Monday, December 16, 2019

Tribal bargaining chips

By Kwapeng Modikwe

Exactly three weeks ago, on October 24, a highly explosive and divisive document purported to have been written by Bangwato to President Mokgweetsi Masisi expressing their displeasure on how he treats General Dr. Ian Khama Seretse Khama strayed into my whatsApp page, provoking a response. The document’s heading reads, “Bangwato response to Masisi’s unfair treatment towards former President Dr General Seretse Khama”.

The document addresses the President by his last name without his honorific. On the other hand Khama’s military, traditional, political and honorary tittles see the light of the day. The authors do not have the decency of referring to Masisi as President, Mr., Dr. or at least Rra Atsile.

The revered educationist turned politician, Ray Molomo once said, “Malice is not always difficult to detect”. The Bangwato document has been issued out of malice. Khama is portrayed in a positive light while Masisi is on negative side. The authors claim that Ian Khama was “forced” to retire from the BDF which he so much loved to save the ailing Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) as it “was nearing a split due to heavy functionalism”.

I am not sure if the use of the word “functionalism” is appropriate here. The word, according to Oxford Dictionary, means the idea or belief that the most important thing about the style or design of a building or object is how it is going to be used, not how it will look. Perhaps the word “factionalism” is the more appropriate in this case.

Anyway this is not the point. The real point is dealing with concerns raised by Bangwato. It is highly possible that not all Bangwato would like to be associated with the said document. Some may even not be aware of its existence. It is claimed in that document that the BDP saw Ian Khama “as the messiah and a saviour then and now a spoilt brat, dictator, a man who wants to rule from the grave”, adding that, “the battle line has now been drawn between the Northerners and the Southerners”.

Indirectly, this is a call to arms on Batswana north of the Tropic of Capricorn to join forces with Bangwato against those communities south of the Capricorn. Hopefully the “northerners” except the writers of the document are clever enough to distinguish between wrong and right. They cannot allow themselves to be drawn into fighting other people’s wars. On the contrary, Ian Khama’s father, Sir Seretse hated identification based on regionalism and tribalism like these people claiming to be Bangwato are now doing. They are now being divisive. Theirs is poisonous thinking. They promise to rally behind their Kgosikgolo who is being “denied everything he was promised by Masisi and company”.

Can they tell the nation what it is that President Masisi promised to do for his predecessor other than what is embodied in the legislation governing the benefits and entitlements of former presidents? Earlier it had been thought that may be RraAtsile promised Khama that he would appoint his younger brother, Tshekedi Khama the vice president or that he would allow the retired General to continue piloting Botswana Defence Force (BDF) aircraft. The other suggestion was that perhaps he assured Khama that government would continue to finance Mosu airstrip even though it is a private property. However, Khama did not mention all these issues as the cause of the rift between him and Masisi. Last week he was quoted by a newspaper as saying he was surprised by the envisaged changes in the alcohol levy and hunting ban which came so soon after his retirement. The only agreement he had had with Masisi concerned administrative staff. Now that coming from the horse’s mouth, one wonders what the authors of this Bangwato document knew which could have caused so much noise resulting with the “battle line being drawn between the northerners and the southerners”. What has emerged from consultations between government and communities in the areas affected by the hunting ban shows clearly that the ban was a draconian policy which warrants lifting even if it means hurting the Khamas and their friends.  

President Masisi is also accused by the authors of the said document for “amending laws overnight”. As far as can be remembered, the June seating of parliament amended the Banking Act to meet the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations on anti-money laundering and terrorism financing, the Proceeds and Instruments of Crime, the Counter Terrorism and Anti-Human Trafficking. All these have nothing to do with undoing what Khama had done. They were all in good faith and some may even have been drafted during Khama’s presidency. At any rate, laws and policies keep on changing from time to time whether they were enacted during Masire, Mogae, Khama or Masisi time in the presidency.   

There was a time when Mogae acknowledged that the cabinet and the back bench did not “speak with one voice” and that he was aware that “parliament can make and unmake me”. That was the time when factions in the party were at their peak ending up with Mogae openly supporting Khama for the chairmanship. The suggestion that Khama joined politics to save the ailing BDP is therefore a figment of imagination. 

In fact one would be nearer to the truth if he argued that he came in to strengthen the Merafhe/Nkate faction of the party. Looking back at events preceding and following the 2009 Kanye BDP congress, General Khama appeared strongly opposed to the Barataphathi of Daniel Kwelagobe/ Ponatshego Kedikilwe. He was soft on the A-Team of Merafhe/Nkate faction which had brought him in as party chairman at the previous Ghanzi congress. Prior to the Ghanzi congress, the A-team whose constant source of worry was the powerful and eloquent PHK, had failed more than twice to wrestle control of the party. So when Khama arrived, the opportunity presented itself for the A-Team to partner with him to target PHK.

At the Ghanzi congress I had the opportunity of privately chatting with several delegates among them Jerry Gabaake and Chapson Butale. They were all sincere.  Gabaake told me that, “we are going to remove PHK but honestly I can’t tell you why, but we are going to replace him with the weaker Ian Khama”, adding that, “perhaps we are looking at him as a chief”. Butale had this to say, “there is no one in the BDP as capable as PHK when it comes to chairmanship of the BDP. The man is gifted and is powerful but we in the A-Team feel we must wrest control of the party by using Khama”. Butale continued, “if you want to enjoy the real Kedikilwe, let there be tension during the proceedings of a congress or conference, you will see how he meticulously handles delegates”.

Before the Kanye congress, Khama openly decampaigned Kwelagobe saying he was too old, power hungry and ailing and therefore he should be rejected. Not only that. When the Barataphathi swept all the influential positions at the Kanye Congress, Khama chose not to congratulate them. Instead he pre-occupied himself with cultural events at GICC in Gaborone becoming the first BDP president not to congratulate the winners. Following that, General Khama appointed additional members to the central committee and party committees without consulting neither the secretary-general nor the chairman who were all Barataphathi members. All the people he appointed were the A-Team supporters.

To claim that General Khama saved the BDP from splitting is not supported by facts on the ground. If saving the party from split was his mandate, then he did not perform it. The formation of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and the 2011 public sector strike which was the longest in the history of Botswana are examples one can cite to show that Khama did the BDP more harm than good as disgruntled trade unions sought refuge in opposition parties after Khama’s administration frustrated them. The strike lasted for a month. In the last general elections, the opposition scored an unprecedented high number of parliamentarians because the voter was disillusioned with Khama’s leadership. Had the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) joined the umbrella, General Khama would perhaps have led the BDP to its first defeat since independence.  

The document implies that Bangwato are the only morafe in this country who seem to harbour the belief that the presidency is their monopoly. It is now becoming clear that they have not yet come to terms with the reality that the president can emerge from anywhere in this country including small villages such as Moshupa, Hukuntsi, Hanahai, etc.

In 1980, following Sir Seretse’s death and following Sir Ketumile’s inauguration as the president, very strong sentiments to the effect that Masire was holding fort for Ian Khama were expressed around certain quarters at GaMmangwato. Again, when Masire’s portraits replaced those of Sir Seretse in the currency and government offices, a large number of Bangwato in Mahalapye led by the vocal Mme Mmasempane and Mmolotsi Sekgoma took to the streets protesting against the removal. They carried placards demanding the return of Sir Seretse’s “portraits to where they rightly belonged”. The current assault on President Masisi’s administration by those associated with General Khama is like saying “give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar”. It follows the 1980 pattern on Masire’s presidency. The transition from Sir Ketumile to Festus Mogae never attracted unseemly remarks. Perhaps that was because even though Mogae is not a royalist in Serowe, he is a Mongwato.

Currently, Masisi is rebuilding Botswana’s influence in the international community by rubbing shoulders with them. This influence declined after Mogae’s retirement because Khama appeared shy and reticent to engage them face-to-face. On international stage he was a press release gentleman. Currently, Masisi is re-building rapport with the country’s media, something which Khama disliked. He was still at the BDF when he declared that he “never touches” the Guardian newspaper adding, “I ask someone to read it for me”. Khama, unlike his predecessors, never addressed press conferences during his presidency.

Currently Masisi is rebuilding the rule of law after it “deteriorated to historical lows under Khama”. It is said that two years after Khama took over as president from Mogae in 2010, Botswana’s score on Legal Systems and Property Rights was 6.68 but had declined to 6.11 five years later and further down to 5.34 in 2016. Currently, Masisi is working hard to ensure that DISS ceases from being viewed as enemy of the citizens as was the case during Khama’s presidency. Currently Masisi is ensuring that scandals such as the one involving the National Petroleum Fund come to an end. So Bangwato seem to suggest that what happened during Khama’s era should not be tempered with. One is alive to the fact that BagaMmangwato have the highest number of parliamentary constituencies than any other district. They are now without pronouncing it, trying to use that as bargaining chips so that President Masisi dances to their tune. One wonders as to what will Bangwato gain if they vote Masisi’s administration out of office because they will both be the losers. The only person who stands to benefit is Duma Boko who only yesterday was General Khama’s enemy number one and today he appears like Khama’s chief defendant or spokesperson.