The former United States Ambassador to Botswana, Michelle Gavin, has become perhaps the first diplomat to publicly remark on the irony of a once powerful man under whom the Directorate of Intelligence Services and Security (DISS) was established, now being, himself, a victim of that same agency.
“Established under President Ian Khama in 2008, the DIS inspired fear and suspicion from its inception,” Gavin writes in her Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) blog. “In a country frequently and justifiably lauded for its commitment to the rule of law and accountable institutions, the new agency—and the scope of its authorities—was poorly understood. Simply the perception that a domestic intelligence agency could be weaponized for personal or political purposes by any president is anathema to Botswana’s political culture. That popular perception took hold during Ian Khama’s tenure, and now, ironically, the entity once thought to do his bidding is accused of persecuting him.”
Right from the get-go, the establishment of DISS under Khama was met with trepidation. Khama’s temperament and military background had long made some people very uneasy and plans to establish DISS heightened such unease.
At the time that DISS was established, Gavin was an Adjunct Fellow for Africa at the Council on Foreign Relations. Three years, President Obama appointed her United States Ambassador to Botswana. Back home in the US, Gavin, who obtained an M.Phil in International Relations from Oxford University where she was a Rhodes Scholar, has rejoined CFR and still follows political events in Botswana. That was how she came to learn of the “bitter feud” between Khama and his “chosen successor-turned-rival” President Mokgweetsi Masisi, as well as of the recent arrest of Khama’s twin brothers, Tshekedi and Anthony. Commenting on the feud, Gavin says that the relationship between the Khamas and Masisi “may well be irreparable. But ensuring that the DIS is professionalized, demystified, and subject to rigorous oversight could help Botswana’s democracy weather the storm kicked up by the current episode of political animus.” Gavin finds the “spectacle” of this feud, which has been playing itself out in public for the past four years, to be “depressing” and to be a distraction from more important development work that needs to be done.
“Botswana has had a particularly painful experience with COVID-19, and the country continues to suffer from the economic fallout of the pandemic. It is highly vulnerable to climate change and has struggled to diversify its economy. There is far more important business before the country than the high-profile rift between its political elites,” Gavin says.