Even at the best of times, President Lt Gen Ian Khama is not a man known for reserved remarks. He once referred to Members of Parliament as “vultures.”
Khama, then vice president, was speaking out against a bill to increase MPs’ salaries. To most Khama watchers, it did not come as a surprise when he dismissed Daniel Kwelagobe as a “power hungry” spent force during the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) bruising campaign for Central Committee elections in the run up to the Kanye Congress. Kwelagobe and his supporters in the Barata-Phathi faction would not be drawn into the mudslinging match. They went on to win all central committee positions before some broke away to form the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD).
And these are not the best of times.
The hunt for a fall guy to take blame for the BDP split has begun, igniting a tedious political squabble of the ‘who said what to whom and who did what when’ variety.
Khama and the BDP splinter party are on heat stimulating a blame game that is playing itself out in the media. As a sitting president, Khama enjoys both the gravitas and access to national resources. And he has not been shy to use them to fight personal battles.
Government broadcasting services director, Mogomotsi Kaboeamodimo, was last year quoted as saying the state media takes orders from President Ian Khama and nobody else.
Kaboeamodimo explained that Khama enjoys constitutional privilege to use the state media whichever way he chooses without being answerable to anyone. The government broadcasting services director was responding to a National Broadcasting Board judgment, which found the state media guilty of unfairly giving the ruling BDP airtime to address its members.
The ruling came after the opposition Botswana Congress Party (BCP) took the state media to the NBB after Khama’s national address to explain how the party fell out with BMD leader Gomolemo Motswaledi late last year.
In the ongoing blame game, the BMD finds voice drowned by that of Radio Botswana and Btv which they have come to perceive as his masters’ voice. “Give us access to Btv and Radio Botswana in order that Batswana should hear our side of the story”, wrote BMD spokes person Sidney Pilane in response to Khama’s accusation of the breakaway party, which were aired in the national media denying BMD the right of reply.
The Mmegi newspaper reported last month that three Radio Botswana journalists were summoned to the Office of the President to be rapped on the knuckles for granting airtime to BMD spokesperson Sidney Pilane.
Khama also has access to the Directorate of Intelligence Services, and there are already fears that this may be turned into his dirty tricks department in the fight against BMD. It emerged in Pilane’s written response to Khama that the president used the DIS to investigate some members of BMD.
“The institution of a secret investigation of matters internal to a political party by public officers is characteristic of the President and his scheming and cavalier ways,” wrote Pilane.
Khama’s unconventional way of settling political scores is, however, attracting a serious backlash from the civic society, which has not only earned the new party public sympathy, but helped keep them in the news. The accusations flying back and forth between Khama and the new party have kept newshounds busy for weeks on end, and the president seems to be having the worst of it.
As president of the country, Khama is news-worthier of the two warring sides, but so far BMD seems to be having the best of the president’s weight. When Khama attacks BMD, it makes a big story, but when BMD fights back against the president, it makes an even bigger story. In local newsrooms, the odds are stacked against the president: First it makes a bigger story when the president’s character is attacked than when he attacks the character of a lesser politician. Secondly, as a leader who is quick on the draw, his outbursts are no longer as newsworthy.
On the other hand, Khama is revered and almost everyone fears to cross him. It is thus a big story when a political David plucks up the courage to face down the BDP Goliath.
Pilane’s letter has been a conversation piece in bar and cocktail parties for days since he wrote that, “the tragic story of our country is that he (Khama) has never earned anything in his life; he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and all has been handed to him on a silver platter because he, purely by accident of birth, inherited the name “Khama” from one of the great heroes of our country. Mr. President, for once in your life work to earn something- transform into a true democrat, revive, enhance and modernize our democracy, give Batswana the opportunity to review and overhaul our national Constitution instead of sheltering behind it in order to avoid the scrutiny of your decisions, innovate and come up with economic initiatives in order to overcome the recession instead of excusing your non performance on it while spending scarce national resources indulging your pleasures and populist ego! Earn something for once in your life!”
For now it is game on, and the jury is out on who will win the blame game between Khama and BMD.