Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The myth of the Masisi-Khama feud

Can we really say that there is a personal feud between a police officer the nation knows as “Nunu” and drug dealers? In the course of doing his job, Senior Assistant Commissioner Nunu Lesetedi (who is the Botswana Police Service’s Director of Crime Intelligence) has come to incur the wrath of the dealers. However, if there is any feud at all, it is between the dealers and the law, not between Nunu and the dealers. 

Seven months after the smooth/rough transition of official power from former president Ian Khama and President Mokgweetsi Masisi, there is supposed to be a “personal feud” between the two men. The Nunu/drug dealers’ analogy is very helpful here. When international outrage over killed/reincarnated elephants broke out, Masisi asked a question that Khama cannot ask: “What law did I break?” One element of the elephants’ saga was in relation to a decision by the new president to reverse a decision by his predecessor to have game scouts carry weapons of war in their anti-poaching operations and shoot suspected poachers on sight. Dubbed shoot-to-kill policy, the latter actually amounted to extra-judicial killing. The other point to make is that only members of the Botswana Defence Force are authorised, by law, to carry such weapons of war. By taking this action, Masisi was restoring legal normalcy which Khama had subverted.

There are many more laws that can be quoted if Khama was to ask the question Masisi asked. As BDF Commander, he awarded lucrative tenders to Seleka Springs, a company owned by his twin brothers, Tshekedi and Anthony. At some point this attracted the interest of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime but as Wikileaks reveals, then Vice President Khama summoned then DCEC boss, Tymon Katholo, to warn him off. A court-ready docket was subsequently produced but for more than a decade, has been gathering dust in a safe at the Directorate of Public Prosecutions. Against what the BDF Act prescribes, Khama continued flying army aircraft after leaving the army to join politics. Against what the Civil Aviation Authority Act says, Khama, who is not a qualified pilot, has flown private aircraft. The former president is an aviation enthusiast and there is mistaken belief that he is a qualified pilot. The international aviation standard is that one must undergo training (technically called “conversion”) for each type of aircraft that s/he flies. Khama has not undergone such training in decades yet flew new types of aircraft. The International Civil Aviation Organization standards have become international law and to the extent that he has gone against them, Khama is breaking international law.

In 2015 and without consulting neither the Bank of Botswana nor the finance minister as was later revealed, Khama decided to dip into the foreign reserves and launch what he called the economic stimulus package (ESP). Khama’s Office of the President would then award multi-million pula tenders and the biggest beneficiaries were people close to Khama. The setting up of the ESP and the way it was administered contravened two separate pieces of legislation: the Public Finance Management Act and the Public Procurement and Public Assets Disposal Act. Former president Festus Mogae, a man who once supervised Khama, once told an international TV audience via CNBC that “the current [Khama’s] regime doesn’t respect the rule of law” and that the country is “regressing” on the gains it made following independence from the British. Three western think tanks (one of them, Fraser Institute, reputable enough to have merited mention in President Khama’s 2014 state-of-the-nation address) would later confirm Mogae’s misgivings about the rule of law in Botswana.

In retirement, Khama wants to be exempted from laws, rules and standards that everybody else is expected to comply with. His compound in Mosu has barracks and there was a newspaper article, which the government rebutted, about a cache of weapons of war being confiscated from the compound. If the story was false, how would one account for the existence of barracks at an ordinary compound? Khama wanted to continue flying planes despite the fact that he is not a qualified pilot. After Masisi clipped his wings and when everybody else is expected to tighten their belt because the economy has yet to recover from the 2009 Global Recession, Khama insists on being allowed unrestricted use to state aircraft to fly all over the country serving people soup. He doesn’t want the most senior officer in the civil service, the Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, to have the final say on whom he (Khama) can engage as private secretary when the latter will be a civil servant. A filthy rich man who can afford to live like a king at his own expense, Khama requested “temporary” additional staff from the government. It would seem that the government itself blundered by not attaching a time frame to “temporary” and Khama seems determined to take advantage of this. When Morupisi, wanted to withdraw staff deployed to Khama’s retirement residence with the understanding that this was a temporary arrangement, Khama makes a loud public protest.

If there is any feud at all, it is the historical one between Khama and the law – not between Khama and Masisi. No one has been able to challenge Masisi’s assertion that he has not broken the law and he seems determined to harp on this point at every opportunity he gets.

“Worth noting, however, is that there is in place legislation that governs the benefits and entitlements of Former Presidents,” the president said in his state-of-the-nation address when addressing himself to the so-called personal feud between him and Khama. “I have no intention whatsoever of breaking the law. I intend to apply the law to the letter.”

Alongside “personal feud” is another dubious construction ÔÇô “humiliate”, in the context of Masisi humiliating Khama. The “humiliation” has always been in the context of Masisi expecting Khama to comply with the law or doing what all other citizens are expected to do. Protocol that Khama is very familiar with requires former presidents, who are served by civil servant aides and bodyguards, to notify the Office of the President of their itinerary and travel arrangements. As Morupisi has had to explain, Khama ignored this protocol and bummed a ride on a Debswana Diamond Company aeroplane. When OP instructed Debswana, which is partly state-owned, to deny Khama a ride, he went to newspapers to complain about having been humiliated. Late last month, he was complaining about the withdrawal of staff he had sought on a temporary basis as part of the humiliation. Likewise, there are people who saw a leaked memo instructing BDF pilots to deny Khama access to the cockpit as humiliation. The reality is that the law doesn’t allow him to fly BDF aircraft and he is also not technically qualified to fly such aircraft.

The irony with regard to Khama being “humiliated” is the disequilibrium that manifests itself in not quoting instances when Khama has himself humiliated other people. He has twice remained seated when Masisi walked in at public events and a fortnight ago, referred to the latter not as “His Excellency President Masisi” but as just “Masisi.” When former cabinet minister, Lesego Motsumi, didn’t answer a parliamentary question about Seleka Springs to his satisfaction, Khama demoted her to the position of High Commissioner to India. The latter is equivalent to director. As BDF Commander, Khama continued an inhuman practice through which the belongings of soldiers who were fired would be dumped at the gate. He often makes very expensive “jokes” at the expense of others at public gatherings. One example was when he said a woman of Assistant Botlogile Tshireletso’s body size would not be an ideal bride for him.

The so-called Masisi-Khama feud has inspired another myth ÔÇô that the media takes sides with one or the other. A sense of entitlement is evident on Khama’s part but in as far as his dealing with Khama is concerned, none such has been proven in the case of Masisi. Granted, Masisi may have a personal problem with Khama but there is no evidence of him using the law to exact revenge. Media that accurately reflects the current situation will not able to fault Masisi and doing so can hardly be perceived as siding with him in a personal feud against Khama.

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