Monday, December 4, 2023

Khama always had problem with presidents not called Khama

According to declassified CIA documents, a year after the death of his father, then Brigadier Ian Khama, got so fed up with the administration of President Sir Ketumile Masire that he began toying toyed with the idea of quitting the army and becoming a politician.

Learning of these plans, Masire huddled with BDF Commander, Major General Mompati Merafhe and decided to promote Colonel Joyce Motang to the same rank as Khama. They went a step farther and transferred operational command from Khama to Motang, an action that the former would have been greatly displeased about and would have further strained his relationship with Masire. In 1988 when Merafhe joined politics, Khama became army commander, rising to the rank of Lieutenant General.

When Masire retired in April, 1998, he was succeeded by Festus Mogae, who brought in a freshly-retired Khama as Vice President. At that time, Merafhe was the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Following the October 1999 elections, cracks at the Office of the President began to appear when it was announced that Khama will be going on a year’s sabbatical leave ÔÇô the first such leave in political history of any country. Soon thereafter, it emerged that he had fallen out with Mogae over the appointment of the cabinet. Khama, who was essentially co-president, had assumed that he would have as much say in the selection of the new cabinet as Mogae but the latter put his foot down. It also emerged afterwards that Khama had wanted to go on a five-year sabbatical but Mogae refused, compromising at one year. The strain between the two men never eased.

Khama ascended the presidency in April 2008 when Mogae’s statutory 10-year term ended. For the first time in 28 years, Khama didn’t feud with a Botswana president for the simple reason that he was president himself. In April this year, when his own term ended, Khama handed over to his vice president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, who had never been his first choice of successor. If nothing else, the latter points to the fact that Khama wanted a successor he would be happy with. From the minute he delved into his inauguration speech, it became clear that Masisi would go in a direction different from Khama’s. Botswana is back where it was in the 1980-2008 period ÔÇô a Khama is not president. There have been various explanations, both factual and mythical, of why Khama and Masisi don’t get along and some people blame the new president. There is another explanation: historically, Khama has always had a problem with sitting presidents not called Khama. Supposing there was no problem between the two men, Masisi would have been the first non-Khama president to enjoy friendly relations with Khama. It could be that Masisi himself is culpable but there is history that predicts that not being a Khama, Masisi was always going to clash with Khama.

This historical pattern has an obvious implication for the future – if Masisi loses the current power struggle, Khama (who is the Bangwato tribal chief) will not be happy unless the new president is his brother and current Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama.


Read this week's paper