Botswana dismisses Malema's military-base claim

Botswana has dismissed as “bullshit” ANC Youth League claims that the country is talking to the United States about setting up a military base in the country.

After its national executive committee meeting at the weekend, league president Julius Malema launched a puzzling attack on the Botswana government, which is led by President Ian Khama’s Botswana Democratic Party, accusing it of being a “security threat to Africa” and a “puppet of the imperialist United States”.

“We know that Botswana is in discussions to open a military base for the imperialists [US government],” Malema said.

There is speculation that the league is doing the bidding of the Zanu-PF youth wing, which last year invited it to visit Zimbabwe. Khama has been the region’s most vocal critic of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.

Reacting, Botswana government spokesperson Jeff Ramsay could barely contain his anger and dislike for Malema, whose allegation he said was “utter garbage”.

“This issue was addressed many years ago and we have clearly stated our position. We will not be drawn into commenting on any issue raised by Malema,” Ramsay said.

“Why would we respond to his statement? He’s not a government official. You guys [the media] should be ashamed of yourselves for taking such characters seriously.” The Mail & Guardian has learned that Botswana was among the African countries considered as a possible site for a base for the US government’s Africa Command (Africom), currently based in Stuttgart, Germany.

The 2007 report of the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) listed Botswana as one of several countries in Africa that showed an interest in hosting Africom. According to the CRS, the US military has facilities known as “lily pads”, or co-operative security locations, in African states including Botswana, Algeria, Gabon, Kenya, Mali, Namibia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia.

In 2007 former Botswana president Festus Mogae said it had not taken a final position on the matter “because we don’t know what the animal (Africom) will look like”.

According to a 2007 report by the US think-tank, the Centre for Defence Information, under the headline “A big image problem down there: prospects of an African headquarters for Africom”, Botswana may have abandoned plans to host Africom under pressure from the Southern African Development Community.

Addressing a press conference last year in Botswana, Africom commander General William Ward said that while there had been speculation that the US intended setting up a military base in Africa through Africom, it was not true.

ANCYL spokesperson Floyd Shivambu said the youth league was unshaken in its claim.  He refused to go into specifics.

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