At least within the Botswana Patriotic Front, if any moment captures how a once mighty man fell mightily, it would be during a meeting of the National Executive Committee in May 10, 2021.
A female Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources student, herself a BPF member, had accused party president, Reverend Biggie Butale, of sexual assault and the issue was reported to the NEC. When an NEC meeting came to this agenda item discussed, the chairperson asked Butale to step out of the room in order that other members could talk freely. Our information is that he refused and during a consequent tirade, called Khama a “dictator” to his face.
The party’s Secretary General and Khama’s younger brother, Tshekedi, would summarise this incident in a letter to regional chairpersons. In the letter, Tshekedi writes that Butale “attacked the NEC and called it a gathering that he does not recognise and one that cannot make any decisions on him. He further said that the NEC is just a kangaroo court that cannot make any decisions. Upon being requested to respect the NEC, he verbally attacked both the Party Chairman and Vice President; and called the Party Patron a dictator who has no right to attend NEC meetings.”
According to the letter, Butale told that same meeting that Khama didn’t qualify to attend NEC meetings. While the constitution doesn’t accord the patron such privilege, the party’s inaugural national congress in 2019 did.
Almost three years later, Butale is said to have used “dictator” to describe Khama at yet another heated meeting where he went one on one with the latter. Khama is currently in exile in South Africa courtesy of a more epic battle with his predecessor and number one nemesis – President Mokgweetsi Masisi – and is conferenced in for NEC meetings.
The face-off between the two happened in the midst of a debate on whether the party should hold an elective congress or non-elective special congress next month. Khama, who typically brooks no dissent, favours the former and Butale the latter.
“You are a dictator,” the BPF president reportedly told Khama. “You always want things to be done your way; everything is always about you.”
Some of Khama’s followers are said to have remonstrated with Butale, telling him that “You can’t call the president a dictator” but the latter way past his tolerance level to listen to them.
The “dictator” charge is nothing new, only it has never been used by people within Khama’s party in the manner Butale did. Khama, who is the immediate past president of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, is himself well aware of this charge and publicly dismissed it ahead of the 2014 general election. He was speaking at a political rally where the candidacy of Reverend Rupert Hambira was launched for the Gaborone Central seat.
Although he never actually delved into the substance of the “dictator” charge, Khama did make a quite interesting point.
“The opposition will not tell you about the successes of the government; all they ever do is tell lies and attack me, calling me a dictator. I must be the only dictator to be judged the number one ruler in Africa – I don’t know about being the number one dictator,” he told the rally.
Khama has indeed done very well in political beauty contests on the continent. In 2013, he was, alongside Mauritius’ Prime Minister, Dr Navin Ramgoolam, named Africa’s best performing leader in the Africa Leadership Index by the Nation Media Group of Kenya. In the same year, the Positive Peace Index and Global Peace Index graded Botswana among the best governed and most peaceful nations. Botswana was placed first in Africa and 41 in the world in good governance and 32nd out of 162 countries in the most peaceful index. In 2014 itself, a week before President Barack Obama hosted the first ever US-Africa Leaders Summit at the White House, Gallup released a poll in which Khama emerged as the second best performing leader in Sub-Saharan Africa. The best in the poll was Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali who scored 86 percent to Khama’s 81 percent.
Khama has also been getting very good press internationally. An online South African publication called Daily Maverick has written that “Khama has overseen Botswana’s consolidation of its position as one of Africa’s best-governed countries, with impressive economic and development indicators.” A prominent blogger named Laurene Powell Jobs says that “Khama is a bold and thoughtful leader, part of a new generation of African leaders who are seeking not to extract or exploit their nations’ natural resources but rather to preserve them for the benefit of all citizens, including those yet to be born.”
However, Khama’s statement about being a blemish-free dictator came three months after the two of his predecessors had expressed grave misgivings about his style of administration. At the funeral of the former Umbrella for Democratic Change Deputy President, Gomolemo Motswaledi, many could not believe their ears when former president, Sir Ketumile Masire, criticised Khama. Never once mentioning him by name, the former president lamented what Botswana has become under Khama’s leadership. Khama’s predecessor, Festus Mogae, was even more blunt, speaking bitterly about the tangle of pathology that characterised his successor’s Lord-of-the-flies presidency. While also not mentioning Khama by name, Mogae told an American TV channel in Tanzania that “the current regime doesn’t respect the rule of law” and that the country is “regressing” on the gains it has made following independence from the British.
As in previous elections, the BDP campaigned on its record but in the particular case of Khama, that made for some awkwardness because he has to associate himself with the legacy of two past presidents who have publicly distanced themselves from the way he conducts political business.
BPF sources say that despite widespread belief that he is indeed a dictator, Khama genuinely believes that the label is mere political mischief on the part of his opponents. He is also said to genuinely believe that he is actually the best president Botswana has ever had. Such belief notwithstanding, there are people who feel that his close association with the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change in the 2019 general election cost the party votes, especially in urban constituencies where Khama is seen as a dictator.