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In a changing-for-the-worse Botswana that the founding fathers would hardly recognise, a prominent Mongwato businessman and politician with impeccable royal pedigree has placed the blame squarely at the feet of the biological son of one of those fathers – former president, Lieutenant General Ian Khama.
The man in question is Comfort Molosiwa who is a descendant of Khama I, another one of the better known Bangwato dikgosi. A brief history lesson would useful. Khama I, who ruled from 1795 to 1817, had three sons: Molosiwa, Kgari and Sedimo. General Khama (whose regnal name is Khama IV) is descended from Kgari while Comfort is descended from Molosiwa. All things being equal, the 18th century Molosiwa should have become kgosi but Khama I instead chose Kgari - indeed that has been confirmed by a Mongwato historian in a documentary that Btv features regularly. While Comfort Molosiwa’s ordinal position of birth places him outside that circle, in no way does such distance invalidate his royal pedigree.
Beyond the position he currently holds in the corporate sector (Managing Director of Comfort Molosiwa & Associates, an engineering consultancy with offices in Gaborone and Palapye and is involved in major upcoming coal-mining project); in society, his tribal identity and royal pedigree, Molosiwa is a citizen and family man who is gravely concerned about what an African miracle that was created in 1966 by his cousin, Sir Seretse Khama, and Sir Ketumile Masire could be turning into.
In saner days, “north” and “south” manifested themselves in the harmless form of a geography lesson on the four main cardinal points, the name of a national water carrier project, regional sporting leagues, a southpaw (left-handed) boxer wearing North Star trainers, a Northside Primary School teacher stopping off at South Ring Mall on her way home to do grocery shopping or an American rapper man whose name suggests his roots may be in Kanye (a village in the south) naming his first-born daughter North. However, in a Botswana becoming less sane by the day, those terms have come to define a toxic and artificial tribally-based dichotomy that pits northerners against southerners. Naturally, this threatens the peace and stability that Botswana thrived on for more than 50 years.
Concluding his state-of-the-nation last November, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, appealed for peace. This was the first time a Botswana president has had to make such appeal. A month later, over the Christmas holidays, Masisi made the same appeal when donating Christmas presents to a community he visited. The same message was echoed by the Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Bogolo Kenewendo, when she also made similar donations in the Boteti area. Some people have used more forthright language about what could engulf Botswana – civil war – and there has been no shortage of prophetic visions about such eventuality.
In fairness to Molosiwa, he never once uses the term “civil war” but is very clear that “What he [Khama] is basically doing is destabilising this country” The worst-case scenario (civil war) is one of the many possible outcomes of an unstable Botswana.
There are many theories about why a supposedly retired Khama is overactive on the political scene. One of the most enduring is that he wants to perpetuate the Khama political dynasty which harks back to his great grandfather, Khama III. In an interview with Sunday Standard last year, Masisi said that he got a very strong sense that Khama wanted him to appoint his younger brother, Tshekedi Khama, his vice president. Tshekedi Khama would have automatically ascended the presidency in 2028 and if the conspiracy theory about electronic voting is credible, this Indian technology would have been instrumental in ensuring this ascension and that of other Khamas standing in line. General Khama denied that he ever lobbied for his younger brother.
When one almost didn’t know whom to believe, former President Festus Mogae dropped a bombshell in an interview with The Voice. Mogae said that the acceptance speech that Khama’s camp wrote for Masisi at the 2017 Botswana Democratic Party’s national congress in Tonota would have had him publicly bind himself to making Tshekedi his vice president. It is hard to imagine Mogae making this up – besides, he was confirming what Masisi had said and what many more believe to be the case.
“The main issue is over Tshekedi,” Molosiwa says. “Khama wanted Tshekedi appointed vice president so that he could control Masisi through him because he still wants to rule.”
He almost describes Khama as someone who needs power the way other people need oxygen and he attributes this to his (Khama’s) personal story. Born to a supreme traditional leader and future founding president of Botswana, Khama became Deputy Commander of the Botswana Defence Force and youngest general in the world at the age of 24 at a time that his father was president. Two years later, he became Bangwato kgosi and in 1988 became BDF commander when Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe quit the army for politics. Khama’s army career ended on March 30, 1998 when he also joined politics and became Vice President to Festus Mogae. On April 1, 2008, Khama became president through a constitutional provision that he ensures that a vice president becomes president.
Khama’s career has been largely characterised by not severing ties with institutions he has been associated with, thereby taking on dual conflicting roles. He retired from the army but kept flying army aircraft; he retired from the presidency but contests he is still BDP president; he retired from active politics but is still active as a political kingmaker; he has been on a long “sabbatical” from bogosi but once in a while passes through the Serowe kgotla to both conjure up the optical illusion of being hands-on in tribal affairs and maintain firm grip on that very important source of political power.
Molosiwa uses a very strong Setswana word – leswehatsa, which means to tarnish – to describe Khama’s stewardship of his traditional role.
“He is tarnishing the image of bogosi. He is abusing the loyalty of his subjects to wage a personal battle. He is tarnishing the image of Bangwato who are a law-abiding people and have always respected bogosi and the constitution,” he says.
The latter point is important for the reason that there is uninspired thinking that tethers and identifies Bangwato, as a tribal whole, with Khama’s personal agenda. Tragically, in an era where social media (with it the careless, mindless commentary it inspires) is de rigueur, the layers of nuance that define this issue don’t exactly lend themselves to the simple attractiveness or digestibility of a Facebook meme. The fact of the matter though is that Bangwato as a tribe and with their kgosi leading the way, endorsed the republican agenda in 1966. If there was ever any buyers’ remorse, it has yet to be officialised. While Khama has sympathisers, Bangwato as a tribe have not endorsed a plan to recycle the Khama family in the presidency. Molosiwa’s appreciation of this issue is that Khama is pursuing a personal (not tribal) agenda that is at odds with the republican agenda that Bangwato long endorsed. If the tribe had endorsed Khama’s personal agenda (in which case it would have become a tribal agenda), there would have been a big public meeting at the Serowe kgotla. That has never happened.
Botswana became what it is on the back of meritocracy. As a matter of fact, during Khama’s time, the country had one of the best civil services in Africa. It bothers Molosiwa that despite his reluctance to let go of power, Khama is not meritocratic – credible think tanks from the Botswana Institute of Development Policy Analysis to the Fraser Institute have empirically demonstrated how his policies were disastrous for the country. On becoming president, Khama unveiled a roadmap with four and later five D-name signposts, being discipline, development, dignity, democracy and delivery. The 5Ds Roadmap, as it came to be known, took Botswana nowhere and on the advice of the BDP taskforce, its public invocation was quietly stopped – which contrasted sharply with the fanfare with which it was announced.
“Khama failed all his 5Ds with Ds,” Molosiwa quips.
If that grading is accurate, Khama would have sharply deviated from what defined and energised the Khama political dynasty from Khama III to his grandson, Seretse Khama. It would further raise the question of whether the putative presidential heir apparent, Tshekedi Khama, deserves such designation because, like his brother the former president, he has not distinguished himself as a meritocrat. Briefly turning to a related point, Molosiwa raps Khama on the knuckles for having introduced a peculiar form of governance in which one could report for duty in the morning as a cabinet minister, be standing in the dock as a criminal suspect two hours later, then go back to his office to resume work as a minister. He contrasts that to Sir Ketumile Masire’s administration when a minister accused of criminal conduct would resign to clear his name first.
All in all, Molosiwa aligns himself with the widespread public sentiment that Khama will not let Masisi breathe until he is back in power through his younger brother’s regent-president.
“Why can’t he give Masisi space to run the country?” he poses with some indignation. “He should give Masisi space to rule. What he is basically doing is destabilising this country.”
The short hand of that devastating statement is that Khama, a former president and kgosi of one of Botswana’s politically and economically dominant tribes, has become a national security threat.