Elephant in the room: Plot to oust Masisi thickens

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By Mpho Tebele

Gaborone - Daggers are still out for Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi, as the plot to oust him branched off into another controversy this week, with revelations that the alleged massacre of 90 elephants was another effort by his detractors to undermine his leadership and government.

Contrary to speculation that the story was reported in the international media to highlight how Botswana has lost its credibility as a haven for elephants when it withdrew weapons of war from borders with its neighbours, it has emerged that President Masisi became a marked man when his government announced that it will hold a two-month nationwide consultation to review the ban on hunting, notably of elephants.

The plot to underline’s leadership in the eyes of the international community comes a few months after he survived a motion of no confidence that was allegedly sponsored by his enemies, particularly former President Ian Khama, via leader of the opposition Duma Boko.

Khama has since denied that he was behind the motion to topple Masisi.

It emerged that those with beneficial interest in tourism were teaming up with their international allies as they felt threatened by Masisi administration’s announcement that it intends to lift the ban on elephant hunting.

Introduced by former President Khama in 2014, the ban became under increasing criticism from ordinary citizens living in areas with significant wildlife populations as well as impoverished communities previously reliant on hunting income.

The announcement of the consultation followed a vote in the country’s parliament calling for the government to consider lifting the hunting ban on elephants. Coincidentally, the story of 90 elephant massacres in Botswana was only reported by the international media and went viral while President Masisi was on an official visit to China.

President Masisi is not taking the plot to discredit his leadership lying down.

As soon as he landed from his official visit to China, President Masisi held a press conference in Gaborone at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport VIP wing where he revealed that he was “aware of what has been happening”.

Dismissing the alleged mass slaughtering of close to 90 elephants allegedly due to the disarmament of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DNWP) Anti-poaching Unit, Masisi noted that the “stretch of imagination linking the alleged killings and the disarmament was nothing, but hysteria”.

“It’s illogical and fatally flawed in logic because it is diametrically opposed to the principle of an addiction to the rule of law. You cannot promote illegality and claim you are law-abiding. Even for a government that I lead if we find that there is something that we do, however, well-intentioned it is, if it’s illegal I will not allow it,” he stated.

Masisi’s administration decided to withdraw the weapons of war from the anti-poaching missions because the use of arms of war was not provided for in the law; only members of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) are allowed to carry arms of war and not wildlife rangers.

President Masisi noted that those who knew him know that he has a very long history and track record in matters of environment management, education and conservation. 

“It’s deep, and besides being President of Botswana particularly this time one of the key responsibilities you have is to responsibly manage the assets of the nation. I have to manage them responsibly with diligence, I got to manage resources, flora fauna, infrastructure resources, the naturally occurring resources such as our mineral wealth, there’s no way I could be associated with banditry and illegality,” he said.

Masisi reiterated that he had instructed his ministers to consult communities extensively as Botswana was built on consultation, adding that his government would consult very honestly and very transparently.

He said, “If those who have instructed us for many years on the virtues of good governance and democratic dispensation, participatory engagement are suddenly finding reason to suspect that this engagement is not in harmony with what they have been thinking then we will have another conversation with them.”

President Masisi said everything was going to be sorted out, even though it could be long drawn out, Botswana and Batswana would prevail.

Firing a broadside at those alleged to have teamed up with the international community to undermine his government, Masisi said, “This country is ours, it’s ours before everybody else.” 

The elephant story controversy took another twist this week as it emerged that the issue has split Masisi’s administration into warring camps. At a press conference held by Foreign Affairs Minister Unity Dow this week, Minister Responsible for Tourism Tshekedi Khama shot down a statement that was issued by his own ministry in which the Botswana government dismissed the alleged massacre of elephants in the country.

In one camp is Tshekedi Khama, who is backing the Director of Elephants without Borders, Dr Mike Chase, who was contracted by the government to conduct a survey only for him to give the elephant massacre story to the international media before the completion of his survey. At the same press conference, it also emerged that on the other camp it is Permanent Secretary in Tshekedi’s ministry, Thato Raphaka, who has the backing of Dow and President Masisi.

Tshekedi, who was appointed by his brother and former President Khama as Tourism Minister shocked reporters at the same press conference when he said that he supported the claims made by Chase as quoted by the international media and dismissed government’s press release (the rebuttal of massacred elephants), which he described as irresponsible and based on emotions. According to Tshekedi, he was not consulted neither was his input sought when the statement rebutting the elephant story was issued. But Raphaka was defiant and informed his political principal (Tshekedi Khama) at the same press conference that he stood by the release he had issued rebutting the elephants story.

For her part, Dow revealed at the same press conference that Chase who is close to former President Khama was not used to a competition of views. She said the elephant story was a campaign by Chase to rally the international community to support hunting ban stance.

Dow further revealed that questions were being raised as to why former President Khama, Tshekedi Khama Chase and another Botswana Tourism Organisation employee who has links with Khama family, Julian Blackbeard, were involved in Thokomela Botswana Endangered Wildlife Trust. They are the board members of the multi-million trust, which was set up as one of the vehicles towards getting funds from international donors to fund the cause of protecting endangered species. Dow said the same people who sit in the trust are/were holding public office and said there is need to separate public interest from private interest.

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