Khama only demanding what BDP’s infinite-sum promissory note guarantees him

09 Dec 2018

‘We in the Botswana Democratic Party, promise to indulge on demand, every desire, wish and whim of Lieutenant General Ian Khama within the territorial borders of the Republic of Botswana for as long as he lives and for as long as we can use his family name. In witness whereof, we set our hands under seal this 1st [day] of April [month], 1998 [year] and acknowledge receipt of a completed copy of this instrument’

Unless the objective is to engage in a metaphysical debate in which the very colour of the sky is a subject of contention, there can be no doubt that former president, Ian Khama, has an usual sense of entitlement. 

He wants to be captain in the cockpit of planes he is not qualified to fly, to be both kgosi and politician, to be the only voice that matters even on subjects that he will never know anything about, to be exempted from the rule of law as well as to step on your toes with lower-lip-biting intensity and insist on being the one who tells you how that feels. In some quarters, there is a very strong view that this is pathological conduct. However, there is another, more illuminating view which was expressed by a University of Botswana scholar two months after Khama became president.

Writing in the June 2008 edition of Africa Insight, Professor Monageng Mogalakwe, found a more appropriate set of words to express the view that it was the ruling Botswana Democratic Party that, in return for exploiting his family name for its political survival, the party got Khama hooked on special treatment.

Khama III, General Khama’s great grandfather, did a lot of things that the colonial government liked a great deal. He opened up his vast tribal territory to the British missionaries and removed Babirwa communities from what is now called Tuli Block in order to allow the British South Africa Company to resettle some white people coming from outside the Bechuanaland Protectorate. As a reward, Khama III not only got the dubious “Khama the Good” title but a lot of political mileage that propelled both him and his descendants to international fame. It is this fame that his grandson and future founding president of Botswana, Seretse Khama and his son, General Khama, were born into. Following a dismal performance by the BDP in 1994, De Beers got alarmed about the prospect of an unfriendly government taking over. It quietly commissioned a University of Cape Town political analyst, Professor Lawrence Schlemmer, to divine how the party could prolong its stay in power. In his report, Schlemmer, who also fatefully recommended that Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe should make land an issue ahead of the 2000 general election, recommended that the BDP needed to “reinvent” itself by bringing in someone with “sufficient dynamism.”

Mogalakwe writes with regard to the latter: “Although no names were mentioned, Lieutenant General Ian Khama, then commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and the first born to Seretse Khama, Botswana’s charismatic first post-colonial president, was the obvious choice.” Behind the scenes, party leaders started talks with Khama and less than 24 hours after retiring from the army, he showed up at the Office of the President as Vice President under the new administration of President Festus Mogae. In tow was his former aide-de-camp in the BDF and future Director General of the dreaded Directorate of Intelligence Services, Colonel Isaac Kgosi, who became his senior private secretary. Soon thereafter, it became clear that with Khama’s sufficient dynamism, also came an over-sufficient impulse to do things outside convention and the rule of law. Around that same time, BDP chairman and future Vice President under Khama, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, was quoted as saying that Khama joined politics on his own terms and conditions.

“But what were General Khama’s terms and conditions for leaving the BDF?” Mogalakwe poses before proffering a response. “A vital clue comes from what appeared to be the former president Mogae’s acquiescence to Khama’s unreasonable demands.”

He cites the infamous case of Khama flying BDF aircraft against what the law says, adding: ‘the Ombudsman report reveals that as soon after he left the BDF to assume the position of vice president, Ian Khama informed his successor, Lieutenant General Matshwenyego Fisher, that one of his conditions for leaving the BDF was that he (Ian Khama) would be allowed to fly BDF aircraft.” Obviously having consulted army lawyers, Fisher, as well as then deputy commander and chief of staff “expressed concern that Khama’s continued use of the BDF aircraft was a violation of the BDF Act.” Mogalakwe says that while the Khama-BDP deal was unknown, the aircraft-flying provides a good clue: “Ian Khama was seen as the man who could use his political stature to ward off any political threats to President Mogae who was seen as just a technocrat with no political base.”

Mogalakwe has also attributed General Khama’s political rise to his own father, Seretse Khama, and a “Ngwato Mafia.” His assertion is that in making Ian Khama the youngest brigadier in the world in 1977 over more deserving candidates and installing him as Kgosi Khama IV of Bangwato, Seretse Khama was creating conditions to ease his way into the presidency at some point in the future.

Elsewhere, the UB scholar has crystallised these views on this issue in the following manner: “By the time Schlemmer made his report in 1997, Khama already carried considerable political weight as the Commander of the BDF with the rank of Lt-General and undisputed King IV of BaMmangwato. When the BDP headhunters approached Khama, pursuant to recommendations of the Schlemmer report, to assist in the re-invention of his father’s party, he was well aware of the use (some would say abuse) of the name of Khama for BDP political gain. Because of this, Gen. Khama was in a very good position to bargain with his headhunters.”

He also states that Khama knew that the BDP has long basked in the glory of his family name “and that the BDP needed him than he needed the BDP. He knew that what he was being asked to do was to undertake a salvation operation, and he was going to do it his way and bring his own “excess baggage” if need be. “Excess baggage” is a term that had been used by Mogalakwe’s colleagues two years earlier to describe the extent to which the BDP was willing to indulge Khama’s excessive demands.

What some will find even more interesting is Mogalakwe’s assertion that a refrain common to one too many BDP supporters (“Ke Domi ya rona le bana ba rona” - the BDP belongs to us and our children) expresses the literal desire of “a Ngwato political mafia” to helm the party leadership with a succession of people from the Khama dynasty. Mogalakwe, who is himself a Mongwato from Serowe, expressed these sentiments when talk of the north-south dichotomy hadn’t taken on its present-day toxicity.

Some 10 years later, Khama is out of office, still expects to get special treatment but his successor, himself BDP royalty, has repeatedly used a word the party hardly ever used with Khama before – No! One possible outcome that has been predicted is that party could lose support in its most coveted territory, the Central District, where it enjoys support directly linked to the BDP’s exploitation of the Khama name.