Critics have never stopped characterizing Dr Khama’s presidency as a textbook of the triumph of loyalty over merit. They argued that Dr Khama placed the highest value on an individual’s absolute loyalty rather than qualifications or competencies. In any case quality, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. It is common practice that presidents demand loyalty to the extent that they are focused more on gaining control of all aspects of administration.
The reality is that no president would want to surround himself with saboteurs and adversaries from within and from the other side of the political divide. No president would want to appoint people who are likely to challenge his authority or frustrate his personal agenda. Thus, presidents need people they trust; people who are responsive, supportive and competent to some degree. Although the conventional wisdom urges presidents to prioritize quality of personnel in order to navigate contemporary challenges that are complex and multifaceted, loyalty – an unwavering commitment to a leader – matters most.
Some unequivocally demand it and seem to never have enough it. Others are modest in their demand for it even though they want it as much as those that brood about it. When former president Dr Khama toured the country to bid Batswana farewell, he thanked his then Vice-President Mr Masisi for his loyalty and support.
This he reiterated at his farewell lunch organized by the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration staff. Former President Dr Khama also singled out Permanent Secretary to the President Mr Carter Morupisi and Presidential Affairs Minister Mr Eric Molale for their support stating that they were extremely loyal to him. There was no mention of their capabilities or qualities. Rather the superlative, extremely, was used to describe their level of loyalty and responsiveness.
Such is the extent to which Dr Khama prized loyalty over any other considerations and it is not anomalous. It is actually standard practice. US President Donald Trump fired his FBI Director James Comey because Mr Trump doubted the Director’s loyalty. Mr Trump is understood to have remarked that ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty’. I value loyalty above everything else ÔÇô more than brains, more than drive and more than energy’.
In his book ‘Think Big and Kick Ass: In Business and Life’, Mr Trump concede that ‘I put people who are loyal to me on high pedestal and take care of them very well’. Mr Trump’s fixation on absolute loyalty mirrors Dr Khama’s exceptional emphasis on loyalty as a core attribute for suitability for a job. By the same logic, President Masisi is not expected to be different in demanding loyalty from people who work for him. The difference may only be on relative emphasis and the purpose for which it is demanded. Be that as it may, loyalty to the president or his policy agenda has the potential to turn public servants into henchmen/women whose value proposition extend to the appointing authority only. Beyond that the henchmen become saboteurs of repute; assassins and backbiters.
Thus, Dr Khama’s henchmen are most probably Masisi’s archenemies and this is not fiction. Once former US President Lyndon Johnson asked his speechwriter, ‘do you know there are some disloyal Kennedy people all over the State Department who are trying to get me?’ Apparently, the disloyal Kennedy people were supporters or allies of Robert Kennedy, his political rival and younger brother to John F. Kennedy, Johnson’s predecessor. This insecurity somewhat made Mr Johnson to become paranoid with his demand for loyalty, at one point stating that ‘I want loyalty. I want him to kiss my ass …at high noon and tell me it smells like roses. I want his pecker in my pocket’.
Similarly Richard Nixon another former US president is reported to have said that his appointees shouldn’t be brilliant or even all that competent but just loyal. Essentially, without their own loyalists, presidents tend to see saboteurs and spoilers everywhere.
It is therefore inconceivable that President Masisi could use Khama’s men, most of who might have even sought to frustrate his ascendance to the presidency to ensure that their favourite boss stays in charge until the end of time. President Masisi certainly need dyed in the wool loyalists [more than all his predecessors] to use to change public policy and to consolidate control over the entire state machinery. Certainly there are numerous policies and programs that have to be reversed and President Masisi cannot be expected to use the very people who masterminded and drummed up public support for these pet projects to do a genuine somersault.
Dr Khama created his own men and women precisely to propagate his personal policy agenda. In that respect, Dr Khama demanded allegiance in hugely personalized style that translated into allegiance to Ian Khama hence government initiatives bore his personal brand ÔÇô President Khama’s projects (mananeo a rraetsho). Dr Khama’s henchmen are therefore his people and cannot be President Masisi’s people. These are the people who praised Dr Khama; people who kowtowed to him; people who viciously brutalized others for Dr Khama; people who fought, attacked or even killed others for him.
These are the people who actually made sure that all those who worked under Dr Khama including Mr Masisi showed loyalty and expressed it as when Mr Masisi publicly announced that he was a lackey. These are the people that Dr Khama used to get what he wanted and there is no how President Masisi can re-create or refurbish them into his own trusted lieutenants.
The hard but uncomfortable truth is that President Masisi must bring in his own people that will be his insurance against sabotage or even assassination by his archenemies, real or imagined. This will require him to fire many of Dr Khama’s people who have been planted in strategic institutions of the state so that he can fill these crucial positions with his own loyalists; trusted lieutenants, demented lackeys and useful fools. In doing so President Masisi does not need to be apologetic and does not need to justify his actions to his predecessor and his disgraced praise singers. American philosopher Elbert Hubbard said, ‘never explain, your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway’.
President Masisi could have opted for sweeping changes on day one but settled for cautious approach to dismantling Dr Khama’s brutal dynasty. While others may view this as a cautious approach by someone who does not want to be seen to be too eager to bury his predecessor’s legacy, others will view his restrained purging of Khama’s drugged accomplices as the act of a true statesman who is guided by national priorities rather than personal vendetta. Yet, the objective remains the same ÔÇô to kick out Dr Khama’s right-hand people and have his own.