate change looming, it’s anticipated that conditions are likely to worsen. With so little rain, water shortages are common and government has had to enforce water rations for domestic and industrial usage.

Government has spearheaded the North-South water pipeline to address national development constraints and to transport water to the south, which is the industrial and economic hub of the country. The pipeline begins at Letsibogo Dam in the north and runs for approximately 360km, with pumping stations in Palapye, Marolane and Serorame Valley in the central south of the country. The first phase of this project was completed in 2000; the second phase is expected to be completed early next year.

Meanwhile, a traditional doctor named Monthusi Sekonopo has claimed the country is experiencing water shortages because President Khama, who is also the chief of the Bangwato,  has not heeded his powers as a “rainmaker”. Sekonopo, who is also president of the Botswana Traditional doctors Association, told a local newspaper, the Midweek Sun, that this was revealed to him in a series of dreams.  He asserted that on September 1 every year at 4am, Khama should be at the kgotla in Serowe Village, summoning the rains and declaring the beginning of the plough season. The traditional doctor also said that the president was a born chief and therefore has other duties beyond politics that he needs to see to.

His wild claims aside, the fact remains that rain continues to be scarce across the country. When the heavens do open for us, it’s no exaggeration that the whole country will be filled with the same euphoria that envelopes us when the national soccer team wins a game.

Keletso Thobega is a copy editor and features writer based in Gaborone, Botswana. 

Botswana’s president clawed by cheetah

Botswana’s President Ian Khama has received two stitches in his face after being clawed by a cheetah, a government spokesperson said on Monday.

The incident occurred at a Botswana Defence Force barracks last week, Jeff Ramsay told AFP.

“He was scratched by a cheetah last week but not really attacked per se,” Ramsay said.

The cheetah was being fed in an enclosure close to where Khama was standing, became excited and somehow managed to get its claw across the president’s face.

Khama (60) was not admitted to hospital, but did receive treatment.

He was seen last week with a plaster on his face.

(Pic: AFP)
(Pic: AFP)

Ramsay said there were no security implications and added that because of the minor nature of the injuries the government had initially decided not to issue a public statement.

Cheetahs, the fastest land mammals, are one of the few large cats not to have fully retractable claws. Far from being razor sharp the claws are more akin to those of a dog than a lion.

A 2007 study by a conservation group found there were about 1 700 cheetah in Botswana, a country framed for wildlife and its national parks which take in swathes of the Kalahari desert and the Okavango Delta.

Khama, a former lieutenant general who was trained at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, England and has been in power for five years, is known as something of an outdoorsman.

But he is better known for his patronage of conservation organisations rather than daredevil antics like his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who was once photographed with a tiger. – AFP