Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Cloak and dagger intrigues inside Botswana’s presidential successions

Former presidents Sir Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae and the British government were scared of the power current president Lt Gen Ian Khama wielded while he was an army general at the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) the British Government secret documents have revealed. Sunday Standard has turned up a diplomatic demarche written In 1981, by a British High Commissioner William Turner that Masire who had just taken up the presidency of Botswana ‘’did not feel strong enough to tackle Ian Khama. Turner’s comments were attributed to the than Bank of Botswana governor, Festus Mogae. Turner who stated that, ‘I am sure that by now you will think that I am paranoic about the BDF’, warned that ‘the situation now was such that Ian Khama and Merafhe had become arrogant with ministers and officials. President Masire is known to be opposed to their ambitions.’ Mogae was quoted saying that ‘the only enemy which the BDF recognized was President Masire and Gaolathe,’ the then permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Development planning. Mogae said Masire did not ‘feel strong enough to oppose Ian Khama partly because of Ian Khama’s position in the Bamangwato. He said it would take two years for Masire to consolidate his position enough to tackle the BDF.”

A year later, Masire’s position was reported to be precarious. A confidential by Michael Lang of the British Southern African department states that, ‘the situation does not look good. Ian Khama is loose and whatever doubts the president may habour about the BDF there have clearly not stopped the Soviet Union arms deal. If Masire regards his own situation as so shaky, one wonders whether he will be allowed a two year grace period to consolidate his position enough to tackle the BDF. The president is a member of the minority tribe the Bamangwaketse. Merafhe is 44. He should not be allowed to retire from the BDF.’

Masire’s counter strategy   

At the time, Masire seemed to have won Merafhe over. A declassified US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report states that, “Masire, with the cooperation of the commander of BDF, Maj Gen Mompati Merafhe, has taken steps to limit Khama’s influence…..  A senior officer ÔÇô an ally of Merafhe ÔÇô was promoted recently to Khama’s ranking of brigadier and given the operations command that had previously been Khama’s.

To further undermine support for Khama …… the military has adopted a policy favouring supporters of Merafhe for promotion”, states the CIA report.   It emerges in the report that Khama on the other hand was weighing his options: “whether to renounce his chieftainship, work within the BDP, join an opposition group or even form his own opposition party.   Another factor influencing Khama’s strategy is believed to have been Lt Gen Merafhe’s retirement plans. “If Merafhe were to retire prior to Khama’s political debut, or be appointed Minister of Defence … Khama would probably delay his entry into the political arena in the hope of becoming the top military commander. Merafhe however is well aware of Khama’s desire to replace him and may decide to delay retirement as long as possible. Moreover, we believe Masire would reluctantly allow Khama to assume command of the military…. if passed over it is our view that Khama would most likely begin in earnest to develop political support for a challenge in a future election.   Merafhe’s impending retirement was a big factor in ensuring that Masire retained his position as president.

The British High Commissioner is his demarche had indicated that, ‘in the teleletters I have already mentioned Brigadier John Gray’s call on Ian Khama. In the context of this letter, Ian Khama revealed that he was anxious that Merafhe should retire soon to give Ian Khama time to command the BDF and find another deputy before he enters politics in two years.’ The plan by Khama to enter politics in two years is confirmed in a confidential CIA report that, ‘“a nagging concern for Masire is the political future of Botswana Defence Force Commander Ian Khama, son of the late President Khama. Khama’s political plans are the subject of intense speculation within Botswana and a source of considerable consternation to Masire. Khama, in addition to carrying the family name, also is the paramount chief of Bamangwato. Khama has made no secret of his desire to enter politics and most observers are convinced that his ultimate goal is the presidency.”   

Masire blocks Khama’s political bid

In 1983 Sir Ketumile Masire used the Constitution to stop Khama from resigning from the army and to contest for elections as a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) member of parliament. The CIA report states that: “a major impediment for Khama’s political aspirations, however, is a constitutional amendment ÔÇô sponsored ironically by his father- that makes a tribal chief ineligible for political office until five years after relinquishing his tribal position. The Constitutional issue was raised by Masire in January 1983 when Khama discussed with the president his possible resignation from the military and his desire to become BDP candidate for national assembly.”   The CIA further reported that “Masire’s concerns about Khama have been heightened by Khama’s meetings with opposition who urged him to resign from the military and run as BDP candidate in order to effect “change from within.”   

Sir Ketumile who was anticipating a challenge from Khama enlisted the assistance of the then BDF commander, Lt Gen Mompati Merafhe to contain Khama. Khama’s big break however came many years later, following a clash between Sir Ketumile and the then Debswana Managing Director Louis Nchindo. The flamboyant political wheeler-dealer never forgave Masire for dropping him as Debswana MD and replacing him with the late Baledzi Gaolatlhe.  While Nchindo’s relationship with Masire had hit the rocks, his friendship with Khama was blooming. The two friends shared an enthusiasm for wildlife and the environment. While Khama was allegedly nursing presidential ambitions, Nchindo wanted Masire of the State House. His campaign received a boost after the ruling BDP lost a lot of support during the 1994 elections. Two years before Masire retired, Louis Nchindo already had a documented plan on how Mogae would take over from Masire and then pass the presidency to Lt Gen Ian Khama.

A De Beers document marked “Strictly confidential”, details how Louis Nchindo and De Beers masterminded the retirement of former President Ketumile Masire, his succession by former president Festus Mogae and the retirement of current president Lt Gen Ian Khama from the Botswana Defence Force to take up the Vice Presidency of Botswana.   

De beers secret documents

The confidential document, which was put together on December 28, 2007, when the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) laid charges against Louis Nchindo, sets out a plan on how to protect De Beers from the fall out of the legal battle. The author of the document, a former De Beers insider whose name is known to The Sunday Standard, takes issue with the fact that Louis Nchindo “was a member of the BDP Executive Committee and is generally credited with being the kingmaker. The author can, on instance, verify the subject’s role in respect of one incident. In 1996 the author was requested by the accused (Nchindo) to proofread a document detailing a strategy to stabilize the party by doing away with factions that threatened to divide it.

In essence the strategy took the form of a recommendation to the party (de facto Cabinet) to facilitate the departure of former head of state (Sir Ketumile Masire) by introducing an attractive retirement package. The strategy further acknowledged that in his stead the current leader (Festus Mogae) would be installed as is provided in the Constitution and that for succession planning the then head of the army (Lt Gen Ian Khama) be requested to take early retirement and then brought into the Cabinet as the Vice President.” The De Beers confidential document further states that: “As it happens, all this has come to pass proving his intimate involvement in BDP politics.”


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