In a totally unintended way, President Ian Khama’s role has become that of a political truss ÔÇô supporting two rickety institutions neither of which is able to stand on its own without leaning on the crunch-like stick that is he has become.
On the one side of him is an immensely tired structure that is his political party. On the other is a government that gives an impression that it would hold together for longer than a day without him. But even he too is tired and exhausted. Aides talk of an irascible and increasingly withdrawn soul at the top.
This is a far cry from the Khama that strode into office in April 2008 after delivering a speech that would easily rank among the best ever delivered on the grounds of our parliament.
In that speech he talked about his famed four “Ds” before a fifth was added clearly as an afterthought calculated to capitalize on the popularity that they were hogging at the time. But more than his famed “Ds”, President Khama went at length to allay fears on his democratic credentials. There were many who had doubts, chiefly on account of his military background.
Africa we should never forget has had a sorry history of military men who went on to become political dictators. But still all were willing to give the President all the benefit of doubt. In a humble but confident tone, he assured the country and indeed the world watching from a distance that he had joined the army so as to defend democracy. And in a way he was right, at least up to a point.
For those well versed with Botswana’s recent history, especially during the liberation wars of the region, everything that flowed from the president’s mouth was true; from beginning to the end. Here was a man who had played an enormously generous and patriotic role in the creation and ultimately coming of age of the country’s army, including and especially during the calamitous hostilities with the then racist regime of Ian Smith in Rhodesia.
Forget critics’ assertions that he was never the best qualified man for the job in the army. But that his father put him through the paces as a kind of insurance against a military coup ÔÇô another common feature in Africa at the time. From 2008, fast forward six years down the line and you meet a ruling party united in its entrenched but unspoken belief that Khama’s ascendance to their throne was the biggest mistake that happened to them as a party.
And this is an understatement. Unless something dramatic happens in the remainder of his tenure, President Khama will go down as the worst president this country ever had. He has consistently tried to blame the economy for that sad epitaph. The truth of the matter is that he is all entirely of his own making. After a beating at the General Elections, the remnants of what used to be a proud and neatly united party are not even able to adduce a public explanation of what happened much less what they intend to do to recapture the lost ground.
They need not look far. The leader remains strong, but nowhere near when he arrived into the top spot in 2008. Arrogance, aloof and a cold aura of detachment remain, not so much to engender mysticism as it once did, but rather to conceal self-doubt and ever growing insecurity. Corruption is a one defining constant that has remained with Khama’s tenure. And from the look of things will remain so and ultimately see that tenure to its definitive close.
At least for now, there is not much evidence that Khama has personally benefitted from the huge amounts of corruption that have plagued his presidency. But there is no mistaking his soft spot for that corruption, especially when performed by his inner circle. It is important to concede the point that corruption in Botswana did not start with Ian Khama’s presidency. But then during his tenure it reached totally new heights. At the beginning he had promised so much but ultimately delivered so little. He raised hopes only to disappoint them.
Which is why the public is unremitting in its harsh treatment against him. It is also the reason why popular as he is, Khama will never achieve the kind of political mortality to an extent that people like Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae did. People are accusing him of having sold him a dummy. And they are now rebelling against him. He may have tried to do noble things, like fighting poverty. But the public is only paying a passing interest to those. They look at corruption and they think it’s all his creation.
It is on the altar corruption that they think he must judged and ultimately be sentenced against. For all the early pointless ramblings about fighting corruption, facts on the ground have constantly remained different. Since independence only the current President has allowed cabinet ministers to stay in office while fending off corruption against themselves at the courts. This is a marked and indeed decisive departure from Khama’s inaugural speech in which he promised to maintain the broad values that have defined all the governments that have preceded his.
At one point his cabinet table was a joint to no less than three corruption accused ministers, some of them holding the most sensitive portfolios one can think of. The President saw nothing wrong with it. On behalf of his ministers he argued presumption of innocence until proven guilty. May be he was right, at least on a point of law.
It is the same principle he is now with an even greater panache to his other bosom buddy at the intelligence services. What the president does not seem to understand is that he is in office not as a lawyer, but as a politician. Which is why the chickens are coming home to roost. He should not feign surprise when the voter loses interest in him. And it has only just started. Already a growing chorus of voices is beginning to accuse him of being a possible beneficiary of all mess. So far there is no evidence. But from his behavior such criticism coming from the frustrated public is entirely understandable.