President Mokgweetsi Masisi may struggle to assert himself as Botswana’s fifth president because former President Lt Gen Ian Khama seems set to retain a grip on power even after retiring.
The former president has kept the leavers that protect his power and interests firmly in place. A months before his retirement, Khama locked Masisi into a five year contract with the controversial Director General of the Directorate of intelligence and Security Services (DIS) Isaac kgosi. The DIS boss is a Khama man of long standing from their days at the Botswana Defence Force. Kgosi was Khama’s batman at the army and later served as Khama’s Private Secretary after the former president retired from the army to join politics as Vice President of Botswana.
Kgosi who is turning 60 this year was due to retire a few months after Khama stepped down from the presidency, but Khama decided to extend his stay as Botswana’s intelligence Chief for five more years. Three days before he stepped down, Khama bestowed the commissioner of Police, Keabetswe Makgophe and the DISS boss with the award of Presidential Order of Honour. The award is given to citizens who have rendered efficient and devoted service to Botswana. The awards were presented to the duo during Khama’s farewell ceremony. President Khama congratulated the pair saying they deserved the awards because of their commitment and dedication to work for the country. Khama’s strategic appointments on the eve of his retirement seem to be a slight of hand that ensures all Khama’s intelligence and security friends stayed in their posts and are protected.
Five months before he retired as president, Khama abruptly moved Brigadier Macheng from the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) to the Office of the President where he will be heading an anti-terrorist unit. Brigadier Sentsekae Macheng is a known Khama loyalist and was until his recent re-appointment the BDF National Anti-Poaching Coordinator.
On the same day Brigadier Macheng was moved to the Office of the President, Colonel Kenamile Badubi was retired from the army and re-appointed Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services Director of Operations. Col Badubi who is now DISS third in command has extensive knowledge in defence intelligence and used to conduct force intelligence courses at the BDF Force Training establishment (FTC).
Khama’s three key intelligence appointments on the eve of his retirement suggest that Khama wants to exert control behind the scene after his retirement from office.
The former President also seems to be angling to retain control of the ruling Botswana democratic party (BDP). The retired president will remain as the face of the BDP as the party’s “Chief Campaigner” ahead of next year’s general election. Khama’s outsized role in party and national politics carries weight that should put severe strain on Masisi’s shoulders for two reasons. Firstly, such responsibility will definitely ensure that Khama retains very close contact with party structures and voters nationwide while Masisi is holed up in Gaborone, juggling a full and varied slate of presidential duties. Secondly, the BDP will hold a special congress next year at which nothing is off the table. If Khama is unhappy with Masisi, he can use his back-channel influence to precipitate an election that could result in the replacement of the latter with someone he is more comfortable with as president.
In another curious development, two months ago, the Bank of Botswana carpeted the country with P10 notes that bear the portrait of a man leaving office. Anywhere in the world, lowest-denomination currency notes are the most used. This means that in their daily business transactions, voters will be seeing a former and not sitting president.
For the entire duration of his national “farewell” tour and at the last national council of the Botswana Democratic Party, Khama, has been a little too keen to stress that “I am not going anywhere, I will still be around.”