A Botswana court has issued an arrest warrant for former President Ian Khama, who is facing 14 charges ranging from unlawful possession of firearms to money laundering.
Khama fled to neighbouring South Africa a year ago, after a bitter fallout with his hand-picked successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi. Khama was formally charged in April but has yet to appear in court. The warrant said Khama should be arrested on sight.
Khama was officially charged in absentia in April 2022 but has not made a single court appearance. The arrest warrant for Khama stems from charges of the illegal possession of firearms, a crime he allegedly committed in 2016. But Khama, who led Botswana between 2008 and 2018, told VOA he is being persecuted for his opposition to Masisi, a former ally.
“This warrant is the latest in a long, long line of actions that Masisi and his regime have targeted me with in order to remove me from the scene as we go towards the 2024 [general] elections,” Khama said.
“I have been and I will continue being more and more targeted in this manner because I remain the most constant voice condemning and exposing Masisi for the incompetent failure that he is.”
Khama said he will welcome any extradition request that will enable him to expose what he calls “fabrications” by the government but adds he will tread with caution.
“Am I prepared for the consequences? Well, as prepared as one can be,” he said. “Don’t forget that these people have tried on three separate occasions to poison me. So that is what one is up against. But at the end of the day, we can certainly not allow this rot, this cancer in our country, to continue.”
Khama quit the ruling Botswana Democratic Party in 2019 and is now a patron of the splinter Botswana Patriotic Front. He has indicated he is ready to return home, without mentioning a specific date.
Piers Pigou, of the International Crisis Group for southern Africa, said it is important to ensure there is no interference in due process.
“Political disagreements are one thing. Manipulating institutions for partisan political purposes is something quite different,” Pigou said. “The arrest warrant dragging from a case in 2016 and employing it six years later is going to be seen as some kind of political targeting. The integrity of state institutions should be subject to greater scrutiny to help avoid this disagreement deepening further.”
The arrest warrant could allow Botswana to seek Khama’s extradition from South Africa. Pigou said bringing the case to court could answer lingering questions.
“It could assess where the problem lies,” Pigou said, “whether there is merit in the case being put forward here or if indeed it appears to be a result of external pressure to manipulate a particular outcome.”
Khama was charged along with former intelligence boss Isaac Kgosi, suspended police commissioner Keabetswe Makgophe and Victor Paledi, a former senior government employee. Under Botswana law, illegal possession of a firearm carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.