Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Khama’s political record: Success or Failure?

Dear Spencer,

Excuse me for taking what may, to many of our people, sound like hard stance against President Ian Khama.

The problem with Ian Khama is that it is impossible to occupy a middle ground about him.

You either love him so much as to kill for him or you hate him as to want him dead.

That is the extent to which he has polarized and contaminated our politics.

But back to the issue at hand, of whether he has been a failure or a success; I think, in all fairness, the man has been an unmitigated failure.

It boggles my mind why he has continued to cling to political power even as it has become so clear that he was not cut out for politics.

At least he has been open and honest enough to confess that politics is not his game ÔÇô and for that I give him credit.

Do you still remember that when he was catapulted into politics, by default, I must add, as a specially elected MP and Vice-President in 1998, the first thing he did was to abdicate all political responsibility by demanding to go on sabbatical leave? God knows what he learnt during the sabbatical. Upon his return, he was appointed a defacto Prime Minister, who, tragically, had all the power but no responsibility.

Officially, he was assigned the duty to oversee the implementation of government projects but, as we all know, the country is still to know what his achievements were.

As if that was not enough, he never bothered to attend parliament. Where on earth do you get a political representative who snubs the very house to which he should express the views of his voters?

We are talking about the same guy who has continued to fly military aircraft even as the then Ombudsman, Lethebe Maine, categorically ruled it illegal.

At least then, he was, to a great majority of the public, still a closed book, vaguely known as a distinguished soldier even as his true skills and accomplishments in the battlefield had not been tested given that Botswana had never really been at war. I hope you still recall that Khama had also defied public service practice when he appointed his erstwhile aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Kgosi, as his private secretary overlooking deserving and experienced career civil servants in the Office of the President.

In fact, that was to be followed with the unprecedented militarization of the civil service upon his ascendance to the presidency in April 2008.

Do you then honestly believe that as VP Khama executed his mandate in accordance with the rules and regulations requisite of his office? I vehemently argue in the negative and momentarily confine my debate to his tenure as VP. Should you still want more evidence of what a failed politician Khama has been, I will be quite happy to delve on his current failures as president to provide you with proof?

Yours
Joseph

P.S. I hope you do not attempt to use the global economic recession as an excuse for the blatant and most glaring shortfalls of this man.

Dear Joe

I readily and most heartily accept the misfortune that has befallen me to be the one to defend Ian Khama’s record.

It will be foolhardy to even start to say over the last fifteen years or so that he has been active in politics, Khama has not made mistakes.

Some of the mistakes have been really serious, to say the least. But what I find abnormally disingenuous is for detractors like you to never want to acknowledge the good things that he has brought into politics. How strange it is that Khama’s detractors now want to accuse him of every evil and ill there ever has been in the country! It’s like the whole history of this country only started the day Ian Khama joined politics. That, to me, cannot be fair.

Take, for example, the discipline, integrity and dignity that he has brought to the Office of the President, to the State House even.

For all his intellectual depth, Festus Mogae was one of the most casual, most carefree men to have stayed at the State House. He is, to me, the man who degraded the institution of presidency to such low levels from which we are still, as a nation, to recover. What Khama’s haters never want to acknowledge is if he was such a bad man, why did Mogae not sack him. The fault, if there is any, is therefore not Khama’s but Mogae’s.

It was during Mogae’s presidency that hours and hours of public time were wasted consuming premier, single malt whisky and red wine, debating not bread and butter issues, but academic topics that had no relevance, at least to a majority of our people.

Like it has been the case for many journalists, it’s been real fun for me writing about Khama, not least because of his antipathy for journalists.

Back to sabbatical! I will concede that this was a reckless mistake. But for goodness sake, it is a mistake for which he has since apologized and paid a very heavy political price.
Harking and harping on it will take us nowhere.

Here is a man who, through and through and right from the beginning, has displayed a rare and total concern for the multitudes of Batswana ÔÇô especially the unemployed who bear the most grueling poverty that terrorizes them in the rural areas.

I can already hear you mumbling that his concern for the downtrodden is more a direct product of his populism than a true concern to help.

My reply to you is that I am one of the people who have never been mesmerized by Khama’s populism.
More specifically, I have always been shocked at his eagerness to put himself at the centre of everything, including replacing state institutions and public policies with himself.

More importantly, I will never forgive him for wanting to monopolise patriotism. His thinly veiled assertions that he is possibly the most patriotic Motswana has often struck me as possibly delusional, principally because he often comes across as sincerely believing in such wild dreams.
But to turn around and rubbish everything he has done and stood for, including his successes , like you so overtly and bravely do, is, I’m afraid, to be guilty of the same crime you are accusing him of; self-centeredness.

You have accused him of bringing Isaac Kgosi along as his private secretary. That to me cannot be a crime, unless you go on to demonstrate to me that the colonel, as you so plainly ridicule him, was himself not appropriately qualified for the job. Otherwise how sad it is that it now all seems like it is by itself an offence to say anything positive or supportive about Ian Khama.

Yours ever
Spencer

Dear Spencer
There is no doubt that President Khama squandered the public goodwill that he had when he became the President of the country on April 1 2008.

He bungled everything, ranging from the BDP’s inner democracy to imposition of the infamous alcohol levy and the unwarranted curtailment of the public freedoms from his first presidential day.
Instead of focusing on the four Ds roadmap that he had set for himself, Khama allowed political expediency and pursuit of populism to cloud his judgment.

He engaged in a spending frenzy that badly eroded our culture of sustainable economic development.
I think it was you who wrote a piece advising him not to “throw money at problems.” Would you, by any stretch, raise your neck and say he heeded such advice? I don’t think so.

First, was the creation of the infamous DIS whose work and expenditure is shrouded in deep secrecy, refurbishment of the state house, the acquisition of a second presidential jet, establishment of constituency leagues and other pet projects which did not add any economic value to his country at a time when the economy was faced with the worst global economic crisis advisable?

By the way do you know who he chose as Director General of the notorious DIS?

I challenge you to say if it is just coincidence that Colonel Kgosi is qualified both good as private secretary and also as a head of the intelligence Services.

Simply put, President Khama has got his priorities wrong.

More pathetically, he has come across as a paranoid man who placed loyalty and trust above duty merit.

I suppose his paranoia best explains why he is so averse to constructive criticism.
His love for good news has led him to surround himself with a few stooges who revel in telling him what he likes to hear instead of confronting painful truths.

When Barata Phathi stood against his breach of the party’s democratic dispensation, he opted to annihilate them one by one instead of engaging in meaningful dialogue in order to spare the party its first split in history.

Under his nose, the party split and the BMD was formed, eating into the core of the human resource base and disabling him from making any meaningful cabinet reshuffles when it mattered most.
In his typical arrogance and intransigence, he refused to heed the party elders’ advice in their intervention to save the once mighty BDP.
Under his stewardship, corruption continues unabated.

In fact, one of the biggest security risks that this country faces is official corruption, practiced by Ian Khama’s friends who see nothing wrong awarding themselves multi-billion contracts.
These are the same people who are working with Chinese companies for which they have appointed themselves country managers.

The arrangement is that they get a commission for every Government contract won by a Chinese company. Do you call such people entrepreneurs? I hope not.

Khama declined all calls to sack his cousin from cabinet until the said cousin was literally dragged from office by a summons to go and face corruption charges.
Talk is rife that more of his ministers are in the process of being arraigned before the courts.
How then should I believe that he is also possibly not corrupt?

Yours
Joseph

Dear Joe

It cannot be correct to simply accuse Ian Khama of every crime committed under the sun no matter how passionately you may hate the man.

More to the point, you cannot fairly accuse Ian Khama for the crimes, if indeed they are, which crimes were committed when he was Vice President.

At that time, executive power rested firmly with Festus Mogae.

If Mogae was a weak president who could not rein in his Vice President, then culpability should rest with Festus, not Ian.

If you had bothered to check your facts before you got carried away by your undisguised prejudice and hatred for Khama you would have realized that the law that established DIS was created by the Mogae administration, not Khama’s.

Other conspiracy theorists before you have tried to push a line that it was Khama who nudged Mogae to enact the law knowing full well that it was Mogae’s reputation that would ultimately take a knock for the notoriety that has since accompanied this security agency. The point I’m trying to put through here is that as President, Mogae could easily have told Khama to go to hell if, as President, he did not like the law.

Although it only just recently arrived, as far as I can recall it was also during Mogae’s time that a new presidential jet was ordered.

It is perfectly in order for you to set out your arguments against Khama in such a passionate tone, but it would also help your case if you got the facts right. Why charge Khama with crimes that are so patently Mogae’s?

I will address charges of corruption a bit later.

As for the alcohol levy, the biggest mistake was to implement a skewed structure that basically exported jobs to Namibia while bleeding Kgalagadi Breweries of billions of Pula.
I hope one day there will be a commission of enquiry to determine if there was not a deliberate ploy to prop up a certain Indian-owned, BDP financing beer importing firm against Kgalagadi Breweries.

What disgusts the most is for Khama to turn money from the alcohol levy into what the more uncharitable detractors like you, Joseph, have since called a “slush fund” financing such things like constituency league and the Zebras, which in the greater scheme of things, I agree with you are bereft of any sense of purpose other than to promote the President.

Yours
Spencer Mogapi

Dear Spencer

You seem so keen not to acknowledge Khama’s blatant weaknesses. I must admit that at times it is not easy to discern good from bad. This is not, however, to suggest that I expect Khama to be infallible.

But many of his mistakes are simply unpardonable.

Remember last year when the public service unions threatened to strike following the enactment of the new Public Service Act, he was nowhere to be seen. It took his party chairman Daniel Kwelagobe to broker the peace deal between the embattled employer and the disgruntled employees.

Today we stand saddled with a national strike whose true economic impact is yet to be quantified. The president has instead chosen to go behind to the rural bundus and preempt the negotiations between the unions and government. This has simply added the bad faith tag on the government negotiating team as it is perceived they are under instructions to shoot from the hip.

He has further opted to go holidaying and ‘bon-firing’somewhere even to the frustration of some of his cabinet ministers. If at all Khama was concerned with the current state of affairs, he should have taken the bold step of engaging the unions himself and directly explained the predicament that government finds itself in, in heeding their demands. He has once more chosen to talk to people from the trees. It is not deniable that the economy is still reeling from the effects of economic down turn. But as a father figure, so to speak, don’t you think it is high time that he intervened? For a fact, he is no economist but his finance minister, I am inclined to believe, has briefed him on the state of the economy and the underlying reasons why his government cannot afford a public service salary increase.

Not for the first time he has shunned attempts to engage with his predecessors whom I understand regard the strike as a national disaster deserving his immediate attention. In the same respect, he has turned down overtures by the Leader of the Opposition.

It is on record that he has not met the Leader of Opposition since enthronement. Khama has to confer and dialogue with the opposition on national issues and in the same vein take the nation on board on crucial decisions taken by his government.

He simply cannot treat us the same way he treated Robert Mugabe before he was forced to climb down humiliatingly on his misguided foreign policy on Zimbabwe.

Lest I forget, it is the same cold-blooded and aloof attitude the President showed at a time the country grappled with extra-judicial killings following the death of John Kalafatis.

Yours Joseph

Dear Joe

You no doubt are trying too hard to cast Ian Khama in the most negative of lights.
You cannot even bring yourself to admit that the public service is today much more efficient than it ever has been in our life time.

I suppose we all have to wait for Khama to leave the political scene for you to recognize that it was him who reduced the waiting time at Government hospitals.

I am sure he will have to die first before you acknowledge the fact that it was him who insisted on putting a human face on Botswana’s foreign policy.

I suppose it is in keeping with our culture of un-generosity never to want to recognise a man when he is still alive that you are deliberately shying away from the irrefutable fact that Khama has improved many living standards for many households. In here I am referring to Ipelegeng, which by all accounts is a stroke of genius which, conveniently you deliberately choose not to mention as one of the biggest achievements of our leader.

How can it be that in your long catalogue of Khama’s failures you make no mention of his epic invention to invest public money in backyard gardens? Does it not take a shorter time today to get your National ID card than it ever has been? How about the turnaround time for new passport applications? The list is endless.

Yours
Spencer

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