Spy chiefs warn Botswana’s ex-president of attempts on his life

    South African security chiefs have warned the former president of Botswana of state-sponsored attempts to kill him in the country he once led, he has revealed.

    Ian Khama said intelligence officials in the neighbouring country, where he is living in fear of his life, had handed him a report outlining the deadly threat set to be carried out before Botswana’s next general election in two years’ time.

    Enemies of the ex-president have already carried out three attempts to assassinate him, according to a UN document.

    One plan even involved using polonium 210 – a hard-to-detect poison that killed Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko – Lt Gen Khama says.

    Another allegedly involved strychnine, a colourless, odourless pesticide.

    The former president, who was born in the UK, led Botswana from 2008 to 2018 and is now an outspoken critic of the new government, says his information comes from three confidential diplomatic communications in embassies reporting on what security services had found.

    He told The Independent that one plot was by someone who took a job as a temporary catering worker at a facility, which he did not identify, that he regularly visited. When he was tipped off, he cancelled plans to visit the place.

    “Had I gone, I’ve no doubt they would have succeeded,” he said.

    Last year, Agnes Callamard, the former United Nations special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, wrote a report for the government of Botswana highlighting reported efforts to kill Lt Gen Khama.

    “The information received appears to be sufficiently reliable to raise serious concern about the risk to life of former president Ian Khama,” Ms Callamard wrote.

    “I am particularly concerned at the reported attempts on Mr Khama’s life by organs of the state corroborated by several sources.

    “This is compounded by allegations that his security detail has been significantly reduced.”

    Other plans involved applying poisonous agents to the former leader’s personal items and furniture, the document said.

    It also talked of attempts to intimidate him by state officials and highlighted a claim that a source warned him “a traffic accident would be easy to arrange on country roads”.

    Mr Khama, who called for an urgent international investigation into the alleged assassination attempts, claims the new government sees him as a threat to its being voted back into power in 2024.

    He has repeatedly accused the new rulers, led by his successor, Mokgweetsi Masisi, of eroding and undermining freedom of speech, the rule of law and “many years of democracy and good governance”.

    He said he had apologised to the nation for putting Mr Masisi, his former deputy, in place, after which Botswanans felt hard done by.

    He accused the government of using intelligence services to illegally detain people without giving them access to lawyers, which had happened to his brothers.

    State agents also raided the offices of the anti-corruption agency and tampered with files, he claimed.

    He still worries about threats to his life. “A report given to me by a South African security organisation confirmed attempts would be ongoing to try to eliminate me before the 2024 election,” he said.

    “I don’t wake up worrying. I was only really worried when living in Botswana. But I know they’ve been trying to arrange a hit on me in South Africa. So you have to take precautions.”

    The Law Society of Botswana and South African media organisations had spoken out against the undermining of free speech, he said.

    In a Facebook post he wrote: “The government’s contempt for the rule of law extends far beyond its pursuit of President Kharma and is a grubby assault on the country as a whole.

    “Its corruption is yet again exposed by the extraordinary revelations that it detained former DIS [security department] director Colonel Kgosi on the basis of forged documentation.”

    “The government has shown its true colours and the ethical vacuum at its core is being laid bare.”

    The government of Botswana said last year in response to the UN letter that no known reports were made to the police over Mr Khama’s allegations.

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    Evarist Chahali

    Evarist Chahali

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