Some members of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) National Executive Committee (NEC) are dead set that their next meeting slated for 6th May should thoroughly rebuke and if possible, suspend Botswana Congress Party (BCP) President, Dumelang Saleshando and Party Secretary General, Goretetse Kekgonegile.
The meeting was originally planned for 18th May, but Saleshando and Kekgonegile indicated that they will not be available on this date. The UDC politburo members argue that the BCP’s decision to contest Bophirima Ward against the UDC brought the party into disrepute. BCP is part of UDC but after disagreeing with the UDC, the party decided to field its candidate going against the UDC.
Mr Abdoola has known Mr. Uzair Razi for many years from the time he was a young boy. Uzair’s father, Mr Razi Ahmed, was the head of BCCI Bank in Botswana and “a very good man,” his close associates say.
Uzair and his wife went to settle in Dubai, the latter’s birthplace. He stayed in touch and was working for a real estate company owned by Mr. Sameer Lakhani. “Our understanding is that Uzair approached Mr. Abdoola to utilize their services for any property-related interests in Dubai. He did some work for Mr.Abdoola and others in the Botswana business community,” narrates a friend of Mr Abdoola.
According to sources, Uzair contacted Mr.Abdoola to propose two really good prospects; one was a completed off ice block for Turnstar, and the other was a residential development opportunity. Palazzo Venezia was a newly completed office building. Uzair provided all due diligence documents to the CFO of Turnsta, including a 5-year pre-lease to a Logistics company, and it looked like a great investment based on the returns.
The development opportunity was land available to build a multi-story apartment building. Uzair’s company was looking for partners to invest in this project and showed that there is high interest from potential tenants with a yield of 9% return.
OKAVANGO, JVC – The Residential Development
Mr Uzair Razi and Mr. Lakhani presented proposed plans, costings, and projected yields of the building to Mr Abdoola.The project, as they presented it, appeared to be a good investment. Mr Abdoola was interested and also offered the opportunity to other investors in Botswana who had been looking for good investments.
Mr Abdoola then introduced the project, which he was also investing into other business associates in Botswana. They showed a lot of interest and were keen to be involved as they had also done business with Mr Abdoola before. Mr Uzair Razi and Sameer Lakhani advised Mr Abdoola that for foreigners to invest in Dubai at that time, the funds would have to be transferred into a “free zone authority”. They then set up a company called Bucephalus Holding Limited in the Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA) to facilitate. They advised that Mr Abdoola’s name would be on this company so that he could oversee and take care of his investors’ interests, and Mr Uzair’s name would also be on the company as he has the power of attorney to represent Mr Abdoola in Dubai and thereby protect Mr. Abdoola’s interests as well as that of his investors. Uzair Razi was never a partner, or investor in this project.
Bucephalus Holding was set up purely as an SPV, to receive funds from the investors and to own the land purchased for the project. Once the project was completed, Bucephalus Holdings would transfer each investor’s units to their names respectively, and then be closed. Neither Bucephalus Holding nor Mr Abdoola was the developers of this project. Mr Sameer Lakhani transferred all the funds out of Bucephalus Holding to his own company, Global Capital Partners FZ-LLC, who were the actual developers of this project.
The construction started well and was underway. When Mr Abdoola visited Dubai in September 2019 the building was almost completed and at the snagging stage. Within a few months, it was to be ready for occupation. Mr Abdoola was likely satisfied with the building up to that stage with what he had seen. Since the development risk was over, he saw great potential in the project and wanted Turnstar to also be a part of it in some way.
“Although we believe that Mr Abdoola had the authority to invest on behalf of Turnstar without board approval, he took it to the board and explained the project in detail including information on all the other investors. The board looked at the project and decided to invest based on Mr Abdoola’s recommendation. The board did not carry out their own due diligence on this projec t,” said an insider at Turnstar. Turnstar then transferred the funds to Bucephalus and the Turnstar CFO signed the necessary investment agreements.
COVID-19 then set upon the world at the end of 2019, resulting in lockdowns and international travel restrictions. Mr Razi and Mr Lakhani did not provide updates to Mr Abdoola, even though the building was meant to be completed and the necessary transfers were to be done. They alleged that the finishing of the building was held up du.e’ to COVID-related delays. Mr Abdoola appeared to have accepted this explanation as COVID had impacted business worldwide. He continued to follow up on the progress through 2020 and Mr Razi and Mr Lakhani made similar excuses.
At the end of February 2021 , we believe that Mr Razi contacted Mr Abdoola, as Mr Razi was frantic and said that he had just found ‘out that Mr. Lakhani had misappropriated some of the investor funds from this project and used those funds on another personal project, causing the delay in completion. Dubai had just opened up for international travel from Botswana and Mr. Abdoola arrived in Dubai the same week.
Upon arrival, Mr. Abdoola visited the site, and Mr Razi explained that the contractors were refusing to complete the project due to money owed to them. Mr Abdoola spent the next few days meeting with the contractor and all sub-contractors. The contractors said that they were owed money and agreed to complete work if Mr Abdoola paid their outstanding balances. Mr Abdoola started making the payments needed to get the building completed.
At this point, Uzair Razi continued to lead others to believe that he was trying to help. Uzair finally disclosed that Mr. Lakhani did not transfer the land and the building to Bucephalus Holding (for onward transfer to the investors), as agreed, but had actually transferred the building to a friend of Mr. Lakhani’s – a Mr. Furqan Hussain, a resident of Pakistan. Uzair also said that he and Mr. Lakhani both had power of attorney in place, to develop, manage and transfer the building to its rightful owners. Uzair Razi never provided an answer as to why the building was transferred to this Mr Hussain and claimed to not know why Mr Lakhani had done this.
Uzair also stated that the former owner of the land was a first cousin of Sameer Lakhani’s, that had left Dubai before the transfer of the land took place. Sameer Lakhani held power of attorney for his cousin to complete the transfer. Uzair explained that the same cousin had a travel ban on him but ran away from Dubai.
Recent evidence that has now surfaced in court shows that it was in fact Mr Razi who signed and completed the transfer of this project to Mr Furqan Hussain, in November 2017. Another document that has surfaced in court is a private hand-written agreement dated 26th January 2021, between Mr Razi and Mr Lakhani. This was their own internal agreement, which was never disclosed to Mr Abdoola or the other investors, stating that Mr Razi and Lakhani will each get 16 apartments in the project for themselves, on the condition that Mr Razi would be able to get the project completed. Mr Razi had already conspired to this deal a month before calling Mr Abdoola regarding the issues with completion.
Around this time, it appears that Mr Abdoola retained lawyers in Dubai, and did not invest any more funding into the completion of the building as there was a possibility that Mr Razi and Mr Lakhani could transfer the entire building to themselves on completion. Mr Abdoola visited all contractors and consultants involved, to find out what actually happened on-site, what work had been done, and what funds had been spent, and to presumably introduce himself as the rightful owner.
All parties were completely shocked, as they were told that the building in fact belonged to Mr Razi and Mr Lakhani and that buyers from Africa were interested to view and buy it upon completion. Mr. Abdoola explained that the building belongs to the investors and he would be commencing civil and criminal action against Mr Razi and Mr Lakhani,to try to get the building back.
When this information was discovered in Dubai, Mr Abdoola immediately informed and met with all the investors. He explained that the building should have already been completed with the initial funds put in, but some funds were misappropriated and further explained to them that the allocations they had been sent by Mr Razi were incorrect as each investor was actually due more units. He further explained that he had already commenced the court processes in Dubai, and was unsure how long the process would take. The investors were very disappointed at what Mr Razi and Mr Lakhani had done.
Mr Abdoola then went back to Dubai in May 2021 as the lawyers were ready to submit to the court, and the investors learned that, through the lawyers’ advice, they should either give Mr Abdoola a session of rights of their investments in order to allow him to represent them all in court, or else each investor would have to open their own individual cases, a costly, complex, and time consuming exercise. The investors were updated on the situation and understood that the court processes in Dubai can be extremely long, and if at any point in time they would prefer it, Mr Abdoola was willing to pay them out as they had invested due to trust in him and his recommendation.
Documents that have surfaced during the court proceedings include:
Handwritten agreement between Uzair Razi & Sameer Lakhani dated January 26, 2021. Uzair Razi’s current account statement with Global Capital Partners reflects many entries related to several clients. The statement shows a commission received by Mr. Razi for the sale of the Palazzo Venezia building to Tumstar, of AED 1, 442, 300. It also shows the transfer fee received from Tumstar of AED 1 153 840. The transfer of ownership of the land to Furqan Hussain, and the subsequent agreements in 2017, were all signed by Uzair Razi.
In February 2022, Uzair Razi met one of Mr Abdoola’s lawyers. This same week, Rizwan Desi (Turnstar’s lawyer) accepted Uzair’s public offer for an interview – however, Uzair then backed out and refused to be interviewed. Uzair claimed he had a lot of documents in his possession that can help prove the claims and that he is willing to cooperate if Mr Abdoola would consider releasing him from the relevant cases. Uzair also claimed that he has invested AED 700K into the building but did not provide details on all payments made to him.
Uzair’s lawyer contacted Mr Abdoola and/or his lawyers to meet and a time was agreed to meet with both clients present. Mr Abdoola and his lawyers went to the meeting on February 22, but Uzair was not present. It is understood that Uzair wanted 25% of the project, regardless of his contribution amount.
Turnstar – Palazzo Venezia
This building was offered to Mr Abdoola for Tumstar Holdings. It was a brand new, completed office block with a few retail units on the ground level. The building looked nice and well-finished. Mr Razi and Mr Lakhani presented the building with a pre-lease from a Logistics company that would rent the entire building. Turnstar would have a five-year lease with a starting rental of AED 3,1 million per annum.
Mr Abdoola then asked the Turnstar CFO to come to Dubai and have a look at the property, to decide if it was worth having a look for Turnstar to acquire, as the management would have to conduct due diligence. The CFO agreed that the building and the returns both looked favorable.
It is difficult for management to gauge the value of a building just by looking at it since the same sized building in Botswana would be far less expensive than it is in Dubai. When management arrived back home the CFO commenced the due diligence process as is followed on all projects of a large amount. Turnstar management asked Mr Razi to provide a valuation for the building through a reputable company, examine the lease, and verify the title deeds. Mr Razi was the agent and the man on the ground, holding a power of attorney and was meant to safeguard the interests of Turnstar Holdings.
For two and a half years, there were no issues as the rentals were coming in as per the lease. When COVID happened, the rental payments stopped coming in. When management followed up, they were told that since Emirates has suspended most of their flights, the same Logistics company tenant was not able to conduct its business at the same capacity. It was suggested to give them a few months of rental holidays, and then a reduced rental, to give them time for their business to recover. Management understood this and believed Mr Razi, as the same lenience was shown by Turnstar to other tenants in Game City, and Mlimani City in Tanzania.
They said that the tenant is prepared to give Tumstar an apartment of his own, valued at AED 1,5 million, instead of back rentals. Tumstar accepted, planning to then sell the apartment to recover the funds. All correspondence with Mr Razi regarding this attempt to recover the rentals can verify these facts. When Mr Abdoola was in Dubai in March 2021 and found out about the issues on the Okavango development projected, Turnstar CFO was notified and retained legal counsel in Dubai.
What the attorneys came back with was shocking. The lease that was held by Tumstar for the Logistics company was a false lease, created by Mr Lakhani and Mr Razi. The building was not occupied by that tenant but instead seemed to be occupied by various small tenants. Even the building valuation provided to Turnstar was based on a fake lease, resulting in a higher valuation and purchase price.
The rentals being paid by these tenants were far lower than the amount stipulated in Tumstar’s lease. The 4% transfer fees that Turnstar had paid to Global Capital Partners, to be paid to the land department were not paid – it was kept by GCP. The VAT collected in the sale was not paid in full to the relevant government department.
Mr Lakhani had been depositing the rentals that were received from the various tenants, into an account held by Palazzo Venezia, where Mr Lakhani was the sole signatory. This account was by himself. This is highly unusual as Mr Lakhani was not authorized on behalf of Palazzo Venezia, and the bank would normally conduct a KYC on all accounts. It seems that if you are the son of a high ranking bank executive the KYC procedure does not apply. It also appears that Mr Razi executed a resolution, purportedly as an agent of Tumstar but without notifying Tumstar, to authorize Mr. Lakhani to continue to operate the bank accounts of Palazzo Venezia.
The attorneys in Dubai pursued civil and criminal cases against Mr Sameer Lakhani, Mr Uzair Razi, and their accountants at GCP in this matter. The court cases are ongoing and it seems that the investors are seeking to recover the loss of value in the building.
“When President Mokgwetsi Masisi and Bangwato converged at the Serowe main Kgotla last year, I made a sincere appeal to both government and Morafe to protect me. I did so because I felt so vulnerable and weak in a moment of war.
I made this appeal in anticipation of an uncomfortable future where the sacrificial lamb will be none other than myself. This prophesy has come to pass. I leave with a heavy heart, especially by the way in which the government has treated me in light of all these. Not even accorded a time to say my goodbyes or do a proper handover after 34 years of national service.”
Above is a heart-piercing account of Kgosi Sidiegeng Harrigan Kgamane, the sacked Bangwato regent king and a man behind the longest regency in the history of Botswana, having held for 34 years, the fort for Ian Khama since his days at the barracks. History, without a doubt will best remember Kgamane as a victim of circumstances who did not live to see and say his goodbyes to his people and his masters-the state and paramount Chief -Ian Khama. When the conflict between the president, Masisi and his predecessor, Ian Khama reached its crescendo, Kgamane, by virtue of his position, was in the crossfire, caught between two masters, all of whom he had served diligently.
By his grace, an opportunity presented itself that all affected parties, expect Khama, were under the same roof in Serowe. Kgamane says he then decided to seize the opportunity to make desperate appeal to all to spare him for he was not born a warrior but a servant. “I made that appeal thinking all have ears. I said to all-please protect me. My point of departure on that note was that ha di lwa digata marojana (it’s the grass that will suffer when two elephants fight). All did not listen. The bickering continued and I was torn between the two authorities pulling apart. The pressure was too much to bear, I felt weak in mind and body. I felt helpless,” he says.
Kgamane says when this all happened, all parts of his life suffered, including his family. A father of four, three daughters and a son, his worry, he says was how his family was being affected by his situation given especially his advanced age. “Some of my children are government officers and they would be asked all sorts of questions by whoever thought could get a better explanation from them. I felt defeated and without options. I felt for my Morafe, he adds.
When the government moved to misdirect its wrath towards him as a mere messenger of the King, Kgamane says deep anguish enveloped him: “Upon realizing that I may not be able to keep up with the developments and their pace, I approached Kgosikgolo Khama for release to go and rest. It was on the 22 of April 2022. He agreed and upon requesting to serve a three months notice to government to do my goodbyes, I was to my shock, slapped with a dismissal letter.”
Kgamane says his heart nearly stopped pumping. “Nobody wants to leave like that, especially after my sacrifices and undivided service to the people. I felt betrayed and abused by my government given my long and dutiful service. I felt a deep anger and frustration because I don’t think I deserved that treatment. I felt disrespected fired in a manner in which I was when I had especially requested to bow out in peace. Of all the developments accompanying this case, my dismissal has hurt me the most and with a permanent scar. I did not even have time to say goodbye to my people, my paramount chief, the people of Botswana and my government,” he said.
Kgamane has vacated his house given to him by Bogosi and says he is now back to his roots, Shoshong where he comes from and where he was plunged from to the service of Bangwato. Interestingly, it appears like he does not own land or a house in Serowe despite his long stay at the village. “I have always stayed in a house provided to me by Bogosi. I did not have an idea to own residence in Serowe because I knew that I have a home in Shoshong to go back to once my term was over,” he explains.
On his state of mind amid everything that has occurred, Kgamane says: “I have counseled myself. Time heals everything. I will forgive but nobody in my situation will forget what my government has done to me. I do not think they did not understand my predicament. It was pure heartlessness and an insensitive act. I am deeply hurt and I won’t lie about it.” On the way forward, Kgamane says he is taking things slow but will be focusing on his farming hobby. “I have just drilled a borehole and will be pursuing irrigation system.”
He takes long to respond when asked about his legacy, a clear testimony that the end is not what he had anticipated. Finally he responds with a heavy sigh, “I will leave that for you to judge. If you ask me, I will say I have done my utmost to fulfill my duty. Like all men I am not a saint but I do not think my shortcomings should define me either, just as my successes. All I can say is that I did my part and did it with pride and a great sense of duty. How all has ended I believe should not be what defines my legacy.”
Given a chance to say his last messages to Khama as he could not according to his account, Kgamane says: “I am sorry my master for the turn of things. If you felt I did not measure up to anything, please pardon me. I am sorry that I did not handover the way I had wanted to. I am sorry that I leave the tribe in this state and I want to tell you that I remain available to serve in different capacities as may be seen fit by yourself in the future.”
To Morafe, he says: “Nobody anticipated and knew about this turbulence. Neither did I. If I have fallen short of your expectations please find it in your heart to pardon me. Like you, circumstances were beyond my control. I remain at your service should the need arise in the future. Remain united and at peace as you and I had hoped.” To the government? “I did not think it will end like this. I hope one day I will forgive those who did this to me. My heart bleeds for the way I was treated and fired like a dog after my service to this country. Everybody knows I did not deserve this kind of treatment.”
Once a chairperson of Ntlo Ya Dikgosi, which plays advisory role to government, Kgosi Kgamane says he dreams of a day Dikgosi will be respected and acknowledged for their role in nation building as it used to be the case. A somewhat devoted servant of the people with an abiding commitment to his people, the 73-year-old Kgamane’s national service stretches back to 1974 during his days as an employee of the Central District Council before his installment as a regent in 1988 aged only 39 year. He was asked to pack his bags, leave his home in Shoshong to assume the Bangwato chieftaincy which to date, has been subjected to regency since 1926 during Tshekedi Khama’s regency.
Like their father, Sir Seretse ‘s three sons Ian Khama (heir apparent) and his two twin brothers, Anthony Khama and Tshekedi Khama were still available to take up the seat, and also available were Seretse’s uncle, Kgosi Tshekedi Khama’s four sons who could be regents. In an interview this week, Khama described Kgamane as a loyal and obedient man who like many of his associates was sacrificed by the government to get back at him. “He is truthful and humble gentleman who has served with so much devotion to this country and Bangwato. I wish him well,” said Khama
As would be known, Kgamane’s departure has left a vacancy and tribe in destitution. Khama who is currently in South Africa does not hint much on taking over the seat but rather saying serving and submitting to the current vindictive regime will be like giving it legitimacy. “If resuming usurping full chieftainship duties means being on the regime’s payroll and reporting to such incompetents that would be like a teacher having to be taught by primary school kids,” he said.
Addressing Dikgosi this week, the Minister of Local government, Kgotla Autlwetse said Kgamane was dismissed following his repeated hosting of Kgotla meetings where the subject Ian Khama was discussed. “He rebelled over several warnings to cease doing so hence a decision for his dismissal. He said Kgamane will be given all his dues by the government. On whether sacrificing Kgamane will pave way for peace or set anybody free as is common occurrence with many sacrifices remains a mystery which can only be explained by the future.
Botswana continues on a downward spiral on press freedom. Although Botswana has seen a decline in the most serious abuses against journalists in recent years, many obstacles still hinder their work. Botswana ranked 39th in 2020, the country saw an improvement in ranking in 2021 to position 38th. This year the country’s rank has nosedived by 57 spots to position 95 for the year 2022, from a total of 180 countries.
The 20th World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) revealed that the media landscape locally especially state media still falls far short of providing a public news service and continues to be under the government’s sway adding that a proposal to transform state broadcasting into a more independent public service was recently rejected. In order to reflect press freedom’s complexity, five new indicators were used to compile the Index: the political context, legal framework, economic context, sociocultural context, and security.
Botswana ranked 86th globally on the Political context. “Government control of the state-owned media is such that public TV and radio broadcasting policy is decided by the president’s office. The privately owned broadcast media are supervised by the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA), which reports directly to the government. The allocation of advertising is also managed by the president’s office and is used to exert political pressure on privately owned media outlets,” says the report.
122nd on Legal framework scale, Botswana’s legal framework is said to be extremely repressive. Stating; “the president has yet to honour his pledge to revise draconian laws such as the 2008 Media Practitioners Act, while the promised freedom of information law has yet to see the light of day. The legislative arsenal was reinforced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and now publishing information about the pandemic from any source other than the director of public health or the WHO is punishable by up to five years in prison.
116th on Economic context; Development of the media is limited by the small size of the advertising market, which is dominated by public procurement notices. Advertising is not allocated equitably but in accordance with the degree to which media outlets toe the government line. The decline in advertising revenue as a result of the pandemic has fuelled self-censorship by media outlets seeking to retain advertisers. Sociocultural context ranking 85th; very few women hold positions of responsibility in the media. Only one of Botswana’s 13 newspapers is run by a woman.
After an alarming decline in press freedom under President Ian Khama, Botswana secured the 75th spot for Security. The report disclosed; “the situation has improved markedly since Mokgweetsi Masisi became president in 2018. While journalists are rarely detained or arrested, they are sometimes the victims of police violence, especially during protests, and the intelligence services use spyware to monitor their communications. Journalists are also often subjected to social media smear campaigns.”
Botswana Media and Allied Workers Union (BOMAWU) President, Phillimon Mmeso when asked about whether the drop is a sign that Botswana is becoming a dangerous place for media, he highlighted that “the main challenge is digital media which is not regulated especially the faceless pages which report mostly fake news.” He concurred with the RSF that although Botswana has dropped in ranking, comparing to the previous regime, Botswana has fared well.
The index also showed a two-fold increase in polarisation amplified by information chaos that is, media polarisation fuelling divisions within countries, as well as polarisation between countries at the international level world wide. The index highlighted that Media polarisation is feeding and reinforcing internal social divisions in democratic societies such as the United States 42nd on the index, despite American President Joe Biden’s election. The increase in social and political tension is fuelled by social media and new opinion media, especially in France.
The suppression of independent media is contributing to a sharp polarisation in “illiberal democracies” such as Poland 66th, where the authorities have consolidated their control over public broadcasting and their strategy of “re-Polonising” the privately-owned media. The RSF barometer recorded journalists whose death or imprisonment was linked to their journalistic activity.
The abuses worldwide in real time show that since January 1st 2022, 25 journalists and 2 media workers have been killed around the world summing it to 27 deaths while 460 journalists and 19 media workers are currently imprisoned. Vietnam currently carries the highest number of imprisoned journalists at 41 with cases ongoing since 2009 to date. The world’s 10 worst countries for press freedom include Myanmar (176th), where the February 2021 coup d’état set press freedom back by 10 years, as well as China, Turkmenistan (177th), Iran (178th), Eritrea (179th) and North Korea (180th).