When some of Ian Khama’s Bangwato subjects felt that he was being purposefully humiliated by President Mokgweetsi Masisi, they started a putative war cry that would be sloganised as “E seng mo go Kgosikgolo” – not on our kgosikgolo. At a 2019 Serowe meeting where he was favoured with ample podium time, former Lerala/Maunatlala MP and Khama supporter, Prince Maele, declared his support for Khama by stating that “Ke eme tsi! le Kgosikgolo”, meaning that his support for the kgosikgolo was unshakeable.
The fact of the matter though is that there is no such thing as a kgosikgolo, not in the Bogosi Act and certainly not in the national order of precedence. The current use of the term (which would mean supreme traditional leader, superior to a mere kgosi) happens outside official sanction. Of all the eight Batswana dikgosi who enjoy this padded cultural title, Khama, who was Botswana’s most powerful vice president for 10 years and president for the same period, stands out for having been in a position to officialise its use. He didn’t and now finds himself in the awkward position of having become comfortable with a title that doesn’t officially exist.
The Botswana constitution concentrates a lot of power in the presidency and as successive generations of MPs have themselves acknowledged, parliament is merely a rubberstamp of decisions made by the executive. If President Khama had decided to officialise kgosikgolo as a title for supreme traditional leaders, that is what the redone Bogosi Act, which he assented to, would now so categorise this particular class of leaders. In terms of the Act, however, his official designation is kgosi, not kgosikgolo.
The problem with kgosi is that it doesn’t differentiate Khama and those at his level with all other position in tribal administration who are also called kgosi: headman of arbitration, headman of records, tribal authority, senior tribal authority, chief’s representative, senior chief’s representative and regent. There was a time when all were unproblematically called kgosi but with mindfulness of difference in rank. Today, such problem exists. Of late and the above notwithstanding, kgosikgolo is gaining currency and is being selectively used for a special class – that of ex-officio members of Ntlo ya Dikgosi, which is the lower house of parliament.
Official sanction of the title would itself have been problematic and would have had the effect of deepening the caste system that the law creates by putting dikgosi from eight Tswana tribes above all others. (All too often, this issue is misconstrued in terms of Tswana tribes collectively dominating non-Tswana tribes but the reality is that the caste system in question puts other BaTswana tribes like Bahurutshe (Manyana), Bakhurutshe (Tonota), Bakgatla-ba-Mmanaana, Barolong-boo-Seleka and Batlhaping on the back burner.)
In a past when he was still a member of Ntlo ya Dikgosi, Kgosi Tawana II of Batawana tabled motion calling on the government to call him and his royal brethren “kings.” Then Assistant Minister of Local Government and Lands and future Speaker of the National Assembly, Gladys Kokorwe, rejected the motion on grounds that Botswana dikgosi didn’t have kingdoms to be called kings.