Monday, May 27, 2024

Khama ventured into politics for power and fame

In an interview conducted by The Financial Times in 2009, President Khama is quoted saying ‘first of all you should understand that it was not my choice to enter politics’, because it is dirty game and ‘had no attraction for me’.

The president went on to say that he would have preferred to go into tourism and run a couple of charities. This interview revealed a lot about the person of Ian Khama.

Was Ian pushed into politics? Certainly it cannot be and by his own account, he says that former president Mogae asked him to leave the military and be his number two.

It does seem to me that the former president made a polite request that Khama could have turned down if he had no interest in politics. Mogae’s request was not one of the usual Presidential Directives that are now a defining feature of Botswana’s development model. President Khama said he asks himself everyday, ‘why am I still in politics?’

This begs a big question, what motivated Khama to defile his conscience and venture into politics and what is keeping him in the dirty game? Pyane, J. et al (1984) in their book ‘The Motivation of Politicians’ gives persuasive insight into this paradox. The decision by Ian Khama to go into politics was a conscious one informed by a thought process.

When he received the offer, he definitely gave it a serious thought in particular, its benefits and challenges. He then accepted it of own free will. At this point it is safe to assume that he was attracted by some things or something. Payne and his colleagues maintain that people are attracted into politics by different things.

Some are attracted by the ‘status and adulation incentive’ – the need for prestige or public recognition and exaggerated praise and affection. It is assumed that Ian Khama was already popular as the commander of the Botswana Defense Force, perhaps because of his family name and the fact that he was the chief of the Bamangwato, one of the most populous tribes in Botswana. Therefore it is not far-fetched to assume that Khama needed a fresh career that could propel him to celebrity status. His investment on attaining the rank of a superstar within the BDF was saturated precisely because the army is such a small constituency with professionals who may not be hoodwinked with ease. Khama must have therefore craved for a bigger space to garner more admirers and become Botswana’s undisputed idol hence his decision to enter a vocation that is not attractive to him, but which affords unsurpassed exposure. For certain, Khama enjoys being loved; he enjoys the sight of poor people stampeding to shake his hand. The military, while giving him the requisite authority and influence, did not accord him the mega opportunity to connect with poor people, the epicenter of his popularity.

Thus, Ian Khama ventured into politics in order to connect with a bigger audience, his fan base so as to consolidate his personal charisma beyond the barracks.

Thus, Mogae’s offer was an irresistible opportunity for Khama to promote his strategic interests which is why he couldn’t refuse the offer in spite of his disdain for politics. Payne and co-authors also reveal that people who are attracted into politics by the status and adulation incentive always want to be acclaimed and thanked.

Khama’s presidency is now synonymous with directives that are issued direct from his office. Thus, Khama’s directives are intended to ensure that all policy pronouncements originate from his office and bear his personal seal rather than that of the government. This is why it is common to hear public officers say that Khama has directed this and that.

The directives make Khama the embodiment of government interventions and for this reason he gets personal acclaim hence we thank Khama for ISPAAD, the Internship Program and so forth. Sample this; Mmegi newspaper of August 25, 2010 reports about an opposition politician who has defected to the ruling party because he now understand ‘policies pursued by president Ian Khama [not the government] who he says is not comparable to any political leader in the country’.

In no small measure, such praises typify Khama’s personal worth and make him appear larger than the Botswana state. President Khama recently set up the ‘President Housing Appeal for the Needy’ whose objective is to provide shelter for needy members of the society.

This represents a departure from the norm where the provision of shelter for needy persons is coordinated by the Ministry of Local Government through the Department of Social Services. President Khama deliberately usurps this mission to steal the limelight from public institutions because he wants to get the ultimate applause. Payne and his colleagues observe that people who are motivated into politics by the status and adulation incentive want to experience the outpouring of popular gratitude. Is it by chance that Ian Khama has a deep love for charity work? Charity work is about relieving people’s suffering which makes the provider a Good Samaritan.

Charity work makes poor people accept that they are dead without the provider. It thus balloons the provider’s personal approval and in the case of Khama, it makes him out-compete the government in caring for needy Batswana. When the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) made Khama their chief campaigner for the 2009 General Election, Khama was pretty alive that the task made him the target of relentless attack, insults and ridicule by the opposition. Khama nonetheless accepted the assignment because of his self-confidence and because he wanted to be at the center of everything about the BDP.

He wanted eventual applause for the BDP’s success. Pyane and co-authors observe that the adulation incentive politicians are egocentric, forceful and self-confident. When their parties win elections, it is not party appeal that won them the elections but rather it is because of the leader’s image.

Look at the campaign pictures of all BDP parliamentary aspirants for the 2009 general election and you will notice that all are visibly overshadowed by Khama’s accompanying picture. At the height of the campaigns, BDP officials pleaded with their members to defend party president, Khama (not the party itself). Payne and colleagues further contend that politicians of the status and adulation incentive type are self-centered and unmindful of how other people view them.

President Khama has publicly stated his dislike for alcohol and in the process initiated punitive measures to throttle the booze trade despite protests from traders and his colleagues in the government. His obsession with discipline and his habit for forcing his perspective of life on other people depicts him as a leader who takes pride in taking the country in the direction he wants, regardless of what anyone one else thinks. Payne and colleagues also reveal that people who are motivated into politics by the adulation incentive recklessly crave for pinnacles of acclaim, often collide with others and typically love petty fights. Khama’s confrontational attitude epitomizes a man who craves war, a man who enjoys bragging about his popularity.

It can be argued that president Khama chooses to personally pilot BDF helicopters so that no one, in particular, the pilot, steals the limelight from him.

There are very few qualified pilots in Botswana, which is why pilots are envied and acclaimed. If Khama was to be piloted to the rural areas, school kids and the moronic plebiscite would likely mob the pilot and ignore Khama. Lastly, the authors argue that the status and adulation incentive breed is always pre-occupied with their own self-image and are easily wounded by instances of adulation denial including criticism.

There has been talk that Khama had at some point threatened to resign if criticism leveled at him does not abate. It is also common knowledge that those who do not acclaim Khama are marginalized and have their nationalities questioned. It should now be clear why Khama ventured into politics and is still in politics. He knowingly ventured into politics to seek public recognition and exaggerated praise and affection especially from the underclass. Now you tell me good people; other than in politics, where else would Khama get everything he wants all the time?

I mean where else does one get the leeway to make any law and then break it at will? Politics allows him to be held in awe and gives impetus to his impulse for status. Thus, Khama was being economical with the truth when he said that he dislikes politics.

He was merely brainwashing us so that we sympathize with him and spare him rebuke that is part of the political game – a desperate emotional blackmail.

So there should no longer be any doubt that Khama loves and enjoys politics. Perhaps what he dislikes is that unlike in the military where even senior officers would not dare face Khama, freedom square politics affords us an opportunity to tell him to his face, ridicule and poke fun at him.

However, this is far outweighed by the resultant rewards from engaging in politics especially as the head of state. Payne and colleagues observes that, ‘for such people, politics is an attractive terrain, for scarcely any other undertaking offers abundant status rewards. Politicians’ names fill our newspapers and our history books. Their faces dominate our television screens. Onlookers struggle with each other to touch the hand of the passing president; … It is not surprising, then, that one of the most common incentives propelling individuals into politics is the need for status’. Literature on populism also suggests that leaders who are in short supply of the ingredients for political savvy such as President Khama adopt populists policies as a means of obtaining support from poor people without increasing their (the poor) productive capacity.

Thus, populist redistribution projects such as Ipelegeng, the Constituency League and so forth have been designed to ‘buy’ political support.

The effect of populist projects is to decrease the incentive that poor people have to challenge the elite’s control of political power. Programs such as Ipelegeng and the Constituency League are meant to excite poor people with monkey wages so that they ululate when the president mutilates the Setswana language or do some dull lap dancing. They make the president a paranoid celebrity; a movie star; a pop idol.


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