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Botswana wanted to house US's Africom base: WikiLeaks

by Ndou Paul, additional reporting from M&G
26 October 2011 | 2467 Views
The Botswana government gave the United States the green light to explore the possibility of establishing an Africa Command (Africom) base in the country when the issue was raised four years ago, American diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks show.

This is the same Botswana which approached the United States for arms of war and related military equipment to help prepare for an expected attack by Zimbabwe as tensions escalated between the two countries over claims President Ian Khama was harbouring MDC-T militias.

The ANC Youth league leader Julius Malema and other league officials have been charged in connection with calling for a regime change in Botswana. Malema also described President Ian Khama as an imperialist puppet, in part in connection with claims that Botswana was talking to the US about an Africom base.

Africom is currently based in Stuttgart, Germany.

According to a cable sent by the American ambassador in Botswana, Katherine Canavan, to the US secretary of state in Washington in October 2007, Canavan and senior embassy officials met Merafhe and discussed possible locations for elements of Africom on the continent.

Canavan said Botswana, along with other unidentified African countries, was being considered for hosting some elements of Africom.

"Recalling the [government of Botswana's] earlier receptivity towards the Africom concept, the ambassador sought to confirm Botswana's current sentiments and whether the country would be willing to receive a technical assessment team in the near future," the cable said.

It said Merafhe "appeared genuinely interested" but that he wanted to brief Mogae before committing to the American proposal.

Merafhe asked how many American troops would be based in Botswana but the US gave the assurance that combat troops would not be based in African countries, which would only host staff headquarters.

Five days later, according to the cables, Merafhe replied that, in principle, Botswana was not averse to the idea of hosting Africom and that Mogae was "favourably disposed".

In 2007, Mogae declared that the Botswana government 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 US think-tank the Centre for Defence Information, under the title "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.




Another Wikileaks cable we published claimed that Botswana approached the United States for arms of war and related military equipment to help prepare for an expected attack by Zimbabwe as tensions escalated between the two countries over claims President Ian Khama was harbouring MDC-T militias.

According to leaked secret US embassy communications, Botswana asked the United States to supply various military equipment, fearing an imminent military assault by Zimbabwe.

Major General Tlhokwane, then the deputy commander of the Botswana Defence Forces, is said to have approached a defence cooperation official at the US embassy in Botswana on July 14, 2008, and claimed that Zimbabwe had massed military forces on the border region.

He asked the US to help with global positioning systems, anti-tank missiles, short range air defence systems, F5 under-wing tank system and helicopter gunships to help Botswana prepare for the expected attack.

"The requests for anti-tank missiles and a short range air defence system make sense in the context of the current situation as Zimbabwe has more numerous and more advanced tanks and aircraft in their inventory than Botswana," the US embassy cable reads.

Embassy officials, however, advised against granting Botswana's request, warning that provision of the equipment could harm America's interests in the region and possibly trigger an arms race.

"This Mission is mindful of how a closer US government and (Botswana) security relationship, with possible provision of new arms and equipment, might impact our ongoing diplomacy in Southern Africa and beyond," the embassy officials said.

"We should examine ways to enhance institutional ties and other support for the government of Botswana and the Botswana Defence Forces where appropriate, but also in a manner that will not harm overriding U.S. interests in Africa."

Meanwhile, President Khama had a "harsh exchange" with President Mugabe at a SADC meeting where he demanded that the Zimbabwean leader provide proof that Botswana was training MDC-T militias.

A US embassy cable from January 2009 claims Khama confronted Mugabe during a SADC meeting which discussed the formation of Zimbabwe's coalition government and told regional leaders that the claims "were just a typical distraction tactic on (Mugabe's) part".

"Khama told the assembled Heads of State that he would step down as President if Zimbabwe's allegations were found to be true, but asked if Mugabe would also agree to resign if they turned out to be false. According to Khama, Mugabe did not respond." 

Wikileaks Botswana Africom

Source: WikilLeaks,M&G,Byo24News

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