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Khama merely wanted to secure hollow PR victory, not any vaccines

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As far as some people are concerned, former President Ian Khama secured a total of 4 million life-saving doses of two premier vaccines – which vaccines President Mokgweetsi Masisi turned down even as people continue to die for want of vaccines.

“In its quest to save lives and relieve Batswana from the ravaging Covid 19 pandemic the SKI Khama Foundation has through its network of international partners secured two million doses each of Oxford-Astra-Zeneca and Pfizer BioNTech Covid 19 vaccines for Botswana,” reads a statement from the Seretse Khama Ian (SKI) Khama Foundation. “The vaccines are available to the country immediately upon submission of a purchase order and an end-user certificate, both of which must come from the government of the receiving country as per established procedures and protocols for the acquisition of Covid 19 vaccines.”

When first put out, this statement caused a lot of public excitement but there was really nothing to be excited about. “Secure” has a definite legal and everyday meaning; what the statement revealed made the clear the fact that the SKI Khama Foundation had not actually secured the vaccines. To secure the vaccines, buyers have, at least according to what the Foundation’s statement says, to submit a purchase order and an end-user certificate. The Foundation had not done so but instead wanted the Botswana government to do so on its behalf.

Only governments can buy vaccines from manufacturers but that doesn’t stop non-state actors from giving governments money to make such purchases. In the case at hand, while the SKI Khama Foundation couldn’t buy vaccines from either Oxford-Astra-Zeneca or Pfizer BioNTech, it could donate money to the Botswana government for purposes of buying the vaccines. De Beers has donated P55 million to the government’s vaccination programme. As it turns out, the Foundation is not actually committing any money but wants the government to commit its own.

Going back months, the government has always had a problem getting vaccines delivered on time. During the most embarrassing episodes, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, Vice President Slumber Tsogwane and his ministers of Health and Wellness have quoted different delivery dates. Capitalising on this shortcoming, the SKI Khama Foundation offered something definite: “The vaccines are available to the country immediately” and “the offer is valid for only five business days.” The breakneck speed at which the Foundation promised to deliver appeared to be a dramatic departure from the sluggish pace that has come to be associated with the government.

While Khama didn’t sign the press statement of this too-good-to-be-true offer, there is general understanding that it was released with his blessing and that he signed off on it. Besides, the Foundation carries his name and there is no way that he would not have known about a statement of this nature. By now the public is accustomed to Khama engaging in elaborate publicity stunts, especially those aimed at scoring cheap points against Masisi. With the COVID-19 vaccine stunt however, the former president went way too far, not least because this is a real death-and-life issue. People are actually dying on a daily basis because they can’t get the vaccine. Some of these people now believe that were it not for Masisi being characteristically sluggish, Khama can actually help him them get the vaccine. The fact of the matter is that he cannot do that and never actually had any real plan “to save lives and relieve Batswana from the ravaging Covid 19 pandemic.”

Contrary to the statement from his Foundation, Khama has not had any dealings with vaccine manufacturers – who deal only with governments. While the Foundation claimed it “has through its network of international partners secured two million doses each of Oxford-Astra-Zeneca and Pfizer BioNTech Covid 19 vaccines for Botswana”, the latter has explicitly stated that it never dealt with any agent on behalf of the Botswana government. One of those international partners is identified as the KKM Global Group LLC, “a multi-disciplinary health services group with a global reach for sourcing and procurement.” KKM Global Group would supposedly have been sourcing and procuring vaccines for the Botswana government but without the knowledge and authority of that same government.

The Foundation wants to project an image of a lean, well-oiled operation unencumbered by a bloated bureaucracy that has been the cause of ceaseless delays in the delivery of vaccines. Yet, its statement describes a bloated, middlemen structure: “network of international partners” and the Foundation itself deals with vaccine manufacturers though KKM Global Group. Oddly, the Foundation doesn’t have first-hand knowledge about KKM Global Group but, through middlemen, has been “reliably informed” about its track record.

Under the circumstances, Khama should never have claimed to be in a position to save any lives by securing vaccines that the government is struggling to secure. While he knew that he can’t secure the vaccines, Khama also knows that he has a large cult following of people who don’t ever critique his statements. If he claimed that he could mobilise 4 million doses, they would believe him and not ask for precise details. He would ask the government to do what he knew it couldn’t do, what he would never himself have been able to do when he was president. He knew full well that his publicity stunt would actually cause some on their deathbeds to believe that he could save their lives when he actually had no plans to do so. He couldn’t save their lives but the important thing for him is that people would believe that he could and they see him as a hero. More importantly, he would get to score some cheap points against his nemesis, Masisi.

Of course Khama knew not everyone would believe him and some would see through his publicity stunt for what it was. Whatever the case, he could rely on his 460 997 (and counting) Facebook followers to come to his defence. Ultimately Khama’s target was not the Ministry of Health and Wellness but his followers.

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