Former President Lt Gen Ian Khama is sending his successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi mixed signals – appealing for peace and throwing a tantrum in the same breath. In his first interview with the Sunday Standard ever -at his official office in Gaborone Khama last Wednesday (March 4, 2020) said he was still open for more talks to iron out his differences with Masisi. Sitting across the table as he fielded questions from this reporter, SKIK (Seretse Khama Ian Khama) looked a shadow of the once powerful Head of State who had a disdain for the private media. His standoff with his successor has isolated him, gradually narrowing his circle of friends and rendering him almost powerless.
Just a week earlier the former President and Army Commander delivered a speech to a small crowd of largely Bangwato ex-soldiers and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) loyalists at Gaborone’s Extension 14 Cemetry for the commemoration of the Botswana Defence Force fallen heroes of the Lesoma massacre. While his tone during last week’s interview sounded conciliatory, his remarks at the Lesoma memorial were combative. “We will continue fighting to restore democracy in Botswana.” A source close to President Masisi said it is such a paradoxical approach by Khama that has made it difficult for the two to reach a compromise.
Khama however remains resolute in his attempts to paint himself as the victim. “I have met a couple of times with the mediators and expressed my sentiments regarding the conflict with Masisi but I have never received any feedback following our meetings,” Khama told Sunday Standard last week.
Neither of the two men have ever made public the true reasons behind their failure to reconcile. The public has been left to speculate with some believing the former President’s demands may be at the centre of the continued standoff.
Observers say Khama’s decision to quit the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and form the BPF signalled an end to any hopes of the two presidents ever reconciling.
While he seems isolated Khama’s influence especially in the northern part of the country cannot be taken for granted if results of the 2019 National Elections are anything to go by. At only two months since formation his BPF managed to unseat the BDP from their traditional stronghold, Serowe, winning all three constituencies. It was again his influence that handed the main opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) victory in various other BDP held constituencies. But such influence may be eroding with time as Masisi’s government continues to isolate the former president. With a failed attempt to unseat his successor in the just ended General Elections, the momentum now remains with the sitting President. Re-uniting with his former boss has now fallen down the order of President Masisi’s priorities.
“He wants to focus on running the country now,” a close associate says. The country officially learnt of the conflict between the two men during a Kgotla meeting in Serowe in late 2018 where President Masisi finally confessed about his strained relations with Khama. He later confirmed during his maiden State of the Nation Address that he had sought some intervention from party elders to assist mend broken relations between the two. “Batswana are all aware that the transition from the previous administration has not been as smooth as expected,” Masisi confessed. “However, it ought to be noted, I have in my attempt to smoothen the process engaged senior citizens namely; His Excellency Dr. Festus Mogae, His Honour Dr. Ponatshego Kedikilwe, Honourable Ray Molomo, Honourable Patrick Balopi and Honourable David Magang to assist and lead in smoothening the transition.” Their efforts have so far failed. Reasons behind the failure remain a closely guarded secret.