Former President Lt Gen Ian Khama has said it is necessary for differences that exist between Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and Botswana Congress Party (BCP) to be settled, to enable working relationship ahead of the 2024 general elections.
Khama cautioned that unless BCP joins the UDC, majority of their legislators are likely to serve only one term in office. Khama, who is currently in exile in South Africa, conveyed that the BCP faces a pivotal decision: either align with the UDC coalition or face a treatment similar to that of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). He highlighted a recent clash between BCP and BPF in the Serowe West constituency, expressing his discontent with the BCP’s actions.
“We significantly contributed to their victories in several constituencies they won in 2019. However, their actions in Serowe West did not sit well with us, unless there’s an arrangement that can be reached. Should this fail to materialize, they will discover that we are prepared to compete against them in specific constituencies. I wish to avoid such a scenario, but it has become evident that our unity holds substantial influence.” Khama told WeekendPost.
Khama, as the paramount chief of GaMmangwato tribal territory, holds substantial influence, particularly in the region where the BPF holds prominence. Unlike the BCP, the Khama said the BPF remains committed to the Memorandum of Agreement (MoU) with the UDC, because the coming together of the UDC, BPF and AP has proven to be going to be a significant factor at the upcoming elections, he said.
Khama revealed that in the past, he attempted to reconcile differences between the BCP President, Dumelang Saleshando, and UDC leader, Duma Boko. The attempt followed a rift stemming from governance issues. Unfortunately, due to conflicting directives from their respective parties’ Central Committees, National Executive Committees (NEC), and Congresses, the relationship between the UDC and BCP deteriorated.
Khama claims that he engages with certain individuals within the BCP consistently, and they express a desire for a unified front. In Serowe, some BCP members refrained from campaigning or encouraging their members to vote for the party. This resulted in certain councilors leaving the BCP to join the UDC as independent members, he stated.
The former President went on to disclose that he has been informed about the presence of hardliners within the BCP leadership who are obstructing the establishment of a united coalition. He clarified, “I am not involved in the BCP structures, but like you, I hear that there are hardliners who hold anti-Boko or anti-UDC sentiments. If this situation persists, most of the MPs run the risk of being one-term MPs. If we don’t arrive at some form of arrangement with the BCP, there could be someone contesting against the BCP.”
Among those who are speculated to be against the UDC, Khama mentioned Bobonong MP Taolo Lucas and Sefhare-Ramokgonami representative Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang. Khama recalls Lucas’ stance during the 2019 campaigns.
“When I campaigned for Taolo [Lucas] and Lesaso [Aubrey] before he sold out, they conveyed to voters that in the past, they always thought they would secure seats in parliament. However, they said when came to campaign for BDP, I destroyed what they have built. Fortunately, he won the elections for the first time. There are others, including the Tonota MP, who appreciated my input.”
Khama affirms his positive relationship with the leader of BCP, Dumelang Saleshando and mentions that they have even met this year. He maintains optimism that a special arrangement between UDC and BCP will be established for the 2024 period.
WE ARE PREPARED TO FIGHT AGAINST KHAMA – BCP
When responding to Khama’s remarks, BCP Publicity Secretary Professor Mpho Pheko dismissed Khama and even accused him of being the reason why Botswana is in deep problems.
“Rre Khama has absolutely no authority to decide where the BCP can or should contest elections. We see him as a huge part of the problems Botswana is currently experiencing. Rre Khama must understand that he doesn’t even have any power to influence our decisions. If he thought he has, he is greatly misguided.”
Dr. Pheko went on to remind Khama that the BCP was first tested in the 1999 polls against the BDP, to which Khama was a brand new Vice President. She said the BCP went on to compete against his BDP over years, gaining considerable traction in constituencies that the BDP was untouchable in.
“Our 2019 success was not by any stretch of the imagination a fluke. It was a result of hard work put in over the years against him and his party, the BDP. For example, Taolo Lucas lost to the BDP when Rre Khama was the president by 120 votes, having been voted by more 7230 people. If it makes him feel good to tell himself that we did well on his account, he is at liberty to continue telling himself that.”
According to the BCP spokesperson, Khama and UDC are at liberty to contest any constituency in Botswana. She continued, unlike him and Boko, they harbour no sense of entitlement over any constituency or position in this country.
“We are, therefore, not about to back down because Khama is now the Patron of the UDC. We fought him when he was a powerful figure on his journey of destroying Botswana through the BDP,” said Professor Pheko.
“The truth is, the BPF has contested against us many times. In 2019, we faced them in Palapye and Mahalapye (you can confirm the IEC results). Post 2019, we fielded a candidate in a Pitsane by election where we represented the UDC and BPF contested against us. In the recent Palapye by-election Khama campaigned against BCP. Save to add that he contested against us in 2019 in Palapye, Mahalapye West and Mmadinare, and we never complained, Pheko told Weekendpost.
“It is clear for us as the BPF and Khama have low levels of political tolerance and respect for multi-party democracy. They are new in the game but they wish to dictate terms, all for the interest of a man who wishes to rule Botswana through the UDC backdoor.
“We will fight him even as he now pretends to be in opposition through the UDC. And we will save Botswana from a return to dictatorship as well as the continued path to decline! So let it be known that Khama and his UDC are welcome to contest any constituency where the BCP is incumbent. This is what democracy is about. We have never backed down from selling our policy proposals to this nation.”
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.
“Our young generation grew up being taught about types of families, if homosexuality is passed, at what age will our children be introduced to homosexuality?” he rhetorically asked.
He continued: “If 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.” 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. “This 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.”
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.
“There 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.
“When 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,” 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’s 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’s 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’s 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 – 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 “… a case of business robbery…”
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. “This 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,” Moko says.
It is understood that in light of the rhino horns heist in North West, South Africa’s 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’s 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’s concerns, which she also shared to South Africa’s state-run broadcaster SABC, echoed Moko’s 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)’s greater involvement in joint investigations by affected countries as there were indications of ‘local knowledge’ of the North West job and that syndicates, “Higher up the value chain actually recruit park rangers to the illegal ivory trade network.”
Botswana’s 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 “increased demand for rhino horn on the international market” 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’s 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.
“We 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’s coastal ports for shipment to the Far East,” 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’s 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’s 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’s Forbes Border Post in November 2022 and February this year.
The end buyers in Mozambique? “It 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,” a top government source in Maputo said before declining to divulge more information citing ongoing investigations.
Yi Kang-dae and his accomplice’s 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’s 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’s 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’s 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.
“The 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,” the source says. “There is no telling if the shady network is dead now given that Han’s 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.”
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’s illegal earnings from the black market are around $1bn annually, and are being channelled towards the country’s 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’s president Mokgweetsi Masisi (then vice president) calling North Korea an ‘evil nation’ 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’s 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’s 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.
“This 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,” the statement reads. “The 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.”
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’s 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’s 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’s 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.