If the first amendment of the law regulating bogosi (traditional leadership) is any guide, Botswana’s founding president, Sir Seretse Khama, didn’t want dikgosi to wear a second hat as politicians.
The really ticklish issue with wearing those two hats is that they never sit well on the wearer’s head. Like all blood sports, politics is necessarily divisive while bogosi has historically served as a crucible of tribal unity. A politician-kgosi enjoys the controversial privilege of attacking his political opponents at a freedom square on a Sunday afternoon and sitting in judgement over those same opponents on Monday morning at the kgotla. This anecdote is indicative of a broader set of considerations that informed Seretse Khama’s decision.
Seretse Khama had himself abdicated as Bangwato before becoming a politician and as a direct result of that amendment, Bangwaketse kgosi, Bathoen II, also abdicated to focus solely on opposition politics. Ever the trailblazer, General Ian Khama, broke with convention when, on becoming a politician on April 1, 1998, he remained Bangwato kgosi. As president, he ceremonially garbed the new Kgosi Kgafela II of Bakgatla with a leopard skin not as President Khama but as Kgosi Khama IV of the Bangwato ÔÇô his regnal name.
“If Khama wants bogosi, then he should sit in the Serowe kgotla, concentrate on tribal administration and not dabble in politics,” says Comfort Molosiwa who, while better known as a politician and businessman, is descended from the same royal family as Khama.
Setswana culture dictates that where a kgosi strays from established norms, his uncles should rein him in.
“That is obviously not happening with Khama but there is desperate need for both royal uncles on one hand, and senior tribal elders on the other, to intervene. No one in GaMmangawto has called Khama to order but that needs to happen as matter of urgency.”
The uncles that Molosiwa says he is referring to are those from Tshekedi Khama’s house. Tshekedi was paternal uncle to Ian Khama’s father, Seretse Khama, and served as Regent before the later reached the age of majority. Tshekedi Khama’s own son, Leapetswe Khama, would also serve as Regent years later.
Molosiwa adds that for as long as Ian Khama has worn these the politics and bogosi hats at the same time, no one has called him to order simply because he is “Seretse’s son.” Ironically though, Seretse Khama himself felt very strongly about bogosi being clearly separated from politics.
Khama is using his political hat to change guard at the Office of the President, in the process leveraging his political power as a kgosi to the last ounce. Molosiwa accuses Khama of manipulating his well-meaning, if unwitting subjects into thinking that President Mokgweetsi Masisi is ill-treating him and denying him rights he is entitled to under the law as a former president. That is largely seen as a ruse to harden public sentiment against Masisi, get him ousted and temporarily replace him with a regent-president for his younger brother, Tshekedi Khama ÔÇô named after Bangwato Regent Tshekedi Khama.
All told the Ngwato tribal territory (officially the Central District) is now made up of a total of 17 electoral constituencies and has been a Botswana Democratic Party stronghold since 1966. Molosiwa faults Kgosi Khama IV for using this potent tribal-political asset as a bargaining chip as he seeks to return to government through proxies.
He also faults other traditional leaders for being seemingly nonchalant when there is clear evidence that Botswana is descending into political chaos caused by one of their own. Historically, dikgosi have always had responsibility to ensure the safety and security of their subjects. Mentioning the names of Kgosi Puso Gaborone of Batlokwa and Kgosi Kgari Sechele of Bakwena as examples, Molosiwa makes the general point that Botswana dikgosi tend to be unhelpfully provincial in their outlook when they could be helpfully national in such.
“I would advise other dikgosi to raise their voices because Khama has overstepped the mark. He is destroying the bogosi institution because his father was very clear that dikgosi should not go into politics.”
Such sentiment notwithstanding, Molosiwa has a nagging suspicion that Khama may actually consider himself to be superior to other dikgosi and not even listen to their advice. He then auditions a quite interesting theory. After installing the 26-year old Brigadier Ian Khama as kgosi in 1979, Seretse Khama publicly counselled him to never consider himself superior to other dikgosi. Molosiwa’s theory is that the father was making an attempt to discourage a superiority complex he privately knew his son harboured.