Saturday, June 15, 2024

Govt finally rough-tackles Khama on international stage

For decades, the Botswana government has religiously observed a Las Vegas-style policy: what happens in the most rarefied office on the second floor of the Office of the President stays in the most rarefied office on the second floor of the Office of the President.

However, what was (reportedly) said in that office in 2018 was literally broadcast to the world last Thursday by the Minister of State President, Kabo Morwaeng, when he addressed the media. Appearing at the press conference alongside three other ministers, Morwaeng addressed himself to the long-running feud between President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his predecessor, Lieutenant General Ian Khama. Morwaeng alleged that the source of the feud was that Masisi refused (some would say reneged on a promise) to make Tshekedi, Khama’s younger brother, his vice president.

“It was his demand, he wanted that,” the minister said.

He explained that as vice president and in terms of the automatic-succession clause in the constitution, Tshekedi would ultimately have become president. The clause in question is the handiwork of President Sir Ketumile Masire (1980-1998) who wanted to ease the ascension of his vice president, Festus Mogae, at a time that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) was riven with fierce factional rivalry. However, what looked like a stroke of legislative genius in the late 1990s has become an albatross – especially that Masisi is himself rumoured to be implementing a succession plan of his own and is relying in that clause.

Before leaving office, Khama had amended the Electoral Act to add a provision for electronic voting. Some were convinced that this was part of a plan to rig elections – which rigging would have ensured that a Tshekedi-led BDP won. Interestingly, while Masisi didn’t implement the electronic voting clause in 2019, he never fiddled with the Act. The latter means that the BDP, which has lost practically all by-elections since the 2019 general election, can still invoke this law in next year’s election to enhance its chances of winning.

It was not the first time that a cabinet minister had alleged that Khama wanted his younger brother to be parachuted onto the highest office in the land.

Last year, the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Autlwetse Kgotla, made the same allegation at a meeting with traditional leaders in Letlhakane. Soon thereafter, an audio tape of the meeting hit the social media echo chamber. Masisi himself and Parks Tafa, Khama’s former personal lawyer, would confirm that at the BDP national congress in Tsabong last year. Tafa said that then President Khama asked him to convince Masisi to resign his position as BDP chairman and recommend Tshekedi as his replacement. That development would have made Tshekedi an instant frontrunner for the vice presidency. Khama is said to have been “devastated” by what Tafa did.

Morwaeng also alleged that before his constitutional mandate expired, Khama had also sought to retain his position as BDP president. Resultantly, he instructed the party Secretary General to seek legal opinion from two lawyers – whose advice was that the party constitution wouldn’t allow that. The constitution says that the party president shall be the state president when the party is in power.

Khama’s third demand, as alleged by Morwaeng, was to be “the face” of the BDP ahead of the 2019 general election. As son of the founding president, former army commander, Bangwato kgosikgolo and re-donation philanthropist, Khama is very popular with the masses – who are an important voting bloc. Being the face of the BDP would have made him even more popular and he would have overshadowed Masisi even more. Morwaeng said that the party turned down this demand because party tradition has always been that the incumbent president is the face of the party during the campaign season for a general election. Morwaeng added that as a result of being rejected, Khama was “annoyed.”

In elaboration of the broader point about Khama not getting his way, Morwaeng said that contrary to what he had claimed about resigning from the BDP, Khama was actually fired “because of his indiscipline.”

The fourth demand that Khama made was that Masisi should consult him when he appointed his first cabinet and after Slumber Tsogwane was fatefully appointed vice president, he (Khama) is said to have asked Masisi why he was not consulted.

The latter is interesting within context of what Khama is alleged to have done in a different year – 1999, when he was Mogae’s vice president. The announcement of the new cabinet was immediately followed by another – that Vice President Khama was going on a five-year sabbatical leave. This was a first in political history and it would soon emerge that the leave was in protest of Mogae not having consulted Khama when he appointed cabinet. It remains unclear whether President Khama consulted his three vice presidents when he appointed cabinet.

The fifth demand by the former president was to have “unlimited access to state resources.” That included access to state aircraft whose use by former presidents is limited in terms of a bill that Khama himself signed into law. A sitting president’s use of state aircraft is unlimited and Morwaeng said that Khama “wanted to continue using government aircraft as if he were still president.”

Summing up these demands, Morwaeng said that to Khama, Masisi “was just his ball boy.”

After leaving office, Khama came into the crosshairs of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), the cloak-and-mostly-dagger spy outfit that was established on the very day that he became president – April 1, 2008. DISS’ founding Director General was Khama’s confidant, aide-de-camp in the Botswana Defence Force and first private secretary at the Office of the President – Colonel Isaac Kgosi. Now under new management, DISS has been breathing down Khama’s neck since 2018 and in late 2021, he fled to South Africa after clashing with the Directorate over alleged “weapons of war” in his possession. The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime has also been investigating Khama for alleged corruption.

Morwaeng told the press conference that Khama has told friends and some BDP figures that “he shouldn’t be investigated” for crimes that he allegedly committed.

Ever since Masisi decided to take gloves off and go toe to toe with Khama, the government’s PR machinery has been churning out reactive anti-Khama statements. The press conference was itself a reaction to a chin-high dossier on Masisi’s government that Khama recently published and has been circulated around the world, especially in western capitals where he enjoys a good measure of sympathy. What was different about the Friday press conference was that international media had special invitation. At press time, bad press on Khama was beginning to come out. On its website, South Africa’s Sunday Times published an article headlined “Former Botswana president’s popularity is ‘exaggerated’: Botswana government.” Today’s issue will have more stories from the press conference.

There will likely be articles that quote one of the zingers that Morwaeng hit Khama with last Thursday: “You will recall that he subjected the nation to iron-fist misrule during his tenure as president where freedom of speech and expression were non-existent. So the man can’t accept that he is now a former president.”

The problem the government is going to encounter though is that Khama has already had plenty of time to define and, in most cases, distort the issues. In that regard, the government’s mobilisation of international media comes more than a little too late.

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