Euphoria attended Ian Khama’s arrival into Botswana’s political space back in 1998. However, the excitement soon turned into palpable fear especially among the rank and file of Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).
This, the party that his late father and founding president of the country, Sir Seretse Khama founded with Sir Ketumile Masire – was riddled in factions along the North/South divide and plagued by a leadership struggle at the time. Ian Khama was ostensibly recruited from the army to stabilise the party and restore its credibility among the electorate. From day one that he entered political office as then President Festus Mogae’s Vice President and Minister without Portfolio, Khama’s tenure has been dogged with controversy.
As party leader, he amended the party constitution to centralise power, much to the chagrin of veteran cadres and the Young Turks, some of whom eventually trooped out of the BDP to form the Botswana Movement for Democracy. As the country’s president he ruled by fear, clandestinely using his security apparatus to silence dissent in the party, Parliament, Cabinet and the entire public service. He, alongside his then Permanent Secretary to the President Eric Molale earned the tag, ‘Public Workers’ Enemy No. 1’ on account of his oppressive labour practices, which led to thousands of retrenchments in mining companies – notably, Debswana, BCL and Tati Nickel mines.
Some 21 years later, Khama’s legacy is not only a national project, but has also permeated the African region and some parts of the world on account of the values and democratic credentials he espoused. Here is a fearless former Army Commander – a soldier at heart and a stickler for costitutionalism whose word has equated to law – who dared to put China in its place over Tibet’s struggle for independence and particularly its treatment of the Dalai Lama. A leader of a small nation of just over 2 million people who dare to challenge the largest nation on the face of the earth! As for his treatment of neighbouing Zimbabwe, the opposition would eventually describe his foreign policy as ‘rooftop diplomacy’!
Here is a leader that was accused by his African peers as being ‘Eurocentric,’ a leader that would not attend African Union or United Nations meetings preferring instead to perpetually delegate the tasks to his Vice President or Foreign Minister. All of a sudden this leader is out of power and is being denied permission to use state aircraft by “Hitlaranyana” (Little Hitler) – the Permanent Secretary to the President.
Khama – the all powerful has had to contend with a few lessons in humility since the ascendance in April 1st 2018 of his successor, President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi to the office of the President of the Republic of Botswana. Along the way, his trusted lieutenants and loyalists in the government machinery such as the founding Head of the once-feared Directorate of Intelliegence and Security Services (DISS) and a personal friend of Khama, Colonel Isaac Kgosi, have been ejected from their lofty positions with little regard for Khama’s protestations.
Khama has now returned with a vengeance following the routing of a BDP faction allegedly linked to him – New Jerusalem – in the recent party’s presidential congress in Kang, where Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, a suspected Khama decoy, withdrew her bid at the eleventh hour. There is no doubting that this development irreparably dented New Jerusalem’s ego, especially since one of its key players, Samson Moyo Guma, who had been poised to challenge for the position of party Secretary General, was missing in action, believed to be self-exiled to South Africa’s posh surburb, Sandton.
Compoundiing the situation was that Khama was also absent without official leave (AWOL) at the Kang Congress, where Masisi would sail through unopposed as President of the party. Obviously this played against the script. Masisi was supposed to go by any means necessary even it meant creating a party precedence!
In any case, the party constitution provides for election of party president – it’s just that over time tradition had been used to trample on democracy! Ever since the country’s second president, Sir Ketumile amended the constitution to provide for automatic succession of the president – all incumbents have benefitted from this undemocratic clause including Khama. Khama, the Kgosi of BaNgwato, has now hit a cul-de-sac within the BDP and wants out. He says the party leadership has subverted the constitution; that decisions are based on emotions and he will not want to associate with such an organisation.
As a result he called his tribes people from all over GammaNgwato – the stronghold of BDP with 17 constituencies – this past Saturday to apprise them of his decision to resign from his father’s party. He found a willing audience, loyal subjects drawn from across the country’s political divide, but certainly with an ear only for his message – in the true spirit of the Tswana maxim, ‘Mafoko a Kgosi a agelwa mosako.’ Khama bared his soul to his subjects. They cheered him; they cried with him; they felt his pain and finally accepted his errand – to go into the country and find out whether people want him to stay in the BDP or to leave it.
However, couched in that instruction is the clear and unambiguous decision, that Khama has finally left his father’s party. His dressing down of BDP cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament including all the three arms of government, gave him away. Worse still, Khama not only announced how he has been humiliated by the minister for Environment and Tourism, Kitso Mokaila who has “suspended” Khama from his position as Botswana’s Toursim Anmbassador, but also announced to the meeting that he was resigning as Vision 2036 Ambassador to pre-empt such eventuality by government. Wise decision indeed: Which Vision Ambassador goes around the country denouncing his own master as unfit? But what was music to the ears of many was when he endorsed the opposition parties as having credible leaders and signalling his wish to work with any of them. The nail on the head of the BDP coffin was when he announced plans to decampaign some of the BDP Members of Parliament whom he accuses of dishonesty.
He has promised to visit the constituencies of VP Tsogwane; Dorcas Makgato’s Ramokgonami/Sefhare and Bobirwa constituency where parliamentary candidate Francisco Kgoboko, whom he claims to have helped beat MP and Defense and Justice Minster Shaw Kgathi, has turned against him. All these are clear indications that Khama is on an all-out campaign and will stop at nothing to remove Masisi from the presidency and by extension, BDP from power in the October general elections. The stage is now set. Duma Boko’s Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) which is currently embroiled in what promises to be a protracted legal tussle with one of its expelled contracting partners – BMD – has suddenly been thrown a lifeline. There is a good chance, if the UDC could play its cards well by staging a convincing public relations exercise, it could sway the Central District votes to its side.
On the other hand, with Khama gone, the BDP, could, like the falcon, rise from the ashes to become a much more formidable force unencumbered by royal privilege or captured by personality cults. Indeed, Khama’s resignation may just be the blessing that the party has always craved in as much as it could be the trump card that the opposition has always needed to taste state power. Let’s wait and see, but all is well that ends well. In the final analysis, it is the country’s democracy that stands to be enriched by the actions of these two men – Khama and Masisi. The latter is being accused of betraying Khama just because he is reversing most of Khama’s programmes and policies, which were largely described as ‘populist.’ Masisi has earned the wrath of MPs – in and outside his party – for many of his decisions. These same MPs who used to be called ‘Vultures’ when they demanded pay rise in Parliament! Like Khama said on Saturday, man is an untrustworthy animal!