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A recent Afrobarometer study revealed the extent to which former President Dr Khama almost turned Botswana, the erstwhile model of democracy in Africa, into a dictatorship. While the resilience of our democracy calls for celebration, specifically that some in the society never got tired of defending their country against a leader with absolute access to state resources, we need to remind ourselves that the battle has not yet be won.
A few months before former president Dr Khama’s second term as His Excellency the President of the Republic of Botswana come to an end, he had consistently reiterated that he was not retiring but merely leaving the Office of the President as required by the national constitution. He constantly remarked that he was no going anywhere and that he intended to re-join the Botswana Defence Force (BDF). The street man ululated and cheered Dr Khama to stay put. Some even suggested that he be given a third term.
However, in the midst of this madness some wise souls warned that former president Dr Khama is indeed a duplicate of despot who craves a life presidency and cannot imagine life after retirement. The warning was that Dr Khama was never going to readily and entirely surrender the captaincy of the national ship. In particular, the Badge of Courage warned that Dr Khama was a typical African leader who is certainly going to refuse to cede space to his successor.
We warned that even if Dr Khama was going to leave the presidency, he was never going to completely step aside. These warnings were not issued to exaggerate or raise false alarms about a former president whose name is imprinted in the annals of local history as a great statesman. The purpose of the warnings was to aid the Government of Batswana, in particular, the incoming administration and Batswana in general to prepare and ready themselves for the abnormal behaviour of a former president.
The warnings sought to alert us of the danger ahead so that we were ready to protect and advance the norms of former presidents conceding that their time was up and they needed to sincerely and unconditionally hand over the relay button to the successor. Instead of recognizing the warning signs of a trouble-some former president and instead of noting the security alerts issued, Batswana and their government opted to take to the street, dancing ferociously and clapping their hands in an exuberant approval of his pronouncement that he was going to continue to run the show - in the guise of a philanthropist.
Recognizing warning signs is a first step in taking appropriate action against any impeding calamity. Since we refused to be warned, we have begun to reap the fruits of our indifference and inherited stupor. Former president Dr Khama has not disappointed the prophets of doom who had warned that he was not the one to quietly go into ordinary life. Over the last few months Batswana including Dr Khama’s rabid followers have found themselves, out of frustration, burning newspapers carrying bizarre stories about the former president or violently shaking and shouting at their television sets every time the news bulletin began.
Yet, the millionth time, the Badge of Courage takes this opportunity to warn that whether his is an abnormal behaviour; whether his actions are warranted or whether we like it or not, this is Lieutenant General Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama. He cannot be dismissed as some spineless, loud-mouthed weakling that will in time give way and allow the water to settle. Dr Khama most certainly has a premeditated agenda and will fight until the last drop of his blood to realize it. In this instance, the Government of Botswana must suit up, take to the battle field and go for broke in this dogfight. Now is the time to act rather than attempting to ignore the daredevil because for all the threat to the existence of this nation Dr Khama posed as a President, he now poses an even much bigger and fatal one as a former president.
As a sitting president Dr Khama was constrained by the oath of office to uphold the constitution and the rule of law. As a former president, Dr Khama reckons he is an unchecked private citizen, something of a loose cannon capable of causing remarkable damage. Imagine how many times Dr Khama has dishonoured the constitution in pursuit of his desires and he had always found a way to get what he wanted. Picture what he could now do uninhibited by the presidential oath and the obligation to serve without favour.
Imagine Dr Khama without level headed technocrats around him such as the Permanent Secretary to the President and other career civil servants as well as sane Cabinet Ministers to advise him and put him on a tight leash – he will be paranoid and pretty dangerous.
It is common knowledge that Dr Khama is a celebrity politician and former president who is religiously followed by empty-headed brutes and the media as has been validated by the number of interviews he has granted to many of these small town newspapers since leaving the Office of the President. Imagine a celebrity former president continuing to fire up cheering crowds at Kgotla meetings and freedom squares with his carefully scripted ant-Masisi scripture.
Imagine his crusade featuring in all local and some international newspapers and social media – he will be loud and brutal in distorting the truth as always. Imagine him freely propagating his hate-filled conspiracy theories that Dr Masisi’s administration wants to see him suffer, suggesting that he is being victimized perhaps for being half White, half Black. That will stoke racial tensions and divide this beautiful nation. Imagine how he might want to rally support locally from tribal demagogues and internationally from hardened white supremacists in neighbouring South Africa.
While former president Dr Khama has flatly refused to reveal his net worth, a popular refrain shared by many in dark corridors is that he is one of the wealthiest persons in Botswana – a country where impoverished politicians are able to use their tiny resources to manipulate severely impoverished voters who are always desperately in need of something to silence the hunger pangs even if it were to last for the duration of the chew.
Imagine how dangerous a wealthy and celebrated Dr Khama could be. Factor in his rabid supporters who had come to see him as their local God and remember that the Bible says ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart’ (Deuteronomy 6:5). Inspired by this scripture, his supporters would not want their Godfather relegated to an ordinary life. They will see witch-hunt and witchcraft in every government decision and will conclude that indeed he is not getting a fair deal from his successor. Given his renowned thirst for attention and sympathy, Dr Khama will perhaps incite them to kill for him.
Dr Khama has moneyed friends who always come to his rescue whenever the government refuses to let him use public resources to satisfy his cravings for luxurious pursuits. Imagine how much money they might be willing to splash to fund his crusade to destabilize the country for personal reasons.
While the government has to some extent successfully countered his onslaught largely by remaining calm and ignoring his incoherent outbursts, such efforts need to be complemented by some decisive action to isolate him and his subversive friends. Government must acknowledge that tact and diplomacy has failed to persuade him to treat his successor with respect and that now it is time for a multipronged counter offensive. For over 20 years we have remained indifferent to Dr Khama’s assault on everything that had enabled this nation to prosper.
Like morons who have been on a drunken stupor for their entire adult life, it is sad that as a nation we are just realizing the need to safeguard those values that made us a unique republic in a continent synonymous with strife. The sad reality is that what has since been destroyed cannot be restored any time soon. It will take decades to rebuild and normalize. We cannot, therefore, afford to slumber one more time and allow our country to be destroyed by one person, the same person – first as a Vice-President, then as His Excellency the President and now as a retired president. Should we let him advance his agenda unimpeded, we will certainly be worse that dogs that can and do eat their own vomit.
A wealthy celebrity former President who is a retired Lieutenant General, with faceless moneyed friends who are willing to bankroll his mischievous agenda poses a bigger threat to our democracy more than it may ordinarily appear.