Thursday, May 30, 2024

From Khama The Great to Khama The Robber:   Executive Corruption in Botswana

Reference is made to the P250 million saga, referred to as Botswana’s biggest financial scandal, the revelations of which have captured the imagination of the nation, and struck a dearth blow to Transparency International nonsensical characterization of Botswana as Africa’s least corrupt country! It appears that the arrival of President Ian Khama (whose great grandfather was referred to as Khama the Great) as Botswana’s head of state and government in 2008 has ushered in a new era of executive corruption.  Executive corruption involves members of the executive branch of the state who abuse public power vested in them by virtue of their offices, for personal gain and or self-aggrandizement. According to the UN Anti-Corruption Toolkit corruption includes practices such as embezzlement, fraud, theft, favoritism, nepotism, and abuse of discretion.  The executive branch of the state comprise in the main, the President, his ministers and senior government officials.  Executive corruption in Botswana is both systemic (and endemic) and systematic. Systemic corruption refers to a situation in which governance procedures and processes are routinely abused or violated with impunity by government officials, especially those in the executive branch.

Systematic corruption refers to a situation whereby political actors (especially those in the executive branch) manipulate the economic system of a country to create economic rents that they can use to secure control of government. In Botswana executive corruption is both systemic and systematic. Executive corruption in Botswana is able to thrive because of the absence of what scholars of good governance have referred to as horizontal accountability. According to one Guillermo O’Donnell, horizontal accountability refers to the existence of state agencies that are legally enabled and empowered, willing and able to take action in relation to actions and omissions by other agents or agencies of the state, which actions may be qualified as unlawful. Horizontal accountability involves state institutions engaging in mutual scrutiny to prevent abuses of office. In the context of Botswana, these agencies will include the Auditor General to monitor pubic spending, and Parliamentary Committees such as Public Accounts Committee, Parliamentary Intelligence and   Security Committee, and the Criminal Justice System through which state agencies such as Criminal Intelligence Bureau,  DCEC and Financial Intelligence Agency can use the legal process to demand answers from another state agency like the DIS, if they have reason to believe that this other agency has gone rogue. Horizontal accountability is to be differentiated from vertical accountability, which refers to non-state actors holding state officials to account. Vertical accountability refers to direct engagement with government by individuals and organized groups, that is, civil society, and, in particular, in the use of their voice as monitoring mechanism. In a democracy, the independent media are a vital part of civil society, and in this regard I must pay tribute to Botswana media, and, in particular, those fearless reporters who have made their voices heard by exposing acts of corruption in this country.

Your readers will recall that when the DIS was created, there was a lot of hue and cry about it. Many voices pointed out that the DIS, whose chief stands accused of P250 million fraud,  was going to be used for purposes that the Legislature had not intended or could have imagined.  To begin with, when DIS was created, it found other state agencies such as DCEC, Police Crime Intelligence Bureau, Military Intelligence and Financial Intelligence Agency already in place. I stand to be corrected, but I have talked to some of those who were involved in the original conceptualization of the DIS. The impression I got was that the DIS was originally conceptualized as an intelligence coordinating agency similar to South Africa’s National Intelligence Coordinating Committee (NICOC) the United States’ Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) or the British Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).  The idea was not to replace or marginalize the existing   agencies, but to coordinate their activities so that they do not work in silos, and possibly to also prevent turf wars. In this way, the DIS would have been an agency of about hundred or so men and women doing analytical work and preparing national intelligence estimates for the President and cabinet. Nobody could have foreseen that the DIS will turn into a money gobbling monster that it is today. The questions that arise are the DCEC and FIA legally enabled and empowered and able to take action in relations to DIS’s actions that may be qualified as unlawful? To me the answer is NO, as these agencies have to defer to the DPP, a well-known lap dog of the executive.  It also appears that whenever the DCEC or FIA, for example,  ask for accountability, all that the DIS chief  needs to do is invoke “national security’, and they all back off.  This is called securitization, and according scholars like Barry Buzan and others,  any activity, even  fraud,  can be securitized, by claiming that the  act  was committed in the interests of  national security.

 The problem with the DIS as currently managed is that it is more loyal to  President Ian Khama than to the Republic of Botswana.  A vital clue to this is revealed in the manner in which Issac Kgosi  was recruited. Not only was Isaac Kgosi found not suitable even for appointment as Private Secretary to  Vice President Ian Khama, but when Khama eventually took over the control of the state, he parachuted Kgosi ahead of more deserving and experienced officers from  the Security Intelligence Service, notably  Harold Mogale and his Deputy,  Tefo Kgothang. This to me smacked of a grand plan. The DIS Act is also crafted in such a way that the Director General swears oath of allegiance to serve the President, not to protect Botswana’s Constitution and territorial integrity.  What is even more frightening is that there is no parliamentary or even judicial oversight over the DIS, while the institutional autonomy of other agencies, such as DCEC or FIA or Police Crime Intelligence Bureau, has been compromised as the DIS is now the ‘principal’ of these other agencies.


It is interesting to note that while Isaack Kgosi is being accused of half a billion pula fraud, his supervisor and principal, Ian Khama, who likes to posture as Africa’s Mr Clean, has remained quiet. Could it be that poor Isaac Kgosi, a soldier and a Khama loyalist, has chosen to fall on his sword to defend his master?  Isaac Kgosi is on record saying that he owes Khama a debt of gratitude for making him what he is today. According to the information culled from DIS allocations, and this is all in the public domain, I will estimate that since 2008, more than a billion pula has been stolen from the state coffers, using DIS as a conduit. There is no way  and no how that a civil servant like Isaac Kgosi, no matter how senior, could have done this all alone, in his own volition, and without the approval, and or connivance of his supervisor and political master, President Ian Khama. It would appear that the DIS has been diverted into special purpose vehicle to loot the coffers of the state under the guise of national security.


But the BDP government, more than Ian Khama, is to blame for this current mess. According to Guillermo O’Donnell, when state agencies as pointed out above are unable to exercise control over each other, the best hope for the nation for ensuring checks and balances on the Executive will be the Legislature.  Guillermo O’Donnell argues that there is a correlation between an emasculated and ineffectual Legislature and Executive corruption. The ability of  Parliament to investigate the activities of the Executive branch serves as a deterrent because that ability increases the level of risk for the Executive to engage in corrupt practices. Thus executive corruption would be lower when the Legislature holds powers that constrain the Executive than when it does not enjoy such powers. It is common cause that Botswana’s Parliament is unable to exercise any control or oversight over the Executive.  Botswana is the only country in the world that calls itself a democracy, in which the Legislature is subservient to the Executive. And as the Judge President of Botswana, Mr Justice Ian Kirby once remarked, in Botswana there is no real separation of powers between the Executive and the Legislature. Botswana  Parliament is not the proverbial watchdog of the executive, but its despicable and pathetic lapdog.  As far back as 1988 one Gaefalale Sebeso MP (may his soul rest in peace) moved a motion that sought to make Parliament of Botswana independent of the Executive.  The motion was ignored  for 14 years,  and when eventually a  Task Force was appointed to look into the Sebeso  motion,  its recommendations were vociferously opposed by members of the Executive, then headed by none other than President Festus Mogae, according to Ray Molomo, the former speaker of Botswana Parliament. According to Molomo, the absence of autonomy and independence in the parliament of Botswana constitutes the gravest democratic deficit in this lovely country. Yes, the BDP government is no less blameworthy for this present mess than Ian Khama.

Scholars at the   Swedish based Varieties of Democracy Project posit that powerful executive presidents are particularly prone to engage in abuse, citing the examples of Vladimir Putin of Russia, Alberto Fujimori of Peru and Fredrick Chiluba of Zambia, among  others.  This is the poisoned chalice that President Masisi is going to inherit on the 01st April 2018.  After all Vice President Masisi has been part of the Presidency and is  now implicated directly or indirectly in the alleged corrupt practices of  Ian Khama and Isaack Kgosi.  Poor  Masisi  has his work cut out for him. President Masisi  will need to work very hard to spiritually decontaminate himself of all the smell from the cesspool of executive corruption characteristic of the Ian Khama’s regime, and hopefully return this country to something that we have always been proud of regardless of our different political affiliations. President Masisi will also need to work hard to  demilitarize the DIS  and return it to its original mandate. Media reports suggest that the DIS is now trying to rival the BDF in terms of weapons systems in its  arsenal.  This is a tall order for President Masisi, but lets us all pray for him that he finds deliverance.  Let us all  hope for the best, but prepare for more of the same.   Yes, in the days of RaGaone and RaNametso we were all proud of this country, regardless of our different political affiliations. Today, regardless of our different political affiliation, we all have to hang our heads in shame.

*Prof Mogalakwe’s area of interest is State-Society Relations. He is the author of a journal article entitled Deconstructing National Security ÔÇô The Case of DIS.  He writes from Sengwato Ward, Serowe.


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