UDC says it still intends to prosecute Khama for corruption

08 May 2019

“No, no! is how the Umbrella for Democratic Change spokesman, Moeti Mohwasa, responds to a question on whether his party would be amenable to an electoral deal that immunises former President Ian Khama against prosecution for alleged corruption.

Khama, who was part of executive power for as long as he was in the civil service, has been implicated in countless acts of corruption. Top of the list is how he used his position as Botswana Defence Force commander to award lucrative contracts to Seleka Springs, a company owned by his twin brothers. Second on the list would be vast, improperly-acquired holdings in the Okavango Delta, which is Botswana’s most lucrative tourist asset. Third would be vast sums of public funds that were siphoned out of the Directorate of Intelligence Services and Security whose Director General, Isaac Kgosi, answered to Khama only. The rationale for the latter is that if Khama knew about the siphoning, he is culpable and if he didn’t then he was negligent. Some of the alleged corruption was as brazen as to make investigations and prosecution mere formalities.

With Khama’s successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, having launched an anti-corruption crusade, the net is fast closing in and two months ago, there was public reporting about a joint investigation made up of DISS and Botswana Unified Revenue Services officials having debated whether to raid Khama’s properties. This happened weeks after the same team had raided Kgosi’s properties.

Lately, Khama has been too closely associated with UDC and there has been speculation that he wants to associate with the opposition collective of the Botswana National Front, Botswana Congress Party and Botswana People’s Party in order to defeat Masisi’s Botswana Democratic Party at this year’s general election. If that happens, what UDC leaders in Duma Boko and Selebi Phikwe West MP, Dithapelo Keorapetse, have vowed to do in the past (jail Khama), will definitely not happen because the latter would be part of the new government through proxies. Officially however, there is no relationship between Khama and the UDC and from what Mohwasa says, his party would not countenance any sort of deal in which the party doesn’t prosecute Khama in exchange for his political support. While he proved an incapable leader, Khama remains popular with some people and his personal pull will definitely be a factor in this year’s general election.

At every turn where he has to clarify his party’s position on Khama’s prosecution, Mohwasa is eager to state that Masisi will also face the same fate.

“Everybody – Khama, Masisi and others –will be prosecuted,’ he says. “We will not be selective.”

The context of “selective” is that Masisi has been accused of being going after enemies while protecting allies. The context of Masisi’s own prosecution, which Mohwasa restates, is that he also benefitted from the alleged looting of the National Petroleum Fund which was revealed in late 2017. Some P250 million was taken out of the Fund and in early 2018, a lawyer for the accused people made the startling claim that then Vice President Masisi was among the beneficiaries. In parliament, the Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Nonofo Molefi, tried explaining the context in which such benefit occurred but some are still skeptical. The explanation was that ahead of the 2015 BDP national elective congress in which Masisi vied for the position of Chairperson, some money was donated to the campaign and that he (Masisi) had no knowledge of its connection to the NPF.

In the past, UDC leaders have excoriated Khama’s personal corruption at every turn. As party spokesman, Mohwasa would himself make condemnatory public statements whenever the opportunity arose. While Botswana has always grappled with corruption, it became so rampant in the 2008-2018 period that President Sir Ketumile Masire publicly expressed horror at such rampancy when spoke at the funeral of the tragically (some insist suspiciously) departed BMD president, Gomolemo Motswaledi, in 2014. The peculiarity of this period is that for the first time in Botswana’s history, a sitting president was personally implicated with rampant and historic looting of public assets, anything from public funds to public land. Last month, Masisi told a press conference that he was “horrified” at levels of corruption in the government, which statement was telling in many respects.

Not only were UDC leaders talking about the corruption of Khama and other BDP leaders, they were threatening to imprison them. Once when contributing to a parliamentary debate, Duma Boko, who is the Leader of the Opposition, threatened Khama, Masisi and Tati East MP, Guma Moyo, with prison.

“We will give them three months to tell all that they did illegally,” Boko said describing one of the first actions of a UDC government. “I told them. I told them that they will tell us all they stole from government and just maybe we will forgive them. But if our investigations find out that there were some things they did not declare, then they will all go to maximum prison.”

He added: “I know how to take someone to prison without even blinking twice… I have been trained to do so, and I am talking about the likes of Guma, Khama, Masisi and the lot.”

Using the same platform, Selebi Phikwe West MP, Dithapelo Keorapetse, also identified individuals who will go to prison if UDC assumes official power in 2019.

“You will go to jail Honourable Tshekedi Khama, because you are my chief I will come and visit you in jail when power changes. I will [visit] you Honourable Olopeng,” he said referring to President Ian Khama’s younger brother and the Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Thapelo Olopeng.

While the number of UDC leaders talking about Khama’s corruption used to be counted on all body parts, they can now be counted on less than half the fingers of one hand. However, Mohwasa contests the assertion that the party has stopped talking about Khama’s personal corruption, then points out that the dynamics have also changed.

“Then he was head of state but he no longer holds that position,” says the UDC Head of Communications adding that there are people in the BDP who want to drag UDC into the latter’s infighting on the anti-Khama side.

That view notwithstanding, the BCP president, Dumelang Saleshando, has been more direct in his call for Khama to be investigated for his personal corruption. At his party’s breakfast engagement with the media in February this year, some 11 months after Khama left office, Saleshando said that the Khama family should be investigated for the government tenders worth billions of pula that BDF awarded to Seleka Springs.

"I want former president Ian Khama charged for corruption and I want him charged for Mosu,” he said, referring by the latter to one of Khama’s properties, an expansive compound near Makgadikgadi Pans that was controversially built with public money and contains an airstrip.

Another UDC leader, Motlatsi Molapisi of the BPP, has stated that Khama’s sole interest in UDC is to immunise himself against prosecution.

Ironically, exposing Khama’s corruption might yield very little political dividend for the BDP because he has popularity not unlike that of cult leaders and globally, cult leaders can get away with anything. The cult leader who is now president of the United States, Donald Trump, gave a vivid description of how that dynamic operates during the 2016 presidential campaign. He stated that support for his campaign would not decline even if he shot someone in the middle of a crowded New York street: ““I could stand in the middle of FifthAvenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

The nature of politics is that strategy (not ethics) is the decisive characteristic between winning or losing an election. Such calculation may force UDC into an unholy alliance with Khama – or the loose political confederation of independent candidates that he reportedly wants to assemble.  However, there is understanding even within the UDC itself that Khama’s popularity is a poisoned chalice that would debilitate the body politic of the animal called UDC when it is thisclose to power.

While Khama is in favour of preserving a hunting ban that is impoverishing communities in the north, UDC would be in favour of resuscitating the Community-based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programme which economically empowered those same communities and were an effective measure against poaching. The party would take as pragmatic a position on liquor trade while Khama would be happier with preserving regulations that some (including health professionals and senior police officers) blame for causing a historic epidemic in the use of hard drugs. However expedient it may be for Khama and UDC to get together, the ideological and policy differences between the two parties would result in a short-lived coalition government and precipitate another round of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.