This week one of the most prolific photojournalist in the country Monirul Bhuiyan of The Press Photo Agency launched his pictorial book entitled "Khama – Through The Lens".
The book, which the minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Nonofo Molefhi hailed as a ‘monumental masterpiece’ is a visual record of Botswana’s fourth president Ian Khama’s tenure at the Office of President.
During the launch an important subject of local archiving was raised, first by Government spokesperson Jeff Ramsay.
Ramsay said, “What is especially frustrating is that too much of our recent history, when there was photography, the photos are not readily available or they might have disappeared and in that we have lost so much, or we have to dig a lot [for the material]”
It is worth-noting that Khama’s Administration shunned the private press especially photographers and just less than 50 days since he stepped down it is the private press that did him a “big favour” by compiling an archival record that would be a historic account for generations to come.
Khama did not have a presidential photographer and he used to travel to key historic meetings without any professional photographer documenting the engagements for the archives.
The used to leave out both state and private press when he went for international State Visits. The only images that Botswana could salvage out of those trips were very poor, blurry and red-eyed photos shot by tablet computers and iPhones by some of the president’s entourage.
Despite numerous requests by both state media and private press the Office of the President found it as unnecessary to have media follow the president. The press was found to be intrusive and shunned by protocol officers.
It was therefore sad listening to former president Khama crying over split milk on Monday at the launch of a book that was painfully done under difficult working condition – labour of love- by a private photographer who struggled to access the president.
During his remarks Khama gave an example of a presidential museum in Luanda, Angola and proposed for the establishment of a similar initiative in Botswana.
It was sad that Khama also announced that he does not intend to write anything. Despite being a very important figure in the modern Botswana, Khama feels that since he is not “the type of a person who would sit down and put pen to paper” it is just okay not to write his memoirs even when he has ample time
Bhuiyan’s book is no doubt an important body of work that would greatly assist former president Khama not to be forgotten.
The photographer, who is originally from Bangladesh, made an interesting choice of cover, which is open to number of interpretations. The cover picture shows a figure of police officer, out of focus, saluting Khama whose face has been beautifully framed between the officer’s shoulder and saluting hand. Khama’s entire face is almost hidden and this could be interpreted as a reference of how it was like to photograph Khama.
Although Bhuiyan decried lack of access during Khama’s administration, he however disagrees that the cover image tells a story of the hidden president.
“I had so many photos to choose from but I really wanted this one because of the symbolism of the saluting police officer,” said Bhuiyan.
The photos in Bhuyain’s book are in chronological order with only one breaking the chronology at Page 13, which shows Khama with his predecessors Sir Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae at the Gaborone International Convention Centre (GICC). The chronology starts with his inauguration and on April 1, 2008 until March 12, 2018.
Throughout the book we get to see Khama interacting with the people, at mostly official events and few moments outside Botswana. Khama said Bhuiyan was able to “capture some of my best moments” although he did not disclose exactly what was his most favourite.
Bhuiyan said he was initially covering the president for purely news purposes and was not looking to publish a book. “The book idea came right at the end of his presidency. And I presented a proposal to his office,” disclosed Bhuiyan.
He also said Khama’s senior private secretary Brigadier George Tlhalerwa was instrumental in pushing for the proposal.
Tlhalerwa wrote the Foreword in the book where he commended Bhuiyan for preserving his boss’s tenure at the helm of Botswana. The Foreword is a little too late realization by the man who controlled access to the president that had he found the need to have a presidential archivist in form of professional presidential photographer early on, all of his boss key moments would have been documented and archived for future use.
Book Title: Khama – Through the Lens
Photographer: Monirul Bhuiyan
Publisher: The Press Photo
Designer: Mohula Dumelang