All factors remaining constant, Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi is expected to ascend to the Presidency next year April, and like a natural occurrence, this has motivated ambition among some Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) cabinet ministers who wish to become Vice Presidents next at the time.
A demonstration that a completely new dispensation is coming resonates in the Vice President wish list that has some surprising names, including but not limited to Slumber Tsogwane, Shaw Kgathi, Samson Guma Moyo, and Eric Molale. All these four individuals are serving or have served in Cabinet. As these names are suggested as potential candidates, some within the BDP are quick to dismiss it as a “joke” or “flattery”. But by the look of things, there is credence in the reverberations.
Insiders point to the fact that the ongoing battle for the control of the ruling party is far bigger than the central committee positions. The current axis within the ruling party have nothing to do with the dismembered A Team and Barata Phathi factions, but rather personalized battles for survival as well as the general interest of saving the party beyond 2019. The bigger price could be the Presidency come 2019.
Masisi will definitely pick his Vice President from the current crop of Members of Parliament of his ruling party, at least for the period between April 1st and the 2019 general election. Insiders further indicate that the Masisi battalion is of view that the Vice Presidential pick should be a permanent appointment that can go beyond 2019 elections – they do not necessarily fancy a stop gap appointment for the period between April 2018 and 2019 elections – “why waste time?”, that is the question they are pushing.
This push however eliminates Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Eric Molale who currently has no constituency. For a Vice President, one must be an elected Member of Parliament, Molale was Specially Elected by President Khama and his bid to get the public vote hit a snag when he was hammered by Barolong paramount chief, Kgosi Lotlaamoreng II.
Those close to Molale point out that he remains hopeful because he still harbours the interest to contest the Goodhope-Mabule constituency in 2019. Molale, a former permanent secretary to the president under former President Dr Festus Mogae and recently President Khama is not a popular figure within the ruling party. The fact that he struggled to against Lotlaamoreng in the bye-election sealed his fate in the party circles – all that remains is just his personal ambition.
Slumber Tsogwane’s motivation arises on a stop gap basis according to those close to the script. He is seen as a man who would not hurt a fly and would not want to cling to the position post 2019 election. However his short term ambition works against the agenda of the influential figures within the Masisi brigade who want a permanent appointment on the assumption that the BDP is winning the 2019 general election – “Why waste time?” is the question. But Tsogwane is said to be definitely on Masisi’s side and he is seen as a non-offensive figure who could be trusted to hold fort temporarily.
Shaw Khathi is the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, a very senior ministry under President Lt gen Dr Ian Khama. He is a member of the central committee, serving as the deputy secretary general and chairing one of the critical sub committees of the party – communications and international relations. Kgathi is a key member of the Khama cabinet and is in the good books of Vice President Masisi.
All these factors are said to have pushed his anxiety levels when it comes to the Vice Presidential race – the lobbying is on over drive. He fits both ways, at stop gap and permanent appointment because he has a constituency and he is confident he will get a return ticket from the Bobonong voters in 2019. Insiders say his fate will be decided by the BDP members at the July congress where he intends to defend his position of deputy secretary general.
Interesstingly Tati East Member of Parliament, Samson Guma Moyo is seen as the real contender for the Vice Presidency post. Moyo is one of the known backers of Masisi, he catapulted the current Vice President to chairmanship at the last congress, bankrolling most of the campaign.
Moyo, a former chairman of the party himself who resigned unceremoniously before his term expired, is also an ambitious and calculative politician. Some inside the BDP believe that he is helping Masisi as a way of creating a fertile ground for himself when it comes to the Vice Presidency. BDP people speculate that Moyo could be having presidential ambitions beyond Masisi. At some point the Tati East legislator wanted to sponsor a Private Member’s Bill on Direct Election of the President, a law that would potentially widen the net for Presidential aspirations.
MOLEFHI’S “SYMPATHISERS” LEFT OUT
There is no doubt that Selibe Phikwe East Member of Parliament, who is also Minister of Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Development, Nonofo Molefhi has his own legion of supporters and well wishers within the party. He has expressed interest to challenge for the position of chairman of the BDP, a decision that pits him directly against Vice President Mokweetsi Masisi who intends to defend the chairmanship. Molefhi is seen or was seen as a potential Vice President pick under President Khama and futuristically under Masisi.
But insiders say his decision to challenge for chairmanship has scuttled his chances unless Masisi finds the strength that Khama drew out to appoint former Vice President Dr Ponatshego Kedikilwe who had challenged him for chairmanship of the party before.
Tshekedi Khama is well known for his outspokenness and had expressed interest in standing for chairmanship and leadership of the BDP, but he has not acted, at least for now, on his ambitions yet. Because of his name and relation with the President, Tshekedi is seen as a potential leader within the party but political correctness has cast doubt on his ambitions. Indications are that both camps need his endorsement to score further points at the July congress. There is also no doubt that he remains a key figure in making the king or becoming one himself in the short to medium term.
Dorcas Makgato is expected to retain her position as chairperson of the BDP Women’s Wing at the weekend. Makgato, who is Member of Parliament for Sefhare-Ramokgonami and Minister of Health and Wellness has dug deep and solidified her political standing. Her name has always been pronounced along the Vice Presidential debate ever since she joined politics but her detractors have smeared her name and associated her with those who are against Vice President Masisi.
In an attempt to further push her down the abyss there was a lobby to motivate Francistown Mayoress, Sylviah Muzila to challenge her for the chairmanship of the BDP Youth Wing but she declined. Makgato is seen as opinionated and not afraid to say her mind on the state of the party and government. She is seen much a Molefhi sympathizer – her chance rests with the July congress.
Dr Venson-Moitoi recently returned from a bruising battle at the African Union Commission where she sought to become the Commission’s chairperson. Some within the BDP saw her as a potential Vice President, especially five years ago. But the assumption that she is not coming back to Parliament after the 2019 general election could rule her out of the ongoing lobby. As for the stop gap appointment – which is the only shot she has at Vice Presidency in the short time – Masisi’s supporters still ask the question, “why waste time?”. But she remains the best candidate for the period between April 2018 and 2019 general election date because she will be exiting the active political scene.
Phillip Makgalemele has ambitions for Vice Presidency and he could be lobbying somehow. He has served as junior Minister at the then Ministry of Presidential Affairs and Public Administratio but his cold war with Molale saw him shipped to a different Ministry. The Shoshong Member of Parliament is not one to shy away from demonstrating his capability; he is expected to stake his claim albeit at a moderated dose.
The newly elected Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) Executive Committee led by Pastor Reverend Thuso Tiego has declared their disapproval of homosexuality saying it is anti-Christianity and Botswana culture.
Speaking at a Media Briefing this past week, BMD President Tiego said Botswana has been a country that respects culture hence endorsing homosexuality will be catastrophic.
‚ÄúOur young generation grew up being taught about types of families, if homosexuality is passed, at what age will our children be introduced to homosexuality?‚ÄĚ he rhetorically asked.
He continued: ‚ÄúIf we are going to allow homosexuality then the next day, another person will come and say he wants to practice bestiality. What are we going to do because we have already allowed for this one (homosexuality) and at the end it will be a total mess.‚ÄĚ Bestiality is sexual relations between a human being and an animal
This according to Tiego will give those people an opportunity thus disrupting known Botswana beliefs. He however dismissed any notion that the decision to condemn homosexuality should not be linked to the top two of the committee who are men of cloth. ‚ÄúThis is a decision by the whole committee which respects the culture of Botswana and it should not be perceived that because we are clergymen we are influencing them, but even if we do, politics and religion are inter-related.‚ÄĚ
Of late the church and the human rights organization have been up in arms because of the high court decision to allow for same sex marriages. Ministries ganged up, petitioned parliament and threatened to vote out any legislator who will support the idea. The ruling party, BDP which was to table the amendment in the constitution, ended up deferring it.
BMD President further revealed that he is aware of what really led to the split of the party and he is on course to transform as they approach 2024 elections.
‚ÄúThere are so many factors that led to split of party amongst others being leadership disputes, personal egos and ambitions, toxic factionalism and ideological difference just to mention a few, but we are transforming the party and I am confident that we will do well in the coming elections.
In addition, Tiego is hopeful that they will take the government as they feel it is time to rebrand Botswana politics and bring in fresh blood of leaders.
He further hinted that they are coming with positive transformation as they eye to better the lives of Batswana.
‚ÄúWhen we assume government, we promise to be transparent, free and fair electoral processes and encourage pluralism as way of getting back to our roots of being a democratic country as it seems like the current government has forgotten about that important aspect,‚ÄĚ Tiego explained.
Reeling under the increasing barrage of stinging international sanctions, the isolated North Korean regime is reportedly up to its old trickery, this time in a more complicated web of murky operations that have got the authorities of five southern African countries at sixes and sevens as they desperately try to tighten their dragnet around Pyongyang‚Äôs spectral network of illicit ivory and rhino horn trade.
It is an intricate network of poaching for elephant tusks and rhino horns that spans Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, with the main sources of the contraband being Botswana and South Africa.
The syndicate running the illegal trafficking of the poached contraband is suspected to be controlled by two shadowy North Korean government operatives with close links to one Han Tae-song, a disgraced North Korean career diplomat who, while serving as the second secretary at his country‚Äôs embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe, was expelled in 1992 after he was fingered as the mastermind behind a similar illegal ring that was busted by the country‚Äôs authorities.
This disturbing tale of malfeasance by North Korean state actors is as real as it gets.
Recent reports indicate that authorities in the source countries are jointly battling to plug holes created by the shadowy syndicate which allegedly has on its payroll, park rangers, border officials and cross-border truck drivers.
Even more disturbing are allegations that some wildlife officials are conniving in misrepresenting numbers of retrieved rhino horns and ivory from poachers and getting kickbacks for their involvement in the pilfering of ivory and rhino horns from government stockpiles especially in South Africa.
In a shocking and well-orchestrated movie-style heist in South Africa, thieves in June this year made off with 51 rhino horns after breaking into a very secure government stockpile facility of the North West Parks Board (NWPB).
While some suspects from South Africa and Malawi were nabbed in a government sting operation, none of the rhino horns – 14 of which were very large specimens that can fetch serious money on the black market ‚Äď were recovered.
A report of the heist said the police were lethargic by eight hours in responding to an emergency alert of the robbery which was described by North West police spokesperson Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone as ‚Äú‚Ä¶ a case of business robbery‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
Thabang Moko, a security analyst in Pretoria says the military precision in the burglary, delays in police response, and failure to recover the stolen rhino horns is dubious. ‚ÄúThis development lends credence to suspicions that some government officials could be part of a shadowy syndicate run by foreign buyers of rhino horns and ivory,‚ÄĚ Moko says.
It is understood that in light of the rhino horns heist in North West, South Africa‚Äôs Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy on 1 August, shared her concerns to her counterparts in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique calling for greater regional cooperation to combat the illegal wildlife trafficking which she believes is being masterminded by the Far East‚Äôs buyers of the ill-gotten horns and ivory.
It is believed that foreign kingpins involved in perpetuating the illegal trade are mainly North Koreans vying against Vietnamese and Cambodian buyers in the quest for dominance of the illicit trade in rhino horns and ivory sourced from southern Africa.
Creecy‚Äôs concerns, which she also shared to South Africa‚Äôs state-run broadcaster SABC, echoed Moko‚Äôs worries that the North West heist may have been an inside job.
According to Creecy, there was a need for the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol)‚Äôs greater involvement in joint investigations by affected countries as there were indications of ‚Äėlocal knowledge‚Äô of the North West job and that syndicates, ‚ÄúHigher up the value chain actually recruit park rangers to the illegal ivory trade network.‚ÄĚ
Botswana‚Äôs Environment and Tourism Minister Philda Kereng is on national record admitting that poaching was a source of headaches to her government, especially considering that the daring poachers were making successful incursions into secure areas protected by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF).
This came after poachers gunned down two white rhinos at the BDF-protected Khama Rhino Sanctuary in August 2022 despite Kereng putting the time frame of the killings between October and November 2022.
Kereng hinted at the existence of Asian controlled syndicates and acknowledged that the surge in poaching in Botswana is driven by the ‚Äúincreased demand¬†for rhino horn on the international market‚ÄĚ where in Asia rhino horns are believed to be potent in traditional medicines and for their imagined therapeutic properties.
Botswana has in the past recorded an incident of a group of an all-Asian reconnaissance advance team teams being nabbed by the country‚Äôs intelligence service in the Khama Rhino Sanctuary.
Masquerading as tourists, the group, with suspected links to North Korea and China, was discovered to be collecting crucial data for poachers.
Also according to reliable information at hand, an undisclosed number of wildlife parks rangers were arrested between September 2022 and January this year, after information surfaced that they connived in the smuggling of rhino horns and ivory from Botswana.
One of the rangers reportedly admitted getting paid to falsify information on recovered horns and ivory which were smuggled out of the country through its vast and porous eastern border with South Africa, and making their way to their final destination in Mozambique via back roads and farmlands in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
‚ÄúWe are aware that in the past year, some rhino horns and ivory illegally obtained from Botswana through poaching activities and shady deals by some elements within our wildlife and national parks department, have found their way out of the country and end up in Mozambique‚Äôs coastal ports for shipment to the Far East,‚ÄĚ a Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) source says.
Independent investigations reveal that two North Korean buyers, one of them only identified as Yi Kang-dae [confirmed to be an intelligence official in the country‚Äôs state security apparatus], acting on behalf of the disgraced Han Tae-song, financed the entire operation on two occasions between 2022 and 2023, to move at least 18 rhino horns and 19 elephant tusks from Botswana, including pay-offs – mostly to border patrol and customs officials for safe passage – along the knotty conduit across South Africa‚Äôs north western lands, then across south-eastern Zimbabwe into Mozambique.
According to a trusted cross-border transport operator in Zimbabwe, the rhino horns and elephant tusks were illegally handed over to smugglers in Mozambique at an obscure illegal crossing point 15km north of Zimbabwe‚Äôs Forbes Border Post in November 2022 and February this year.
The end buyers in Mozambique? ‚ÄúIt is quite an embarrassment for us, but we have solid evidence that two North Korean buyers, one of them who is linked to a former notorious diplomat from that country who has been in the past involved in such illegal activities in Zimbabwe, oversaw the loading of rhino horns and ivory onto a China-bound ship from one of our ports,‚ÄĚ a top government source in Maputo said before declining to divulge more information citing ongoing investigations.
Yi Kang-dae and his accomplice‚Äôs whereabouts are presently unclear to Mozambican authorities whose dragnet reportedly recently netted some key actors of the network. Han Tae-song currently serves as North Korea‚Äôs ambassador to the United Nations in Switzerland.
North Korean diplomats have in the past used Mozambique as a final transit point for the shipment of rhino horns to the Far East.
In May 2015, Mozambican authorities nabbed two North Koreans, one of them a Pretoria-based diplomat and political counsellor identified as Pak Chol-jun after they were caught in possession of 4.5kg of rhino horn pieces and US$100,000 cash.
Pak‚Äôs accomplice, Kim Jong-su, a Taekwondo instructor also based in South Africa, was fingered as a North Korean spy and returned to North Korea under suspicious circumstances on the heels of Pak‚Äôs expulsion from South Africa in November 2016.
A security source in Zimbabwe closely following current developments says there is a big chance that Han Tae-song may have revived the old smuggling network he ran while posted in Zimbabwe in the 90s.
‚ÄúThe biting international sanctions against North Korea in the past decade may have prompted Han to reawaken his network which has been dormant for some time,‚ÄĚ the source says. ‚ÄúThere is no telling if the shady network is dead now given that Han‚Äôs two front men have not been nabbed in Mozambique. More joint vigilance is needed to destroy the operation at the source and at the end of the line.‚ÄĚ
North Korean diplomats have, as early as October 1976, been fingered for engaging in illegal activities ranging from possession of and trade in ivory pieces, trade in diamonds and gold, the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit currencies, pharmaceuticals, and the sale on the black market, of a paraphernalia of drugs, cigarettes, alcohol and other trinkets on the back of protracted and biting international sanctions against the reclusive state for its gross human rights abuses against its own people and flagrant nuclear tests.
These illegal activities, according to a US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, have raked in at least US$500m annually for the Pyongyang regime. Other global studies estimate that North Korea‚Äôs illegal earnings from the black market are around $1bn annually, and are being channelled towards the country‚Äôs nuclear weapons programme, while ordinary North Koreans continue to die of mass starvation.
In February 2014, Botswana, citing systematic human rights violations, severed ties with North Korea with the former‚Äôs president Mokgweetsi Masisi (then vice president) calling North Korea an ‚Äėevil nation‚Äô on 23 September 2016, at a United Nations General Assembly forum in Washington, USA.
Botswana has¬†close to 132,000¬†elephants, more than any of its four neighbouring countries, namely Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, according to a 2022 Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) Elephant Survey.
The rhino population in Botswana has significantly dwindled, with poaching a leading cause of the decimation of the country‚Äôs rhinos. Despite dehorning and relocating its diminishing rhino population from the extensive Okavango Delta to undisclosed sanctuaries, Botswana has since 2018, lost 138 rhinos to poachers.
The sharp spike in rhino poaching in Botswana came after the country‚Äôs government made a controversial decision to disarm park rangers in early 2018.
In a statement delivered in November 2022 to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) CoP-19 in Panama, the Botswana government instead blamed the surge in poaching to a shift of foreign-sponsored organised poaching organisations from South Africa to Botswana.
‚ÄúThis increase in rhino poaching in Botswana coincided with a decline of rhino poaching in South Africa from 2018 to 2020, suggesting a displacement of the poaching syndicates from South Africa to Botswana,‚ÄĚ the statement reads. ‚ÄúThe recent decline in rhino poaching in Botswana (2021 and 2022, relative to 2020) coincides with the increase in rhino poaching in Namibia and South Africa, further suggesting displacement of the poaching syndicates across the sub-region.‚ÄĚ
According to the Botswana government, as of 13 November 2022 the country has secreted its shrinking rhinos (only 285 white rhinos and 23¬†black rhinos) in undisclosed locations within the country‚Äôs borders.
South Africa has close to 15,000 rhinos. Between January and June 2022 alone, poachers killed 260 rhinos in South Africa for their horns. The country is home to the majority of Africa‚Äôs white rhinos, a species whose existence remains under threat of extinction due to poaching.
The major threat posed by foreign state actors including those from North Korea, to southern Africa‚Äôs rhino and elephant population remains grim as the bulk of the rhino horns and elephant tusks reportedly continue finding their way to the Far East, where China is being used as the major distribution centre.