As his power ebbs away, Lieutenant General Ian Khama, who is a founder member of the Botswana Defence Force, a former BDF deputy commander and later commander as well as president until April 1, can no longer get soldiers to do his bidding.
A quad-biking enthusiast, Khama is a permanent fixture at the annual Khawa Sand Dune Challenge, a motorcycling contest held in Khawa, a small sand-duned village in the Kgalagadi District. Khama has participated in every edition of this race, mostly notching up first-place positions which some strongly believe are rigged in his favour. At press time, this year’s edition was still underway.
Sunday Standard learns that ahead of the current race, the former president asked the BDF commander, Lieutenant General Placid Segokgo, for 26 soldiers to accompany him to Khawa where they would do preparatory work. However, instead of those 26 soldiers, Khama got only six whom Segokgo is said to have released with great reluctance. Such reluctance is understandable because there is no valid administrative or security basis on which Khama should be using free labour from the army for his leisure pursuits. If that was absolutely necessary, provision for that would have been made in the Presidents Pension and Retirement Benefits Act, which parliament incrementally amended just before Khama’s retirement. In terms of that Act, the only security personnel that retired presidents are entitled to serve as bodyguards and not attendants at leisure pursuits.
Sources say that the extent of BDF’s reluctance in indulging Khama is such that there is an understanding between the two parties that the six soldiers are to keep a low profile at the Khama event. However, Khama may have breached such understanding because last Tuesday, he posted a telling picture on his Facebook wall. Captioned “Preparing the track”, the picture shows eight men (four uniformed soldiers and Khama himself) carrying out such work. Some five or so quad bikes can also be seen in the picture.
The early days of Khama’s retired life don’t seem to be unfolding as he imagined. While the Presidents Pension and Retirement Benefits Act entitles him to any mode of government transport, it has emerged that his successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, declined a request by Khama to use the luxury presidential helicopter – which the latter didn’t need at the time because he was at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London. The former Director-General of the Directorate of Intelligence Services, Colonel Isaac Kgosi, told The Botswana Gazette last week that he came to Khama’s rescue by lending him the DIS plane. In itself, this generosity undermined Masisi’s authority and added to the list of things that made Kgosi’s continued stay at DIS untenable.
The tension between the former and current president puts Segokgo in an extremely difficult position. While it was Khama who appointed him commander, he is required to be loyal to the current president who is BDF’s commander-in-chief.