Sunday, October 17, 2021

‘Khama one of early beneficiaries of elite corruption’

Life has been mighty kind to President Ian Khama. As the son of the founding president, he grew up in the lap of luxury and was one of the principal occupants at the State House. He would join the army, becoming both deputy commander and the youngest brigadier in the world. When Khama retired from the army in 1998 to join politics, he leapfrogged over a long queue of vice-presidential hopefuls and 10 years later, returned to the State House as president.

In an academic paper published in the latest edition of the Journal of Contemporary African Studies, Professors Monageng Mogalakwe of the University of Botswana and Francis Nyamjoh of the University of Cape Town, note another dimension in which life has been kind to Khama.

“Elite corruption has flourished under the current regime of General Ian Khama, who was also one of its early beneficiaries. When the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) was formed in 1977, his father, then President of Botswana, appointed him a Brigadier-General at the age of 23, above the heads of far more experienced officers from the then Botswana Police Mobile Unit,” state the authors, referencing various newspaper articles that have reported on “corrupt deals which have privileged the presidents’ family and friends.”

Such deals have been transacted through Seleka Springs, a company registered in the names of Khama’s twin brothers, Tshekedi and Anthony, which has long dominated the BDF’s defence procurement: “The Khama brothers, including President Khama himself, and their friends, have been sole middlemen of especially lucrative BDF procurement deals, from fighter aircraft through to trainer and transport aircraft, and on to armoured vehicles and tanks.”

Seleka Springs is a taboo subject in the Government Enclave, especially parliament and is the reason a ruling party activist lost a lucrative ministerial job. A 2012 newspaper article that the paper references says that the company was awarded 33 out of 35 BDF tenders. The issue of the BDF’s largesse to Seleka Springs came up in parliament courtesy of a supplementary question by Francistown South MP, Wynter Mmolotsi, who wanted to know how the company knew of multi-million pula tenders which were never advertised.  Then Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Lesego Motsumi, gave what seems to have been an honest and perfectly reasonable response: “I don’t know.” Soon thereafter, Motsumi was demoted and banished to India where she is Botswana’s High Commissioner. She was forced to comment on a Seleka Springs-related matter from New Delhi two years ago.

This came after Minister of Justice, Defence and Security, Shaw Kgathi, gave parliament information that contradicted the one Motsumi herself gave in 2010. Kgathi told parliament that what Motsumi said with regard to Seleka Springs was being “expunged” from the Hansard ÔÇô the official record of parliament proceedings. Motsumi came out to say that she stands by what she said and at least one minister questioned why a past ruling by the Speaker was being reversed. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, reminded the Deputy Speaker, Kagiso Molatlhegi, of a past ruling made by the Speaker that if a decision is taken by a minister in an official capacity, whoever occupies ministerial office thereafter is bound by that decision.

“My understanding is that Minister Kgathi is bound by all decisions that predate his tenure,” Venson-Moitoi said. 

The paper, which is titled “Botswana at 50: Democratic Deficit, Elite Corruption and Poverty in the Midst of Plenty”, describes the Director General of the “feared and loathed” Directorate of Intelligence and Security, Colonel Isaac Kgosi, as “a recent entrant” to Botswana’s elite corruption industry.

“Like Ian Khama, Isaac Kgosi was parachuted ahead of other, more educated and experienced officers of the then Botswana Police Special Branch, by none other than Khama himself. Col. Kgosi had started working for Gen. Khama as a Junior Staff Officer, rising to be Khama’s Senior Staff Officer when Khama became the commander of the BDF. When Khama became Vice President, he insisted on Col. Kgosi coming along with him, as a condition for leaving the BDF to join the ruling party. When he became President in 2008, Khama made Kgosi the Director General of the DISS, even though Col. Kgosi had very little formal education and lacked management experience,” the paper says noting Kgosi’s “running battle” with the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime.

At issue is a criminal investigation that generated a docket, whose reference number (DOC/IF/ 2011/ 001166) the paper quotes, that has been handed over to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions.

“The charges are thought to include abuse of office, fraud, theft, obtaining by false pretences, giving false information, and money laundering. Col. Kgosi has yet to have his day in court,” the paper says.

In one respect ÔÇô and this is territory that the paper doesn’t venture into ÔÇô the corruption alleged about the two men may help explain a controversial political development that the paper mentions: the introduction of electronic voting machines (EVMs). In addition to Khama’s missteps as president and failed policies, the electoral support of the Botswana Democratic Party has been steadily declining over the years. The opposition collective of the Umbrella for Democratic Change is not quite on solid footing but for the first time offers real challenge to the BDP. Perhaps inadvisedly, UDC president, Duma Boko, has publicly stated BDP leaders will be tried for corruption if his party wins. In this context, the EVMs issue is not politics but geometry through which Seleka Springs, DCEC File Number DOC/IF/ 2011/ 001166 and similar cases are connected with a straight line. The BDP could still win legitimately in 2019 but the use of EVMs ensures an outcome that rules out the possibility of any one of its leaders going to jail. Supposing this theory is accurate, there is another problem that the genius who planned this may not have taken into account: if the electoral outcome doesn’t correspond with the mood on the street, there will be chaos. An opposition MP, Dithapelo Keorapetse, has ominously stated that he and his comrades are prepared to “pay with our lives” over the use of EVMs.

The Journal of Contemporary African Studies is published by Routledge which touts itself as “the world’s leading academic publisher in the Humanities and Social Sciences.”

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper