Masisi avoiding mistake that Mogae made – but there’s a cost

30 Jul 2018

At the Molepolole kgotla, the first stop of President Festus Mogae’s national farewell tour in 2007, a speaker from the floor told the outgoing president that his legacy would, in part, be defined by how his successor, Vice President Ian Khama, ruled for the next 10 years.

Whatever its legitimacy, such reasoning means that Mogae shares the blame for all the failures of the Khama’s presidency: corruption that, by the analysis of the Fraser Institute, shot up by 5.8 points over the past decade; high rates of unemployment and employment without wage growth; major mega-construction projects failures like Morupule B and the Palapye glass manufacturing project; the ineptitude of closing BCL mine and the presidency’s physical absence in Selebi Phikwe during the crisis; subversion of public finance management and public procurement law that enabled the implementation of the economic stimulus package; a host of impractical and unrealistic public policies like the alcohol levy, Youth Empowerment Scheme, Target 20 000 and Ipelegeng; scaling back labour law protections for civil servants; undermining the credibility of both parliament and the judiciary; and financial punishment of the private press to weaken its oversight capacity.

However, even before becoming president, Khama was already defining Mogae’s legacy. As an Ombudsman report shows, the Botswana Defence Force Act, as constituted in 1999, didn’t permit Khama to fly army aircraft because he was no longer a BDF member. Two months ago, it also emerged that, contrary to popular belief, Khama is not really a qualified pilot because he has not undergone the necessary refresher training since his basic training in the late 1970s. The international standard in civil aviation is that one has to undergo tailor-made training for each type of aircraft they fly in order to be considered qualified. Confronted with legal interpretation of the BDF Act by the Ombudsman, a former acting judge, Mogae spun an incredible explanation about having used powers that the Act didn’t give him to permit Khama to fly army aircraft. After the 1999 general election, Mogae would also be forced to allow Khama to go on a year’s sabbatical leave without consulting ruling party MPs. Khama is said to have insisted on taking the sabbatical to protest his exclusion from appointing a new cabinet.

All indications are that the new president and Khama’s former veep, Mokgweetsi Masisi, is determined to not have Khama define his legacy. That became apparent on the very first day (April 1 this year) when Masisi ascended the presidency. Becoming president in 2008, Khama unveiled a roadmap of four (and later five) D-word signposts that he said would guide his administration. The 5Ds came to overshadow national principles and fact may have been the reason that in his inaugural presidential address, Masisi said that it was “still” important to maintain “our founding principles that have united this nation through difficult times.” He paid tribute to the founding fathers for crafting an exemplary African state “through their consistent adherence to shared values and principles, in particular, respect for human rights, democracy, the rule of law, and the spirit of consultation or therisanyo and botho.” He stated that his government would prioritise the implementation of a combination of “practical and realistic strategies” to stimulate accelerated economic growth. The new president has also banned Khama from flying army aircraft.

However, in doing what is rational, Masisi is also taking a huge political risk that imperils his incumbency. With a decades-long history of never having taken ‘no’ for an answer, Khama has a sense of entitlement that drives him to act out when he doesn’t get his way. A declassified Central Intelligence Agency report says that unhappy with President Sir Ketumile Masire’s rule, then BDF Deputy Commander, Major General Ian Khama, mulled the idea of becoming a politician to basically undercut the sitting president. This was in 1984, only four years after the death of Khama’s father and founding president, Sir Seretse Khama, who had made him brigadier at a time that BDF didn’t have as many men as are required to form a brigade.

The sabbatical leave was meant as punishment for Mogae and it is unlikely that Khama, who has never been known to forgive those who offend him, will spare Masisi. Revenge has always been Khama’s modus operandi. When the media criticised him, he financially punished it by withholding advertising. When former Lobatse MP, Nehemiah Modubule, boycotted a public address by the late Malawian president, Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika, Khama refused to meet a trade union delegation accompanied by Modubule. When Major General Pius Mokgware, who is now Gabane-Mankgodi MP, expressed preference for attack helicopters over jet fighters, he relieved him of his command.

Masisi was never going to be spared this treatment and at a micro level, Khama has returned the slight that he suffered from exacted Masisi in kind – via public humiliation. In terms of protocol that is observed anywhere in the world (and that Khama himself has been a beneficiary of), when a head of state makes an entrance, everyone rises as a show of respect not so much for the individual holding office as for the office itself. Probably based on a standard that he himself observed, Khama appears to have convinced himself that Masisi and the Office of the President are one thing. When President Masisi arrived for the Khawa Dune Challenge in the Kgalagadi district two months ago, former President Khama was the only one who remained seated when everybody else rose as said protocol demands. Having been publicly humiliated with revelations that he had been banned from army aircraft, Khama was publicly humiliating Masisi by showing that he doesn’t accord him enough respect to rise when he makes an entrance.

Masisi is doing more than ban Khama from BDF aircraft: he is dismantling his legacy such that he can never be associated with it. Lately, he has announced plans to partly reverse the liquor legislation and policies that were a major component of Khama’s legacy. Instinct will be telling Khama to revenge and it would be a miracle if such revenge would not be in the form of replacing Masisi as president. In one very important respect, Masisi’s demonstrated penchant to go in the opposite direction of where Khama went means that he could take a contrarian view with regard to a criminal case regarding Seleka Springs, a company owned by Khama’s family that won lucrative BDF tenders during Khama’s command. Wikileaks quotes former head of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime, Tymon Katholo, as saying that then Vice President Khama summoned and asked him about DCEC investigating Seleka Springs for criminal wrongdoing. While the matter was later referred to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions – which means that DCEC’s lawyers determined that there was basis to prosecute, the case has yet to be prosecuted. If Masisi – who took an oath to uphold the law on April 1 - clears the hurdles, Khama’s instincts will take him to take revenge.