The Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Tshekedi Khama had a difficult week trying to defend his position after supporting false allegations of rampant poaching under his ministry.
Evidently not amused by the spreading of false alarm, President Mokgweetsi Masisi held an impromptu press briefing at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport upon arrival from a state visit in China and Seychelles on Saturday.
President Masisi did not mince words when responding to claims by Minister Tshekedi Khama, Elephants Without Borders (EWB) and some conservationists that there was an increase in poaching of elephants due to the disarmament of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ (DWNP) Anti-Poaching Unit.
“This stretch of imagination of linking the poaching of any species with alleged disarmament of department of wildlife is nothing but hysteria. It's illogical and fatally flawed in logic because it is diametrically opposed to the principle and addiction of the rule of law," Masisi hit out.
Tshekedi Khama had earlier said the increased poaching was due to the disarmament of APU.
President Masisi is said to have discussed with his inner circle that he was ready to reshuffle cabinet and drop Minister Tshekedi Khama from cabinet, with the announcement set to be made on Monday. Some cabinet ministers are said to have prevailed over Masisi and advised him not to drop Tshekedi from cabinet as it will look personal.
“Some people were going to view the sacking as personal, looking at the current political tension between President Masisi and former President Ian Khama,” revealed the source.
The ministers advised that instead a task team be instituted to investigate the current mess in the MEWT and Botswana Tourism Organization (BTO). One of the issues that are said to have infuriated President Masisi is that Tshekedi refused to address a press briefing to rebut the report by Elephants Without Borders (EWB) Researcher Dr Mike Chase that over 87 elephants have been killed by poachers.
“Acting President Slumber Tsogwane advised him that he must address a press briefing as the responsible minister as the issue of the poached elephants got attention of the international community and was threat to Botswana tourism. TK is said to have ignored the advice and stuck with EWB report,” revealed the source.
The Permanent Secretary in the MWET Thato Raphaka was asked to release a statement without consulting TK, something that infuriated him. All these developments did not sit well with President Masisi who was still in China as he felt that he was being undermined. Tshekedi Khama was ordered to address a press briefing with Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations Dr Unity Dow on Monday afternoon.
Dramatic press briefing
Tshekedi Khama publicly rubbished the press statement made by his Permanent Secretary during a dramatic press briefing with Dr Dow on Monday, which clearly showed divisions between TK and fellow cabinet ministers.
The outspoken Khama said he did not agree with the release of the Press Statement which he said had a lot of inaccuracies. “There is no doubt that disarming of the APU could have contributed to the high rates of poaching in the Chobe area,” he said.
He said APU has long been armed since 1975 to fight poaching and he did not understand the rush to disarm them – directing his response to President Masisi who said that arming of APU was illegal. “You cannot promote illegality and claim to be law abiding. I am an addict of the rule of law and cannot be associated with banditry and illegality. The stretch of imagination that I can be associated with illegality is utter nonsense,” said Masisi during a press briefing.
The non-repentant Tshekedi Khama said people were being emotional and failed to be contextual when addressing the issue of 87 poached elephants. In response, Raphaka played it cool and said he is not in the habit of washing his dirty linen in the public and said that he has been in the public service for a long time and knows what he is doing. He stood by the press statement.
Khama is conflicted – Dow
Dr Dow, who was armed with information regarding the on-going at MEWT, indirectly informed members of the media that Tshekedi Khama was conflicted in the issue of EWB and Thokomela Botswana Endangered Wildlife Trust.
Dr Dow revealed that EWB was given P3.8million by the Botswana Government and out of the money, P600 000 was to be used to nurse three orphaned elephants. She said by making stories about the poached elephants EWB wanted to draw international attention because the organisation is strongly against the lifting of the elephant hunting ban which has been passed by Parliament recently.
Thokomela Botswana Endangered Wildlife Trust was allegedly given P15 million by European Union to carry conservation activities. Dow cautioned that the board members who are very influential people to separate public interest from private interests. The loaded statement by Dow shook Minister Tshekedi Khama who sank into his chair.
The revelation by Dr Dow seemed to have caught Tshekedi Khama off guard and only saying he was not aware that being a member of that Trust was wrong as he was only informed during the press briefing.
Tshekedi Khama failed to answer a question on whether he was not conflicted in the issue and how he will monitor organisations that he sits in their boards. Dow said that it was breach of contract for EWB to release the report as they have the contract with Botswana Government through MWET.