Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Masisi throws down the gauntlet on the Khamas

BY THOBO MOTLHOKA

After months of dilly-dallying and trying to make peace President Mokgweetsi Masisi has finally taken the war to the Khamas, hitting them where it hurts the most. The recent cabinet reshuffle which saw Tshekedi Khama being removed from the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism is set to loosen the Khama’s grip on the tourist industry.

When Masisi named his new cabinet upon taking office in April it was widely believed Tshekedi would be one of the casualties. Tshekedi himself was apprehensive about his chances of retaining the ministry as he told Sunday Standard prior to Masisi’s ascendancy.

The decision by Masisi to move Tshekedi from the ministry is seen by some as a victory for Botswana’s wildlife tourism. “The president’s decision to remove Tshekedi is a good development especially looking at the wildlife tourism industry,” says researcher and Director at Okavango Research Centre (ORC) Professor Joseph Mbaiwa. He says when the new tourism Minister, Kitso Mokaila, was initially moved to make way for Tshekedi he was already on the right track to ensuring local communities benefited from wildlife tourism. He blamed the land bank, introduced under Tshekedi’s watch as some of the factors that prevented communities from benefiting directly from wildlife concessions. The introduction of land bank was ostensibly meant to give Batswana an opportunity to venture into tourism industry. While initially local communities had direct control of concessions around the delta the introduction of the land bank meant the powers now rested with Tshekedi and his ministry, with the cr├¿me de la cr├¿me of the wildlife concessions falling on foreign hands.

Recent studies have indicated Botswana is losing at least 70 percent of wildlife tourism revenue as a result of the industry being in control of foreign hands. Moving Tshekedi from the tourism ministry is likely to worsen already strained relations between Masisi and his predecessor, former President Ian Khama.

Wildlife tourism has widely been believed to be the Khama’s breadbasket given especially former President Khama’s interests in hospitality companies such as Wilderness Safaris, and his connections with among others National Geographic wildlife filmmaker Derrick Joubert who had reportedly been instrumental in Khama’s decision to ban trophy hunting in Botswana.

When he took office one of Masisi’s missions was to lift the hunting ban with parliament overwhelmingly endorsing the motion, tabled by Member of Parliament for Maun East Kosta Markus. The MP presented a motion calling on the government to lift the four year standing ban on hunting. 

As Sunday Standard reported earlier this year the ban on trophy hunting was the highest watermark in the intense rivalry between hunting safaris and photographic safaris in Botswana.

Now with Tshekedi out of sight, the fate of the Khama’s business interests in tourism lie with the new Minister, Kitso Mokaila. The strained relations between the current President and his predecessor have already reached boiling point especially at political level with the latter reportedly now questioning his successor’s legitimacy as the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)’s President. Tensions between the two have been on the rise since April when Masisi took office. While rumors have been circulating that the strained relations stemmed from Masisi’s failure to honor an agreement to appoint Khama’s younger brother Tshekedi as his vice president, subsequent executive decisions taken against Khama by Masisi have only served to worsen the situation. Masisi’s refusal to grant Khama certain privileges such as the use of aircraft, his decision to fire Director of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) Isaac Kgosi and subsequently denying him an opportunity to serve as Khama’s private secretary, and suspension of his predecessor’s blue eyed boy Tshepang Mabaila from the BDP are some of the things that have fueled the feud between the two presidents. Masisi’s latest move on the most recent cabinet reshuffle will only serve as another catalyst in the ongoing personal war between the two men especially with Masisi having already admitted to the nation in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) that efforts for reconciliation had failed.

He confirmed in no uncertain terms that he had sought some intervention from BDP elders to assist mend broken relations between himself and Khama.  

“Batswana are all aware that the transition from the previous administration has not been as smooth as expected. 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,” Masisi told the nation.

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.