By any standard, President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s faction delivered a decisive knock-out punch this past week when former President Festus Mogae shared an unflattering first-hand description of the sort of awful person and hopeless leader General Ian Khama is.
“He is continuing to do what he did when he was my Vice President, being a divisive factor instead of a unifying factor,” Mogae told The Voice in a not-all-holds-barred interview because there are many more damaging things that he can still say about Khama.
A lot has been said about both Khama and the current Khama Problem but Mogae is in a category all his own. He supervised Khama for 10 full years and though retired, obviously still has access to highly confidential information. So, while most have weighed in on the Khama Problem by expressing an opinion, Mogae was sharing first-hand knowledge of Khama. Obviously, knowledge cannot be equated with opinion and to attempt to counter knowledge shared with opinion is an exercise in futility.
When he feels he has been attacked, Khama has been awfully quick to retaliate but at press time on Friday, had not yet done so. It is likely this reticence (if that is what it is) has been informed by his knowledge of the length of Mogae’s fuse (shortest) and his style of fighting (bare-knuckle) and is trying to avoid a public showdown that he will definitely not win. So as the second week of 2019 comes to a close, the scoreboard reads Cava 2, New Jerusalem 0.
The New Jerusalem grapevine is snickering about “Cava” being a misspelling of “xava” ÔÇô Zulu for the exclamatory “look” but used locally corrupted to “know”. New Jerusalemites are happy because they see this as a branding blunder that can’t be undone. However, the fact of the matter is that spelling conventions of the original Zulu and that of a breakaway subset in Mpumalanga Province in South Africa that now identifies as Ndebele differ. The former write the word as “qava” while the latter write it as “cava.” In a play for the youth vote, “Cava” has officially become the campaign slogan for the Botswana Democratic Party faction led by President Masisi and unofficially, the name of this faction. On the other hand, New Jerusalem is the name of Khama’s own faction.
While down, New Jerusalem is by no means out of the fight because it has an ally that Cava will never ever have ÔÇô big-name international media. Despite being self-avowed purveyors of fair, accurate and balanced reporting, CNN, BBC, Sky News, Washington Post, New York Times and the rest of them are actually part of a white super-power structure that serves the economic interests of the west at the expense of everybody else’s. All too often, when the subject is Africa, all the golden rules of journalism fly out of the window.
Contrary to what some believe, New Jerusalem’s coming-out party was not late last year but months before in August when an environmental NGO that is evidently aligned to it released what later turned out to be false statement about some 88 elephants having been killed by poachers. The falsehood was lapped up by international media without subjecting it to rigorous gate-keeping protocols that First World newsrooms are supposed to have They ran the story hourly for a good part of the day it broke and chose to ignore a fact-loaded rebuttal from the Botswana government. Still smarting from this snub, Masisi raised this issue during a BBC interview in London. However, even if they had published the rebuttal, it was too late in the day.
Strategic PR stresses the need to define an issue before your opponent does ÔÇô which is the rough equivalent of Setswana that says “mafoko ke a pele, a morago ke dithuthuntshwane.” Perhaps the most vivid metaphor of this scenario is that provided by James Carville, a hugely successful American political consultant who stated, “Our opponent won’t be able to criticize us if our fist is in his mouth.” Botswana couldn’t criticise New Jerusalem because New Jerusalem’s fist was already in its mouth.
This being the age of social media, Batswana netizens fought back with all they have (Facebook, Twitter, intellect, reason, local knowledge and gangsta-rap vocabulary) against westerners who derided the “new government” for exposing elephants to danger. Some of these westerners said they had been to Botswana before and were horrified that Batswana were capable of using crude language that even the Minister of International Affairs and Cooperation, Unity Dow, cautioned against when she addressed a press conference over this issue. Probably having overflown 98 percent of Botswana, having landed at the Maun International Airport and having been airlifted into the Okavango Delta, these westerners were, for the very time, being introduced to a peculiar kind of Motswana who doesn’t have to smile non-stop to protect his/her job or entice a tip.
A useful point to make here though is that despite the Botswana government and citizens’ pushback, despite the self-satisfaction and self-congratulations, it was actually New Jerusalem which won the PR battle over the undead elephants. In addition to what Carville says, the reach and power of local media (which stated what now appears to be incontrovertible fact) doesn’t begin to compare to that of international media ÔÇô which was essentially retailing what appear to have been lies. Over decades, this media has also trained its audience to not trust the word of Third World governments.
The elephants’ saga is instructive in predicting how New Jerusalem will use weapons in its arsenal as it fights Cava. What has been established thus far that a biased international media that wouldn’t bother to verify a false, damaging story about Masisi, his government and country is firmly in New Jerusalem’s corner. It would be na├»ve to imagine that New Jerusalem will stop using its back channels to international media to plant false stories that tarnish Masisi and Botswana. New Jerusalem has evidently assumed Khama personal traits. From his army days to his 20 years in the presidency, Khama’s track record shows that he has always put personal interest before national interest. By peddling a false story about Botswana, the early-iteration New Jerusalem was putting its own interests before the nation’s.
There is circumstantial evidence Khama, who is culturally western, is personally plugged into the white super-power structure whose PR is done by international media outlets. Khama’s decade-long rule was characterised by executive overreach, autocracy and gross administrative incompetence. This was a big international story because Africa’s “shining example of democracy” and proper husbandry of economic resources was being turned into a hellhole. However, never once in those 10 years did BBC, CNN or Sky News tell that story.
Membership rules require Khama, as a member of a white super-power structure, to contribute towards the goals of this brotherhood. As president, Khama pursued an overtly racialised method of empowerment. While he partnered with black community leaders to ladle out soup at pop-up soup kitchens in black neighbourhoods, he partnered with whites in multi-billion business ventures. While he gave poor blacks diphaphatha (flattened dumplings) at dikgotla across the country, he lined up rich whites like Virgin Atlantic’s Sir Richard Branson and Microsoft’s Paul Allen for lucrative Okavango Delta concessions that host Hollywood A-listers. Soup kitchens were under the constant glare of Btv cameras, the giving away of concessions were not. As a matter of fact, Stephen Corry of Survival International made about the same point when he said that the “British-born” Khama was part of an international brotherhood of “colonial conservation organizations” that want to create whites-only enclaves in Africa. Before Corry said these words, many more Batswana had described the Okavango Delta, where Khama has vast commercial holdings, as a whites-only enclave. Members of this enclave are getting very worried that a Masisi presidency will not serve their economic interests as well as Khama did. As president, Khama also pursued a foreign policy that put the interests of the western collective before those of the African collective ÔÇô which Botswana is part of. When these and other factors are considered, Khama and international media belong to the same club and where a PR battle has to be fought out on the international arena, Masisi will always be on the back foot.
Lest we forget and as Sir Ketumile Masire found out, this is an exclusive club that no other former president qualifies for. In the popular imagination, a former president doesn’t encounter artificial roadblocks but Masire (who was Botswana’s first Master Farmer) did when he tried to do feedlotting business with the Botswana Meat Commission. In its dealings with Botswana’s second president, BMC was represented by a white manager. It is easy to guess who got him that job and how that happened. Masire said that his experience with this manager reminded of the way blacks were treated during the prime ministership of Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid South Africa. The former and now deceased president made Botswana what it became in its glory days but wasn’t deemed good enough to be part of an economic super-structure that controls Botswana’s economy. He felt very strongly that this had to do with his race. The structure in question is the local chapter of the international white super-power structure that Khama is very well plugged into.
If the game is poker, Masisi and Botswana should accept that where international PR battles are concerned, New Jerusalem has an ace up its sleeve.