Monday, July 15, 2024

Khama’s second coming will be more ferocious

There is no secret about what the number one item on General Ian Khama’s bucket list is: produce enough military-grade acid in order to completely degrade and dissolve the pedestal on which President Mokgweetsi Masisi now stands Amazon-like.

For as long as his successor was a compliant “Mo rage Joe”, Khama was quite happy to go through the motions of adhering to democratic rule. Mo rage Joe (which means “Kick him Joe”) is colloquial Setswana that refers to the crude wires-and-second-hand-clothes street marionette. Khama wanted a Mo rage Joe that he could control by pulling strings from Mosu barracks. Even among the Masisi camp, consensus is that the outcome of last weekend’s primary elections in the ruling party have put Khama in a very strong position to acquire such toy president.

However, the Botswana constitution heaps so much power on the presidency that Khama wants to doggy-bag it with all its condiments to his Mosu retirement home and continue dining out on it. This near-monarchical powers mean that in no way is Masisi either helpless or powerless and in passing, it is interesting to observe that theoretically, these powers can now be used against the son of the person who helped construct this fearsome constitutional behemoth in the 14 years of his rule. To say Masisi is on the back foot is to under-appreciate that if he wanted, he could immediately order an investigation into army tenders beginning in 1988 and end what is left of Khama’s political career.

Supposing though that Khama somehow wins the battle for the soul and heart of the Botswana Democratic Party and installs a Mo rage Joe character as president, Botswana will not only be back to April 1, 2008, some individuals and groups will be subjected to the fury of a thousand suns.

Top of that list is Masisi, a professionally qualified educator who has served a UNICEF stint in Afghanistan. After Khama’s second coming, the mountainous regions of Afghanistan will provide the peace and quiet that Masisi won’t be able to get in the hillocks of Moshupa, his home village. The Tswapong Hills won’t be able to the same for the Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, who not too long ago said something to the effect that Khama “can’t go around” asking for plane rides. This was after the Office of the President thwarted Khama’s effort to get a ride on a Debswana Diamond Company plane flying from Orapa to Gaborone. The explanation from OP was that Khama had not complied with protocol but there are still those believe that insistence on Khama complying with established procedure was another instance of Masisi “publicly humiliating” Khama.

As president, Khama fired Brigadier Peter Magosi from the Botswana Defence Force. The same Magosi is now head of the Directorate of Intelligence Services and Security (DISS), having replaced Colonel Isaac Kgosi whom Masisi fired a month after he ascended the presidency. The grapevine that can’t lie says that the Masisi-Magosi and Khama-Kgosi camps are currently playing a high-stakes chess game in the intelligence realm. If the Khama camp wins, Magosi can also expect to be out of a job in less than a month and in all likelihood, will be replaced by Kgosi. 

A Sandhurst-trained platoon commander, Khama has used a variety of at least 20 military-like strategies (attrition warfare, battle of annihilation, blockade, coercion, decapitation, deception, denial, exhaustion, flanking manouevre, guerilla tactics, heavy force, human wave attack, incentive, infiltration, persisting strategy, punishment, rapid decisive operations, raiding, shock and awe and troop surge) in his decade-long operation to tame critical private media.  Through these strategies, Khama had gutted the media to a barely recognizable shell of its former self when he stepped down on April 1. There doesn’t appear to be a precise term for this particular strategy but in a stroke of military genius, Khama has lately been using the same media he loathes against its own interests to make himself likeable. There are even more layers of irony. Khama is trying to resuscitate his political career by using the remaining supply of oxygen of a private media that he almost choked to death by depriving of oxygen. In the final days of his presidency, he co-opted Donald Trump’s label of “fake news” (which really means painful facts) to describe Botswana’s media. Khama is now using the same “fake-news” media to peddle what is certifiably fake news ÔÇô like his assertion that ISIPAAD was a huge success when the Botswana Institute of Development Policy Analysis says that it both contradicted national objectives and depleted the soil of nutrients.

The most tragic irony is that the media’s own survival is threatened by the success of a political comeback that it is (either wittingly or unwittingly) actively aiding. If the private media helps put Khama back in power, he will not hesitate to instruct his new Mo rage Joe president to mete out the most severe punishment on the same media as payback for its coverage of him during the Masisi presidency. Going back to his army days, that is how he has always related with the media when he is in a position of power. When the Botswana Gazette (then under the editorship of Sunday Standard editor, Outsa Mokone) exposed the corruption in which his own immediate and extended family members were benefitting from lucrative Botswana Defence Force tenders, Commander Khama banned the sale of the paper from all barracks across the country.

Khama’s win over Masisi also guarantees a re-reversal of policies that he told Weekend Post that he doesn’t want reversed but which Masisi is reversing. That basically means that all the effort that Masisi has made to return Botswana to republican normalcy would have gone to waste. One is freedom of expression which, for the young mostly, has taken the form of aggressively disparaging Khama like never before on social media. Given what the future could hold, it is probably not a good idea to be doing so if your assertiveness with Khama and Kgosi only came after April 1. During Khama’s time, Botswana asked Facebook to reveal the identity of certain individuals that it felt were a thorn in the side of the government. The liquor laws will also make second U-turn.

Supposing it is meaningful, Masisi’s engagement with public sector trade unions strongly suggests that he might restore the legal protections that Khama systematically took away after the 2011 strike. In the event Masisi loses, Khama would engineer the restoration of laws introduced during his term for both symbolic and practical reasons. Symbolically, he would want his legacy to stay intact and practically, he would be predisposed to protect the commercial interests of people (big businesspeople) whom he revealed to Monitor years ago, urged him to join politics. 

A triumphant Khama would once more be able to fly army aircraft despite what the law says. He would be able to reclaim a coveted asset (DISS) through which he would be able to once more keep tabs on everyone and dispense both physical and emotional pain in unequal measure. That DISS would go back to functioning like it has over the past decade, like it was in 2009 when the Vice President of the Botswana Congress Party, Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang, raised alarm about it “slaughtering” people. Khama would be able to restore Mosu to its military promise and former glory. He would order as many soldiers as he wants to accompany him to Khawa Sand Dune Challenge. He would appear on Btv as many as the new president. Most significantly, Khama will construct an extra-legal superpower structure that makes it impossible for the new president to turn the tables on him the way Masisi did. Time will tell but if Masisi has to hightail it back to Afghanistan, brace yourself for Khama 2.0. whose fury will definitely be twice the ferocity of the first coming.

For Khama, this scenario offers the tantalizing possibility of exercising a lot of power without accountability ÔÇô which history shows he has always relished. DISS bared its fangs under Khama but history will forever show that it was Mogae (not Khama) who signed the bill that established it into law. Likewise, the Media Practitioners’ Act began its journey to infamy under Mogae. As an unqualified pilot flying army planes, Khama insisted on being captain, relegating qualified pilots to co-pilot status but deferring the responsibility of signing official documents (the technical and authorization logs) to the latter such that only they would be held accountable in case there was any problem that the captain had to answer for. Botswana is looking at the real possibility of an ex-president with more power than the sitting president but unlike the latter, not accountable to anyone and heavily insulated against both scrutiny and culpability.

In a week that Masisi is visiting China, it is hard to imagine him and Xi Jinping not getting round to discussing how they can keep a certain mutual enemy out of power, especially since that enemy is said to have mobilised the assistance of a Middle East intelligence agency that has historically and routinely flouted international law with impunity. After all, China crowned a king just next door in Zimbabwe. A revitalised Khama, who has publicly stated that his army-origin credo of never backing down, could rekindle his feud with China over the Dalai Lama. Admittedly, this may be farfetched but it certainly is something worth speculating on.

Psychologically, Khama cannot be in a happy place. He is 64 years old and from a very young age, has had people singing his praises. A man he says he “quite likes”, Leader of the Opposition Duma Boko, grew up in a period of time when there was a cottage industry of urban legends about Khama’s super-heroism was mushrooming on all Botswana playgrounds. It would be interesting to find out what Khama legends a young Boko himself manufactured on Mahalapye playgrounds. Khama has never been able to resist the crowd’s cheer and through his meet-and-greet walkabouts and self-serving philanthropy, actively seeks them out. It was this impulse that compelled him to fly an army plane as low as to endanger the lives of spectators when he participated in the Rasesa airshow during his presidency. For the record, that assessment comes from an army pilot. In terms of a theory of psychology called transactional analysis, people are either positively or negatively stroked, meaning they are given either positive or negative feedback.   This is the first time in Khama’s life that he is not being positively stroked. If the word that has been used is accurate, this is the first time that he is being “humiliated.” This is the first time since Btv was established that his face has not appeared on it almost every day. This has to be both disorienting and extremely bad for his psychological wellbeing.


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