As the battle between President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his predecessor, Ian Khama, intensifies, a third presidential name has been mentioned in accusatory fashion.
At a kgotla meeting that was held in Serowe last month, one of the female speakers pointed a finger of blame at former President Festus Mogae for having recruited Khama into politics but had now abandoned him. Last week, that charge was repeated in another form by a Botswana Patriotic Front activist, Ogaufi Nthobelang, at a press conference in Gaborone.
“Rre [Mr.] Mogae is a hypocrite who used Khama to save his presidency” he said following his release from the custody of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services.
Mogae took over the reins of power from Sir Ketumile Masire on April 1, 1998 and made Khama, who had resigned as army commander the previous day, his Vice President. This happened at a time that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) had been torn asunder by factionalism. It was hoped that the hugely popular Khama would unite the party. Khama is also the kgosi (traditional leader) of the Bangwato, whose tribal headquarters are in Serowe. After Khama took office and with a bye-election that he was participating in on the way, Mogae addressed a kgotla meeting in Serowe during which he “borrowed” Khama from the tribe.
So, on the face of it, it was Mogae who recruited Khama into politics but the facts state otherwise. While he was still Vice President, Khama gave an interview to Monitor in which he stated that some businesspeople he didn’t name wanted him to join politics. All the evidence points to former Debswana Diamond Company Managing Director, Louis Nchindo, as “some businesspeople.”
The BDP did poorly in the 1994 elections when the main opposition, the Botswana National Front, won a historic 14 seats. This was largely seen as a clear sign that the party was about to defeat the BDP. Towards the 1999 elections, it was reported that De Beers, a Debswana shareholder, had contracted a University of Cape Town political scientist, Professor Lawrence Schlemmer, to undertake a study on how the BDP could revive itself. This made perfect sense because the BNF would definitely have wanted to revise the diamond-mining deal that De Beers has signed with Botswana – the party had actually so indicated. In his report, which was leaked to the press, Schlemmer recommended that the BDP should change guard by bringing in a “charismatic figure.” Resultantly, Masire stepped down, Mogae ascended the presidency and a charismatic figure in the person of Khama became Vice President.
However, the story would change with the leaking of highly confidential cables from the United States Embassy in Gaborone. This happened courtesy of WikiLeaks, an international whistleblower organisation. The cables remove De Beers from the picture and put Nchindo front and centre in the whole intrigue. The flamboyant political wheeler-dealer never forgave Masire for dropping him as Debswana MD and replacing him with Baledzi Gaolatlhe. As revenge, he wanted Masire out of the State House and the results of the 1994 elections provided him with opportunity to do so. The cables quote a Debswana employee as telling an Economic Officer at the US Embassy that Nchindo himself (not De Beers) contracted and paid Schlemmer out of his own pocket. If he who pays the piper indeed calls the tune, it is more than likely that Nchindo influenced recommendations in the Schlemmer Report. It is as likely that De Beers supported Nchindo’s plans.
Viewed against this background, Mogae played a minimal role in Khama’s ill-fated foray into politics. When Mogae addressed the Serowe meeting to borrow Khama, a deal had long been struck between the latter and “some businesspeople.” This background would certainly help those who blame Mogae for what Khama is going through (he fled to South Africa last month to evade law enforcement) gain a fresh perspective.