A few months into the presidency, Sir Ketumile Masire was drowning in debts.┬á The new president was easy pickings for the opposition. Debswana Managing Director, Louis Nchindo, was, however ready to go to the mat to save the country’s presidency.
Nchindo hatched a rescue plan and sold it to the troubled president and the De Beers/ Anglo American Director Peter Leyden in strict Secrecy. In a few days his plan traversed the President’s office and the De Beers inner circle that gave its words the power of command. When the plan came back, it was a deal and Masire was out of the red. Almost no one else was privy to the bail out.
The episode was a defining moment in Nchindo’s role as the protector of Botswana’s presidency. The De Beers point man had approached the lever of power obliquely, skirting orderly lines of debate using his intimate knowledge of the terrain. And he found ready patrons in Masire who would do anything to protect his legacy and De Beers who wanted to protect their business in Botswana.
Over the past two or so decades, Nchindo has shaped his times as no other parastatal Chief Executive Officer has before. In roles that have gone largely undetected, Nchindo has served as financial and political body guard to the presidency, referee of Cabinet turf disputes, financier of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and regulator in chief of the Botswana diamond industry debates. His influence was widely presumed but hard to illustrate. His one-on-one relationship with Botswana’s presidents, first Masire then Mogae is opaque, a vital unknown in assessing Nchindo’s impact on events. The three men speak of it seldom, if ever, with others.
Nchindo’s influence and reputation have however suffered in the past few years. First his friendship with Masire soured, although the details are sketchy. Three years ago he parted ways with Mogae, in a fall out that is blamed for his current criminal case.
Nchindo’s relationship with both Masire and Mogae is full of cloak and dagger intrigues. For example, Nchindo is credited with masterminding the secret bail out deal between Masire and De Beers. He is also believed to have influenced De Beers to fund the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) consultancy by South African professor and director of Markdata, Lawrence Schlemmer who recommended a change of guard in the party. Nchindo is also believed to have influenced De Beers to buy Masire out of the presidency for P 4000 000 to make way for Festus Mogae.
The saga of Nchindo’s relationship with the two presidents is a tale of two presidents who were either financially or politically vulnerable and whose rise to power repeatedly pushed them towards the bounds of ethical propriety. He found himself caught up in the ruling Botswana Democratic Party shady funding processes where party leaders strategised and moved De Beers’ funds in what insiders say was a lengthy effort to obscure who was paying for what and where the money wound up.
In another secretly engineered deal, seven years ago, Mogae signed away the government’s powers of attorney to Nchindo to negotiate on behalf of Botswana in a multibillion dollar De Beers restructuring deal. Nchindo emerged from the deal a millionaire while Mogae came out bitter. The result was that their friendship of forty years collapsed. Since then, the two erstwhile friends have been at it hammer and tongs.
Mogae and Nchindo’s cloak and dagger relationship and the drama that has attended the high profile corruption case have provided fodder for conspiracy theorists. They simply join the dots and a sinister outline emerges: that the trial is about more than just the disputed piece along the A1 highway to Sir Seretse Khama Airport and the controversial visit of discredited American Congressman William Jefferson.
For a long time, Nchindo’s influence on the Mogae administration was widely presumed but hard to illustrate. For example, it is widely believed that when the President was preparing for State House, he often turned to Nchindo for advice. Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) insiders talk of nocturnal meetings between Mogae, Nchindo and the then Botswana Defence Force Commander, Lt Gen Ian Khama, at Nchindo’s mansion in the suburbs of Gaborone Central. Two days before Mogae ascended to the presidency, Lt Gen Khama announced his resignation from the army. In a trade where no one puts much faith in blind coincidences, Khama’s appointment to the Vice Presidency was credited on Nchindo.
As a result, Nchindo inherited Masire, Mogae and Khama’s political opponents. When he fell out with Masire and Mogae, he also found himself at odds with the two presidents’ allies and his former friends.
In fact, Dee Beers was this week making Nchindo the fall guy of the controversial schemes to bail out Sir Ketumile. In a written answer to a Sunday Standard questionnaire, De Beers stated that “the purpose of the loan was to help the then head of state by relieving him of the burden of debt and providing him with resources for the farm to be independently managed and so enabled him to attend to the duties of his office and matters of national interest.┬á Louis Nchindo put the idea to Sir Ketumile and also recommended the assistance to the company. This was done in his capacity as an employee of the company at the time. In the present day and age, the De Beers family of company’s operates in a completely different environment with clear policy guidelines governing donations and for disclosure.”
In response to queries on how De Beers used Clairemont Corporation as a conduit for bail out money meant for GM Five, Morapedi stated that,” it is true that De Beers was once again approached by Louis Nchindo to grant financial assistance to the former Head of State shortly after his retirement. Not only did this specific transaction take place after Sir Ketumile left office it was not at all linked to any negotiations between the company and the Government of Botswana for current or past commercial arrangements. As such De Beers did not benefit from the transaction in any way.”