It is likely that President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s announcement that “a Chief of Staff will assume duty on 1st August 2021” didn’t ring a bell to some but it certainly did to those who followed the 2008 change of presidential guard closely.
At that point in time, President Festus Mogae was handing over the reins of power to his Vice President, Ian Khama and Advocate Sidney Pilane was Mogae’s Special Advisor. What was unusual about Pilane’s position was that it was a special appointment that didn’t exist in the establishment register. With Mogae leaving, Pilane, who appeared keen on staying on at OP, would find himself jobless and so he wrote Khama a letter proposing roles that he could serve in his administration.
In the letter, which Sunday Standard has gained access to, Pilane listed the various roles for himself. In a 2020 interview with Weekend Post, Khama quoted a teeny-weeny bit of that letter, saying only that Pilane lobbied him for the position of Attorney General and High Court judge. Pilane also suggested other positions, including those that didn’t exist then and still don’t now. One was Deputy to the Permanent Secretary to the President and the other was OP Chief of Staff. In explaining the latter, Pilane stated in the letter that other African countries (he mentioned Ghana) had created that position – which is mostly associated with the United States’ White House. Nigeria also has a Chief of Staff in the presidency.
Khama didn’t retain Pilane, who left OP on the same day with Mogae – March 31, 2009. Soon thereafter, there were very interesting developments. Pilane, alongside other ruling Botswana Democratic Party activists like Gomolemo Motswaledi and Kabo Morwaeng, began to voice out their dissent about Khama’s style of leadership – which Khama saw as a sign of “indiscipline.” At the height of this stand-off, Sunday Standard published a letter penned by Pilane with the title “Would Lt. General Ian Khama Please Stand Down and Make Way for Mr. Ian Khama.” In the letter, Pilane didn’t hold back, saying things that the less courageous only whispered about in the safety of what was then shrinking private space.
Not too long after that, Mmegi published an anonymous letter (meaning everybody else but the editor knew who the author was) in which Pilane was pilloried. In one part, the letter refers to the positions that he wanted to occupy in Khama’s government. After the letter was published, Pilane was quoted in the print press as acknowledging his authorship of the letter. He was also quoted as saying that only two people had a copy of the letter – him and then President Khama – leaving it to readers to make their own conclusions of how the letter reached the press. The riddle Pilane was constructing was as follows: if he wrote a highly confidential letter that he shared with nobody else but President Khama and contents of that letter are subsequently quoted in a newspaper without him (Pilane) having shared the letter with that newspaper, who leaked the letter?
There has been speculation that Pilane might return to OP, not as Special Advisor to the President but as Legal Advisor to the President. That hasn’t happened. There has also been speculation that the creation of the position of Judge Advocate General in the Botswana Defence Force establishment register was specifically done with him in mind. He never joined the BDF. Pilane may or not become OP’s first Chief of Staff. If he does, he will become one of the highest-paid civil servants.