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When former President Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama was elected into office in 2008, only a few people questioned whether he would put the values of the country before his interests. Perhaps the reason why a lot of people gave him the benefit of the doubt was because no one predicted what would be coming in the next 8 years of his presidency. Since his record speaks for himself, the rest is history.
Fast forward ten years and Khama is out of power and on the receiving end of a system he, in many ways, helped create. Beyond doubt, Khama’s policies on everything from foreign affairs and even immigration would have been at odds—and in some cases, abomination—to the pre-2008 ideals of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).
Political analyst, Thuto Motsamai, who spoke to this publication said “The big take away from the last five years of Khama’s presidency is that he made a deliberate and well calculated move to seize the referees, sideline decisive players who stood in his way and of his interests, and in the end he succeeded in tilting the political landscape and playing field in his favour. He was a man who acted more and talked less.”
He also says this is why during and after his presidency he never realised the costs of what he was doing. “He was so focused on his interests and i doubt he regrets anything he did during his tenure,” he says. As an example he explained how as the president Khama used the immigration system as a political weapon to ban people from entering the country because they were a threat to his wildlife interests and also because they were affiliated to opposition political parties.
In 2013, the government of Botswana refused to grant a visa to the Basarwa lawyer, Advocate Gordon Bennett because the latter was “not bringing anything beneficial to the country”. At the time, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, Ikwatlhaeng Bagopi was quoted saying “That man has no reason to be in Botswana. We are keeping our country’s interests first and Bennett is not bringing anything beneficial to us as a country.” However the real issue was that Bennett’s victories were getting in the way of President Ian Khama’s way of helping American conservation outfit, Conservation International (CI), and several of their partners into turning parts of the Kgalagadi Desert into a grand conservation corridor for wildlife.
In Motsamai’s view, “Khama’s presidency was all about transactions where there should be a winner and a loser – and Khama never liked to be on the losing side,” he says.
Whilst Khama’s administration liked to use the serial phrase that, ‘if you don't subscribe to our values, you should leave’, this seems to have now backfired on Khama who is now on the receiving end of a system he helped create. Masisi’s plan to reverse Khama’s move to promote photographic tourism at the expense of trophy hunting tourism is also another example of why in Khama’s his interests come first before the country’s values.
Commenting on recent revelations that there might be a plan underway to oust president Masisi, Motsamai says for Khama, the phrase ‘let bygones be bygones’ doesn’t exist, just glowing coals ready to reignite with the slightest breeze. ‘Whilst some people have said that Botswana democracy is in a death ring, any solution must not focus solely on ousting Masisi, but on punishing and reforming the BDP,” he says.
However democracy in Botswana remains relatively healthy although polarisation is localised within the Botswana Democratic Party and the Umbrella for Democratic Change. “The main cause of this crisis in our political parties in Botswana is simply polarisation. Polarisation is essential for any democracy, but when it is taken to the extreme it can be calamitous. The BDP is slowly becoming cohesive and extreme—more willing and able, to smash political norms to achieve their ends” says Motsamai.
During his tenure Khama created his own world based on interests rather than values. Although there has been a staggering ocean of awfulness that Botswana politicians inflicted on each other in the recent past, we remain hopeful that 2018 going forward will see the budding of progressive thought and empathic action.