Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Nchindo made Khama president

A clutch of secret documents detail how the late Debswana Managing Director Louis Nchindo helped his long time friend, Lt Gen Ian Khama realise his three decade long plan to oust former president Sir Ketumile Masire.   The American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) predicted a Khama presidency 28 years before it happened.   Although President Khama has indicated that he had no plans to go into politics, recently declassified CIA reports suggest that Khama had been nursing presidential ambitions for close to three decades before he finally ascended to the State House.   At some stage, he even entertained plans of challenging former president and his father’s successor, Sir Ketumile Masire.  

December 1980, five months into Sir Ketumile’s presidency, the American spy outfit was already touting Ian Khama as the next President of Botswana, and in a series of recently declassified reports, reveal in detail the extent to which Masire went to contain Khama’s political ambitions.   In one of the CIA declassified reports compiled in the 1980s and declassified eight months ago, headlined “A political leadership challenge”, the CIA reported that, “a nagging concern for Masire is the political future of Botswana Defence Force Commander Ian Khama, son of the late President Khama. Khama’s political plans are the subject of intense speculation within Botswana and a source of considerable consternation to Masire. Khama, in addition to carrying the family name, also is the paramount chief of Bamangwato. Khama has made no secret of his desire to enter politics and most observers are convinced that his ultimate goal is the presidency.”  

In 1983 Sir Ketumile Masire used the Constitution to stop Khama from resigning from the army and to contest for elections as a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) member of parliament. The CIA report states that: “a major impediment for Khama’s political aspirations, however, is a constitutional amendment ÔÇô sponsored ironically by his father- that makes a tribal chief ineligible for political office until five years after relinquishing his tribal position. The Constitutional issue was raised by Masire in January 1983 when Khama discussed with the president his possible resignation from the military and his desire to become BDP candidate for national assembly.”   The CIA further reported that “Masire’s concerns about Khama have been heightened by Khama’s meetings with opposition who urged him to resign from the military and run as BDP candidate in order to effect “change from within.”   Sir Ketumile who was anticipating a challenge from Khama enlisted the assistance of the then BDF commander, Lt Gen Mompati Merafhe to contain Khama.

“Masire, with the cooperation of the commander of BDF, Maj Gen Mompati Merafhe, has taken steps to limit Khama’s influence…..  A senior officer ÔÇô an ally of Merafhe ÔÇô was promoted recently to Khama’s ranking of brigadier and given the operations command that had previously been Khama’s. To further undermine support for Khama …… the military has adopted a policy favouring supporters of Merafhe for promotion”, states the CIA report.   It emerges in the report that Khama on the other hand was weighing his options: “whether to renounce his chieftainship, work within the BDP, join an opposition group or even form his own opposition party.   Another factor influencing Khama’s strategy is believed to have been Lt Gen Merafhe’s retirement plans.

“If Merafhe were to retire prior to Khama’s political debut, or be appointed Minister of Defence … Khama would probably delay his entry into the political arena in the hope of becoming the top military commander. Merafhe, however is well aware of Khama’s desire to replace him and may decide to delay retirement as long as possible. Moreover, we believe Masire would reluctantly allow Khama to assume command of the military…. if passed over it is our view that Khama would most likely begin in earnest to develop political support for a challenge in a future election.  

Khama’s big break however came many years later, following a clash between Sir Ketumile and the then Debswana Managing Director Louis Nchindo. The flamboyant political wheeler-dealer never forgave Masire for dropping him as Debswana MD and replacing him with the late Baledzi Gaolatlhe.   While Nchindo’s relationship with Masire had hit the rocks, his friendship with Khama was blooming. The two friends shared an enthusiasm for wildlife and the environment. While Khama was allegedly nursing presidential ambitions, Nchindo wanted Masire of the State House. His campaign received a boost after the ruling BDP lost a lot of support during the 1994 elections.  

Nchindo contracted political strategist, Lawrence Schlemmer to help improve the BDP fortunes. Ironically, Schlemmer recommended that President Masire retire early and that the BDP bring Ian Khama into politics to unify the Party. Although Schlemmer wrote the report for the BDP, the then Debswana Public Relations Manager Kabelo Binns told the American Embassy Economic Officer that Nchindo paid for the study personally. It was initially speculated that Schlemmer was contracted by De Beers on behalf of the BDP, but US embassy secret cables published by Wikileaks have revealed that Nchindo paid for the consultancy out of his pocket.


Read this week's paper