It is not just that Khama is expensive or that he is an Orwellian demagogue, the problem is that the Botswana Democratic Party and indeed Batswana, by social conditioning, continue to pander to Khama’s expensive sense of entitlement: but for a president that should have defined a path of greater economic transformation, it is clear that Khama took more from Botswana than he ever gave
LAWRENCE SERETSE & SONNY SERITE
The recent amendment of the President (Pensions and Retirement benefits) Act was not an innocuous exercise nor was it meant to merely improve conditions for the presidency going forward beyond Khama.
It was an amendment specifically tailored to satisfy the special sense of entitlement that prevails around all that is President Ian Khama – a consequence of his lifetime of privilege, unaccountability and a sense of rule by divine right; an entitlement that gives rise to the insensitivity in which he fails to ethically confront what it really takes to guarantee a tame people like Batswana a long-lasting dignity- even amidst his own gnawing impulse of greed. While he charms unsuspecting Batswana with his philanthropic benevolence, Khama, through a BDP majority in parliament which has proven itself to be powerless against him, is busy bending rules and hogging national resources to guarantee himself, friends and relatives a lifetime of comfort after his retirement.
Khama sleeps like a baby at night knowing that his grip over the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) means that it will yield to any number of his demands no matter how ridiculous they may seem- and cushion him from ever accounting even in cases of blatant abuse of power and corruption. Contrary to how he has projected himself, Khama is the stereotypical African leader who, like others who rule over resource-rich African countries is aware of the power he controls, and with it the special fear he can exert and capitalize
on at every opportunity, often at the detriment of a nation in dire need of a meaningful industrial revolution- a nation which nevertheless and in spite of its “wealth” continues to struggles to guarantee access to quality education, health care, water and other basic needs.
Khama’s entitlement is now guaranteed; his exceptionalism now entrenched by the party he leads and a mythologization of the history of the of his great grandfather, father and himself- it is this mythologization which has left Botswana with the level of hangover which always makes it taboo to demand openness and accountability from him or those who fawn under his protective shadow. One needs to only consider that since 1997, the BDP has continued to oppose Joy Phumaphi’s Assets Declaration Bill which, they have at one point or another described as a “witch hunt”, saying it was tabled with “ulterior motives”. The BDP knows that there are serious questions to be asked about individuals like President Khama who own certain assets and enjoy inexplicable waivers to gain access to prime national resources such as land and property. However, because of an inexplicable inhibition, the BDP enables him to acquire more and more from the country’s resources in a systemic manner.
The problem with invoking Khama’s heritage as an heir in a powerful line of colonial era and post-colonial Ngwato rulers- in explaining how he gets unquestioned access to national resources- is that it does not only normalize but banalizes what is an awfully underemphasized emergency of resource shipping and shafting. It will not be until Botswana collapses as a result of Khama’s expensive privileges and excesses that the true magnitude of his burden to the nation will be revealed.
The fact is that President Khama is a very rich man. He is not rich only because of the family wealth that fell to him, he is also rich because since he became president, he methodically used political power to tie whatever loose ends there may have been from the past and the present to guarantee himself, family and friends whatever wealth and the access to it that they need.
The Botswana Gazette for instance can confirm that, Khama owns vast tracts of land across the country. He owns an island along Okavango river near Samuchima village where the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) avoided installing electricity for ordinary Batswana, prioritizing Khama’s island. Khama’s much talked about home in Mosu village in north east Letlhakane- also enjoys the benefit of being built an airstrip. The airstrip will not benefit Letlhakane, which is the main village in the area; it will be in Khama’s personal property.
Various media reports indicate that Khama has over “5000 acres of prime bush ranch” in Ruretse near Phakalane in Gaborone. This revelation is alleged by a local newspaper to have come from his brother’s wife, Thea Khama. Ruretse belongs to the Khama family and the name derives from the abridged combination of Ruth and Seretse’s names. Another local newspaper has reported that during the course of last year, Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC) made an unusual request to acquire a Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) staff house in extension 9 valued at P3.8 million for President Ian Khama, who in turn will buy it for himself for P2.7 million.
Last year, the media reported on a young Motswana farmer, Gakeolebale Mosimane Mosaise who fled the country claiming his life was in danger after spurning President Khama’s proposal to acquire his farm in the Ghanzi area. In a letter dated 17 June 2015, routed through the Botswana embassy in South Africa and addressed to President Khama, the farmer stated, “It’s(sic) was said I will never find peace until I relent to your demands to acquire my farm (number 185NL) in Ghanzi District Area.” The young farmer was eventually granted temporary asylum by the South African Human Affairs Department on 22 June 2015. In Shakawe, it was reported that soon after Khama’s inauguration as Vice President, a team of Botswana Defence Force (BDF) officers were dispatched to Diseta Island to evict a frail old fisherman out of his ancestral land. In an interview with a local newspaper, Kgosi Mboma Diziro came out as the first tribal leader to publicly advise the president to hand over land that he might have acquired improperly. The same newspaper that broke the story also reported that those who live near the island say BDF evicted the old man together with his livestock and built him a two-bedroomed house in Boseja.
Khama even owns natural heritage sites. Two years ago, there was an uproar in Maun when tribesmen called upon Khama to stop treating the Gciwhaba Caves as his personal property, demanding that he hands over the access keys after it was alleged he had locked the caves for his exclusive use. In 2012, Khama allegedly ordered the Ngwato Land Board to transfer approximately 31 boreholes that were previously owned by his father into his name, after having used Water Affairs to locate the boreholes. The boreholes were reported to have been used by local farmers to water their livestock.
On the business front, Khama owns Kubu Lodge in Kasane and is a shareholder in several tourism enterprises in the Chobe and the Okavango delta. This includes interests in the country’s largest tourism and safari operator, Wilderness Safaris. Khama avoided responding to allegations of secretly moving P29 million to Bermuda to avoid paying taxes, following a Botswana Gazette investigation. The BSE listed Wilderness Safaris revenues surpass P 2 billion pula and the Office of the President has refused field questions about its operations stating only that it was Khama’s “private business” as to what he does with Wilderness Safari. The company itself denies moving P29m to Bermuda to minimize taxes in Botswana.
Investigations by this publication also show that President Khama has held interests in companies such as Phuti ya Bangwato (commercial farming), Trust Holdings (real estate), Murton Proprietary Limited (retail trade) and these companies allegedly appear to have not filed or have been removed from the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) records.
He also held interests in Montrose Proprietary Limited (investments), Chadibe Springs, Kenmoir Proprietary Limited, Baobab Safaris, Linyanti Concessions Ltd and Seba Safaris. Baobab, Linyanti and Seba Safaris are tourism companies with interests, yet again, in the country’s largest tourism operator- Wilderness Safaris Holdings Ltd. Apart from Wilderness Safaris, tax information on these entities is still not up to date.
Another example of the special treatment Khama enjoys involves air craft purchased through tax payer money to satisfy his ex-solider machismo- as he often insists on flying. Among such flying machines is the P300 million EC225LP Super Puma helicopter acquired from Spain by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Air Wing. It was delivered in Gaborone aboard an Antonov Airlines An-124 transport aircraft on 14th September 2016. There is also the P200 million Bell 412 from the US and a P2.5 million mobile caravan together with an array of quadbikes which include a Honda Rancher quadbike of a possible cost of P100 000 excluding customizations. To add to his predilection of fine things, he also owns top of the range motorbikes like the Ducatti 1199 Superlegerra which costs between P200-400 000.
Amongst his fleet of cars, Khama has a privately registered Land Cruiser VX SUV he often drives when going to the gym at the Mogoditshane BDF barracks.
Unsatisfied by the condition of the state house, Khama splashed P20 million in 2009 refurbishing the State House where he has also built a mini army barracks in order to accommodate a number of BDF personnel that were to be deployed for the first time, there.
A close look at the amended President (Pensions and Retirement benefits) Act shows that it is not just a source of “talking points” or “jealousy” as held by pro-establishment loyalists. It shows that Khama has no intention of giving up his extremely luxurious life and will not sacrifice for the small man no matter the complaints about the package’s apparent decadence.
Over and above luxury cars- the BDP has also given him a blanket access to all government modes of transport- which means that if he has a licence to drive a train or a ferry (pantoon), the law gives him the green light to do so.
Another element of his package which is a first and unique to him is that he is allowed to look for a salaried job. This is despite the fact that because of his retirement, Khama will be entitled to a gratuity equal to 30 percent of his current monthly basic salary multiplied by the number of months he would have been a president. He will also be entitled to receive a tax free monthly pension equivalent to the monthly basic salary attached to the Office of President at the time of his retirement or 80 percent of the incumbent president’s salary, “whichever is greater”- the Act says. Khama will also be entitled to a number of security officers, two drivers, one private secretary, one secretary, one office attendant, two maids and one gardener. As a former President, Khama and his spouse (should he marry) will also be entitled to State sponsored medical aid. If he chooses to fly commercial airlines, Khama will be entitled to first class air and rail travel within Botswana. First class air travel will also extend to international trips up to a maximum of 4 trips per annum (including a spouse if accompanying) and per diem for each trip as may be determined by a sitting President. He will also receive an entertainment allowance, telephone expenses as well as water and electricity expenses for the office and residence.
It is not just that Khama is expensive or that he is an Orwellian demagogue, the problem is that the Botswana Democratic Party and indeed Batswana, by social conditioning, continue to pander Khama’s expensive sense of entitlement: but for a president that should have defined a path of greater economic transformation, it is clear that Khama took more from Botswana than he gave Botswana, and that he will continue to do so to his dying day- if the recently passed Pension and Benefits Amendment Act is anything to go by.