Thursday, July 18, 2024

The Ten Pula Wars

Someone has described Ian Khama as a man who has had problems with every president who is not Khama. That simply means Ian Khama only had regard for his father, Seretse Khama who was Botswana’s founding president. And this is a glaring truth about a man who was our president for ten years. And he always wondered why people were having questions about his conduct while president. It begins way back in 1980 at the occasion of the death of Sir Seretse Khama. Bangwato tribesmen who never cared to read the constitution were adamant that Ian Khama should replace his father as president.

The original Constitution of Botswana directed that after the death of a sitting president, parliament shall elect a new president within seven days. Truly speaking, even the educated at the time were clueless about this factor in the constitution. Even for some in parliament, they found it awkward for Dr Masire to ascend to the seat of the presidency even before Seretse was laid at his tomb.

In actual fact, the rule in the constitution acted against Masire. Even the general public were asking why Masire was in such a hurry to get sworn in as president. This part of the constitution clearly was in conflict with the Setswana culture. Culturally, Seretse could not be buried in a hurry because he was royalty. A lot of consultation with the uncles and the tribe went on for days before figuring out how best to conduct a funeral befitting royalty.

But whatever the constitution directed, the misguided royalists of Gammangwato were so convinced that Ian Khama had to replace his father at State House. Dr Masire was demeaned in every way possible by the Ngwato royalists. But Masire had a presidential temperament and he never applied his emotions on all these matters, he followed the law to the letter.

Stan Motjuwadi wrote an article on the introduction of Dr Masire’s portrait on the P10 currency notes; “Some outraged royalists actually tore up P10 notes, believing Dr Masire had committed sacrilege. And rumours abounded that a new party, the Social Democrats was to be launched to oppose Dr Masire (Drum Magazine Archives).

Taking all factors into account at the time, Ian Khama could have easily resigned his position as BDF deputy commander and made it for the new political party. It is for a fact that Ian Khama debated these issues with himself and with members of his family and more particularly with his mother. But Ian Khama must have had a serious dilemma because in as much as he wanted to be the most powerful man in the land, there were no absolute guarantees for success.

Further to that, he could not risk abandoning a lucrative rank of brigadier at BDF because this rank and position was deliberately created for him. The pay gap between brigadier and colonel was so colossal and yet there was little difference between him and major general.

One certainty that the young lad had was that it was only a matter of time before he attains the top military position of Commander of the Defence Force (CDF). From the onset, Seretse Khama had used Merafhe as his son’s proxy in that position while Ian Khama was still growing. Of course Seretse knew his son better and at one point he was heard by the State House security detail saying Ian was sometimes irrational and acts immaturely.

The other advantage to Ian Khama’s bid for the position of president was his rock star status in society. He was believed to be invincible and often acting like a superhero. Everyone liked him and there were no side issues we see with him now. Pound for pound, Ian Khama had a relative chance of making it against Dr Masire on a plain political landscape. But Khama was still enjoying his position at BDF and the prestige that went with it tied him down and kept him away from political life at the time. He was waiting to be the BDF commander anyway.

It is very interesting that Mompati Merafhe made way for Ian Khama to become commander in the manner it happened. What happened was that Merafhe was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and within no time the man retired into politics. There was an arrangement for Merafhe to go but then Ian Khama started his presentation to convince President Masire that the rank suitable for the commander was lieutenant general. This personal arrangement has now created chaos at BDF because there are just too many brigadiers littered all over and with little purpose and direction.

While Ian Khama remained as commander at BDF, the man always got what he needed from the president and his government. Dr Masire who was later knighted had a very dim understanding of how the military worked and therefore this gave Khama a blank cheque and could do as he pleased with the personnel and equipment in the organization he headed. This was at a time when military coups were happening in African almost every six months and Masire must have treaded very carefully when taking into consideration the fact that Khama still remained popular. At one point during this period, Khama told his officers that he told the president that if his calls for soldier’s allowances are not heeded, he would take off the fences around the camps so that his soldiers can enjoy the freedom and liberty that civilians enjoyed. This was insubordination of the highest order and yet Ian Khama found it worthy to share with his subordinates and brag about it. And yet Ian Khama never tolerated any iota of insubordination when directed to him. As usual discipline was for others and not him.

Something that put fuel into Ian Khama was his subjects in the Ngwato tribal territory as they continued to give him the deity status. They still persisted on getting him to State House long after Masire had taken over. In 1982 Masire was knighted by the Queen of England and he formerly assumed the title of Sir.

Automatically the First Lady changed her tittle to be addressed as Lady Masire. The tribalists of Gammangwato would have none of that and they decided to send a delegation to the capital city of Gaborone to formally complain at Office of the President. They said Masire had taken Seretse’s position as president which was supposed to go to his son Ian, and now the president’s wife is taking away the Lady tittle  from Ruth. And this is the genesis of the P10 wars.

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