The United States government has in the past pondered the possibility of President Khama refusing to step down from office should the ruling Botswana democratic Party lose an election.
In a declassified report which forms part of the WikiLeaks dossier, Khama was referred to as a “wild card” who plays a unique and important role in civil-military relations in Botswana. “Given his personal background, his popularity with the younger officer corps, and the wide constitutional powers held by the President, it is not unnatural to wonder how he and the military would react to the prospect of an opposition figure taking up the reins. How praetorian would Khama’s relationship to the military prove to be, how strong his adherence to his father’s vision of a democratic Botswana?, states” the report. The report noted that,”although he has relinquished both his uniform and his earlier responsibilities as Minister overseeing the BDF, Khama remains closely tied to the armed forces.
Most prominently, he occasionally pilots BDF helicopters for personal and official travel, with presidential authority but in apparent contravention of BDF regulations. His personal assistant, Col. Isaac Kgosi, is an active duty BDF officer seconded to the Office of the President. Perhaps most significantly for the future, although Khama’s relationships with the current senior BDF leadership are reportedly strained, he is said to be well liked and respected among mid-level and junior officers.
Current President Festus Mogae has stated that he plans to resign well in advance of the 2009 elections, which will automatically elevate Khama and give him the opportunity to lead the BDP into the vote as the sitting president. The media have associated the GOB’s plans to establish an intelligence agency (currently the BDF and the Botswana Police Service have their own intelligence units) with the supposedly nefarious intentions of the Vice President. In the weeks following the October 2004 general elections, in which an opposition candidate won a council seat in Khama’s constituency for the first time ever, reports emerged that police intelligence officers had investigated the councilor and questioned his supporters.
Although these accusations were never confirmed, that incident has contributed to a sense of unease and suspicion among some about the role of such an organization. Opposition politicians and even some ruling party members have used this to publicly attack Khama. His infrequent participation in parliament and his open dislike for political debate give these detractors room to describe him as authoritarian or even potentially anti-democratic The report noted that, “Botswana’s record of stability since independence has resulted in part from the BDP’s continuous hold on power.
In the last election, however, the opposition took a combined 48 percent of the vote; if it continues to gain popular support and can manage some unity, it will have its best chance ever to oust the BDP during the presidency of Ian Khama. His presidency will present some interesting challenges to civil-military relations in any event. If he leads the BDP to another five-year mandate, he’ll be closely watched to see how he handles his powerful role as commander in chief and how he manages his ties to the officer corps. Will he set aside more ministries for ex-military friends?
If and when he and the BDP lose, though, the attention on him will truly be acute. Given his personal background, his popularity with the younger officer corps, and the wide constitutional powers held by the President, it is not unnatural to wonder how he and the military would react to the prospect of an opposition figure taking up the reins. How praetorian would Khama’s relationship to the military prove to be, how strong his adherence to his father’s vision of a democratic Botswana? The report, however, argues that “the BDF’s performance so far, and the evident support among its junior ranks for the opposition, argues very strongly against the likelihood of any possible military interference in the democratic process — in fact, only the presence of Khama as President makes such a scenario even remotely plausible.
However far-fetched the notion of Botswana’s military stepping in to reject regime change may be, though, it is a perennial favorite topic for the opposition, students, and jaded Gaborone journalists. However his political fortunes may play out, Ian Khama seems certain to remain a wildcard figure for a long time to come.”