The declaration of private lawyer Joao Carlos Salbany as an unwanted person in Botswana at the weekend is a fly in the ointment in the first 100 days of President Mokgweetsi Masisi who has given Batswana every reason to look to the future with renewed confidence.
After a strong man at the helm, President Masisi is a breath of fresh air who in one master stroke recently gave Batswana cause to celebrate when he relieved the head of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) Isaac Kgosi, of his duties, bringing to an end the era of a man associated with an unprecedented number of PI’s and an end to basic freedoms including freedom of speech as Batswana knew it.
The new president certainly started well returning Botswana to the comity of civilized nations by visiting first several neighbouring countries, including Salbany’s South Africa, before taking in a couple of distant lengths. This has looked like the programme of a man eager to tackle the problems of his country that include corruption and a disturbing absence from the international stage without forgetting the bread and butter issues of the average citizens.
Although Batswana have yet to see justice for the corrupt, the promise is there in both Masisi’s so far limited but crucial actions, in his speeches as well as in the knowledge that the necessary files to sustain successful prosecutions are there at the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crimes (DCEC), the Attorney General and other places. It has so far been heart-warming to see the ‘clean-up campaign’ as a promise of more to come.
However, the declaration of Salbany as a persona non-grata could not have been expected because those acquainted with the man such as us at MISA Botswana have known Salbany as an upright man and an astute lawyer of conscience. His record is that of a man thoroughly wedded to the democratic cause in which he defended journalists, trade unionists and politicians.
Those not so acquainted with Salbany cannot miss his picture standing firm when the Botswana Gazette came under siege in 2015, as the police prevented journalists from entering their offices while Salbany wielded a
In his admirable record, Salbany has also been involved in the muddled case of the missing spy equipment belonging to the Military Intelligence at Botswana Defence Force (BDF), wherein the government was ultimately compelled to settle the matter out of court. Salbany has also been involved in matters relating to alleged irregularities in Masisi’s ascension to the presidency.
While the new president himself welcomed the development as a case for confirmation of Botswana’s democratic credentials, we hope that he has not been subsequently seen as impudently poking the bear.
In our view, Salbany is the record of a likeable person fit to embrace as a friend; how he then becomes a persona non-grata is indeed very strange.
We view Salbany’s banishment as an affront on the freedom of expression crusade that he stood fervently in defence of. The tragedy is that he joins a long list of men and women of good standing who have been jettisoned out of this country for being good human beings, among them Steven Bennet whose ‘crime’ was to come to the defence of Basarwa of the CKGR when all they wanted was to return to their ancestral home, Professor Kenneth Good whose ‘wrong-doing’ consisted in teaching his students principles of good citizenship, the late Mxolisi Mxashe - a journalist who wrote a great deal about issues of the liberation struggle, Gwen Ansel - who happened to be too close for comfort to a case involving the bungling state operatives – to name but a few.
But some of these incidents belong to eras gone by and should not be allowed to besmirch the new dawn for Botswana that President Masisi purportedly represents.
Significantly, some of them including Ansel were subsequently ‘pardoned’ and were therefore free to enter Botswana.
We, therefore, appeal to the president to do right and pardon Salbany.