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There was only ever one D in President Ian Khama’s 5Ds roadmap and the personality of one individual came to define the institutional character of that D.
Coming into office on April 1, 2008, Khama unveiled his so-called 4Ds roadmap which has discipline, democracy, dignity and development as signposts. Much later, he revised the roadmap to 5Ds as he added another D - delivery. Despite what Khama believed and told people at kgotla meetings in his national farewell tour, the 5Ds can be summed up with another D word – disastrous.
The message communicated by a placard held aloft by one of the jobless university graduates who briefly demonstrated in front of the National Assembly in 2016 before a contingent of whip-wielding riot police descended on them, was that this roadmap actually had one D – the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS) whose mention in the local media is typically prefaced with “dreaded”. Indeed, through its cloak-and-mostly-dagger excesses, the dreaded DIS - which is heavily salted with special forces operatives – has inflamed a culture of fear and unevenly spread a lot of physical and emotional pain around. Until last Wednesday morning, DIS was headed by its founding Director General, Colonel Isaac Kgosi. While designed and designated as an institution, under Kgosi, DIS not only became a personal fiefdom but its identity was subsumed under Kgosi’s own. This view is actually shared by one too many people in the Ministry of Justice, Defence and Security, including DIS itself. In the final analysis, Khama’s 5Ds roadmap makes perfect sense in the context of multiplying DIS by five.
The story of how this happened starts much earlier than the establishment of the directorate in 2008. During their days in the Botswana Defence Force, Kgosi was commander Khama’s chief aide-de-camp - not “batman” (servant) as popularly believed. Those who happened to have been in the army around this time say that Kgosi had about as much power as Khama and rode roughshod over officers many, many ranks above him. Ahead of DIS’ formation and at a time that Khama was now Vice President and Kgosi his senior private secretary, the latter went to the United Kingdom to undertake intelligence training that would prime him for heading the organisation. Opposition to DIS began even before it came into being: those enlightened on security matters were alarmed that when the original bill came before parliament, it didn’t provide for oversight over the organisation. While a clause that closed that gap would be subsequently added, its effectiveness was nil because such oversight exists in name only. In this particular parliamentary cycle, a committee that is supposed to be exercising oversight over DIS has never met. In practical terms, nobody but Khama himself exercised real oversight over an agency headed by someone he had a close personal relationship with.
Under Kgosi, DIS came to dominate public life in an extremely egregious Third World way, breaching jurisdictional lines with the grossest impunity. Stocktheft is not a national security issue but there have been instances when DIS officers investigated such cases. A Phakalane resident, Kgosi is reported to have once assumed the role of traffic cop in that part of the capital city, directing bottlenecked traffic. Under all first three presidents of Botswana, people exercised their freedom of speech freely but under Khama, they became deeply distrustful of each other and of strangers they encountered both socially and professionally lest the person you are talking was an underground DIS operative. The practical effect is that DIS has destroyed social cohesion that played no small part in making Botswana Sub-Saharan Africa’s most peaceful nation. It is going to literally take decades to bring it back because if, either rightly or wrongly, you heard or suspect that someone is a DIS operative, you will never trust that person for as long as you live – which could be 50 more years.
Kgosi’s DIS was more dagger than cloak, more brawn than brains and a former member of the BDF High Command (Gabane-Mankgodi MP, Major General Pius Mokgware) has warned that far from safeguarding national security, DIS is actually a threat to such security and could actually cause a civil war. He said that DIS “should not be controlled by only one person” that he did not name but it is clear he was talking about Kgosi.
Interestingly, while one thinks of a school dropout uncocking a loaded pistol and kicking down a door at four in the morning and never a university graduate analyzing energy security in Botswana, the fact of the matter is that DIS actually has some super-smart people who work for it. The agency’s notoriety and its priorities over the past decade means that the latter group is not given nearly enough career oxygen. In one of its most egregious acts, DIS killed John Kalafatis, a Gaborone man in cold blood, prompting an opposition leader (Dumelang Saleshando of the Botswana Congress Party) to describe it as “a death squad” on the floor of parliament. Many other extra-judicial killings brought home the message that, to all intents and purpose, DIS had placed virtually all citizens on death row. In the not-too-distant past, Sunday Standard published a story that moments after Kalafatis was gunned down, Kgosi arrived at the scene and congratulated the hit men with “Good job guys.” As egregious was a terror-attack drill at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport that was reported in Monitor, which so terrified members of the public they thought it was real. There were children in the terminal building and somebody could have died of a heart attack. Kgosi would later address a brief, impromptu press conference in which he said that the airport’s security protocols were inadequate to repel a terrorist attack. Which intelligence service in the world uses unwitting civilians to audit counter-terrorism protocols? The irony couldn’t be starker – an anti-terror-attack drill to prevent the loss of innocent lives was itself a terror attack on innocent people.
Long before former minister Sadique Kebonang told a parliamentary committee that ministers feared DIS (by which he meant its head), Kgosi was asserting his authority over members of the executive. There used to be two entrances to the headquarters of the Ministry of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development. Soon after Khama took and DIS reared its ugly head, Kgosi closed the one on the eastern side (it remains closed) without consulting either the minister or permanent secretary. It is interesting to speculate how Kgosi treated Masisi when he was Assistant Minister of Education and Skills Development in a year (2009) when DIS was in full rogue mode?
Khama and Kgosi’s DIS wasn’t quite Robert Mugabe’s Central Intelligence Organisation but on April 2, Batswana felt as euphoric as Zimbabweans did on November 19 last year when Mugabe fell. The public record suggests that Kgosi precipitated this firing himself because he undermined the authority of the new president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, when he appeared before the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee. The latter is investigating how P250 million was diverted from the National Petroleum Fund to DIS. To impress upon the committee just how much power he has, Kgosi blatantly told the committee that he doesn’t take orders from anyone. That is highly unusual because theoretically, even the highest authority in the country, the president, takes orders from the electorate, can be challenged by other cabinet members and is checked by parliament. He left Masisi no choice but to fire him and that happened on May 2. Not enough rumination has been exercised on the statement from the Office of the President announcing this development but it is worthwhile to do so. The statement says that Masisi has “relieved” Kgosi of his duties as DIS Director General.
What jumps out at the reader is the choice of that word. Masisi wanted to humiliate Kgosi as he did him before the PAC and nation with his independent operator remarks. Otherwise, the statement would merely have stated that Kgosi has resigned as happens all the time when people are fired and those doing the firing don’t want to humiliate them.
Besides brutalizing people, Kgosi’s DIS savaged the national economy as well, hogging a disproportionate share of the national budget while keeping out investors by rejecting their visa applications. One such investor was Africa’s richest person, Aliko Dangote of Nigeria, who ended up setting a cement plant in neighbouring Zambia after he was denied entry into the country.
Nobody knows what will happen in next year’s general election. The Umbrella for Democratic Change is unravelling but with more than a year left, can still reconstitute itself and surprise everyone as it did in 2014. Whether he wins or loses, Masisi will go down in Botswana’s history as the man who ended the tyranny of an intelligence boss who terrorized a whole nation of 2.3 million people for a full 10 years. Outside the context of the World Happiness Index, Batswana across the country were very, very happy on Wednesday when Kgosi’s ouster was announced. While the euphoria may not last, the respite is noteworthy.
At this point, nobody can say with certainty how DIS will be transformed under its new leader but it is unlikely Masisi would want him to be another Kgosi. Like the South African army, DIS may also find it worthwhile to change its name. During apartheid, that army terrorized both the citizens it was supposed to protect as well as people in neighbouring countries. However, with the advent of democracy in 1994, what was once called the South African Defence Force became the South African National Defence Force. Once before a name change was suggested for DIS but under Kgosi, that would have amounted to naught.
It may be a bit early to celebrate Kgosi’s fall from grace but his next appearance should be useful in indicating whether he still has as much power as he did in the past decade. If he is still arrogant, combative and dismissive of MPs and legally established oversight processes, be afraid - be very afraid.