In the past decade we have come to expect little from the M&G in its reporting on Botswana, which tends to be ill-informed, writes Jeff Ramsay.
Yet, even by its usual trash-tabloid standards, “Khama Inc: All the president’s family, friends and close colleagues” (November 2 to 8) is truly breathtaking in its inaccuracy and resort to innuendo and smear as a substitute for substance.
The article claims to reveal “President Ian Khama’s extensive use of the Botswana state to establish a far-reaching network built on patronage”. But an informed reading of its content provides little evidence for such a bold claim.
It is already on shaky ground in its second sentence, claiming that Botswana, along with Swaziland, “is thought to have the highest unemployment rate in the world”. No one would deny that unemployment is a challenge in our country, as it is elsewhere, but readily available comparative indices show that Botswana is doing better than most United Nations member states, including South Africa, in terms of unemployment.
The article dismally fails to present any evidence that individuals related to the president have been given corrupt advantages by him. The M&G mentions Tshekedi Khama’s appointment as a Cabinet minister, ignoring the fact that, as an elected MP for Serowe North-West, he qualifies to serve as a minister under the governing rules of our country. The M&G finds it sufficient to dismiss his qualifications based on the criticism of one opposition politician.
In the article, the M&G also repeats the false report that the Botswana Defence Force bought “45 Austrian Pandur tanks” from Seleka Springs, of which Tshekedi Khama was a director, against the recommendations of a confidential report recommending more robust Swiss-built counterparts. The problem with this allegation, which has been communicated to the M&G in the past, is that it simply is not true.
It is true that a few years ago a defence force evaluation team recommended Swiss Piranha armoured personnel carriers rather than the Austrian Pandur. But it is also true that, based on these findings, the defence force bought the Piranha rather than the Pandur model. In other words, Seleka Springs lost the bid. Contrary to the report, it is also not true that Seleka Springs has been deregistered.
The article is full of many smaller inaccuracies, from its description of the Botswana Economic Advisory Council as a parastatal to its claim that Khama appointed Satar Dada to Parliament. The rest is a series of innuendos and smears about other individuals alleged to be close to the president, but they are devoid of any examples of actual impropriety.
What does the ex-spouse of a second cousin working for DeBeers in Ghana or a nephew’s past role as an executive in a Canadian prospecting company have to do with the president? Are members of his extended family all supposed to remain without work lest the M&G interpret any success as nepotism? Fortunately, Transparency International adheres to much higher standards than the M&G, ranking Botswana for 15 years in a row as Africa’s least corrupt country.
Finally, there is what the M&G deceitfully describes as an “official response”, which is based on nothing more than a short phone conversation dating back several weeks. It did not send the full content of its allegations to this office for comment. The article’s claim of a “response” is thus further evidence of a once respected periodical’s descent into the gutter.
Dr Jeff Ramsay is deputy permanent secretary for government communications in Botswana