President Khama attracted the wrath of ZANU PF (Zimbabwe African National Union [Patriotic Front]) officials after calling for fresh elections following the disputed and violent 2008 ballot, with Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa accusing the Botswana leader of “extreme provocation”.
Zimbabwe officials further accused Botswana of giving military training to militias from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T party to help overthrow President Robert Mugabe.
According to leaked secret US embassy communications, Botswana asked the United States to supply various military equipment, fearing an imminent military assault by Zimbabwe. Major General Gobuamang Tlhokwane, then the deputy commander of the Botswana Defence Forces, is said to have approached a defence cooperation official at the US embassy in Botswana on July 14, 2008, and claimed that Zimbabwe had massed military forces on the border region. He asked the US to help with global positioning systems, anti-tank missiles, short range air defence systems, F5 under-wing tank system and helicopter gunships to help Botswana prepare for the expected attack.
“The requests for anti-tank missiles and a short range air defence system make sense in the context of the current situation as Zimbabwe has morenumerous and more advanced tanks and aircrafts in their inventory than Botswana,” the US embassy cable reads.
Embassy officials, however, advised against granting Botswana’s request, warning that provision of the equipment could harm America’s interests in the region and possibly trigger an arms race.
“This Mission is mindful of how a closer US government and (Botswana) security relationship, with possible provision of new arms and equipment, might impact our ongoing diplomacy in Southern Africa and beyond,” the embassy officials said. “We should examine ways to enhance institutional ties and other support for the government of Botswana and the Botswana Defence Force where appropriate, but also in a manner that will not harm overriding US interests in Africa.” Meanwhile, President Khama had a “harsh exchange” with President Mugabe at a SADC meeting where he demanded that the Zimbabwean leader provide proof that Botswana was training MDC-T militias.
A US embassy cable from January 2009 claims Khama confronted Mugabe during a SADC meeting, which discussed the formation of Zimbabwe’s coalition government and told regional leaders that the claims “were just a typical distraction tactic on (Mugabe’s) part”.