The Khamas’ pursuit of political inheritance threatens stability

The recent fallout and bad blood between Ian Khama and his former vice president and others of his cabinet threatens national ‘stability’ as has been handed down by successive Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) administrations. The argument presented by Khama that the administration suddenly has something against him, something of animus and or ad hominem is really laughable.


This article tries to address the recent out-pouring of public interest in the well-publicized altercation between Ian Khama and members of his former cabinet, and the succession disputes between Khama and Masisi’s government. There are several points already in the public domain that point to the fallout not least, Khama’s intention to sue the government over the matter of Isaac Kgosi’s dismissal and the subsequent decision by government to reject Khama’s intention to hire Kgosi as his private secretary.
Then too, there is the matter of what Khama perceives as undeserved animus against his person by government, as attested to by Masisi’s refusal to lend him the official aero plane. But perhaps much more worrisome to Masisi and his government is Khama’s popularity and posturing; his political outflanking of the political space from the incumbents. Khama has served his turn and he is now on official retirement, a position that ought to make him a political benefactor to his successor, Masisi’s government. This however, further complicates the issues. Ian is in his own right a financial mogul and serious financial player. He has connections in the military and within the political world. He has at his fingertips the entire generalissimo with whom he had ruled the country with for effectively the last two decades. He is not a man to be trifled with.
Entitlement and presidential privileges on retirement
Yet on the surface, all Khama’s complaints are based on issues of entitlement. The ruling BDP fully confident that it would be retiring one of its own had bent over backwards in its generosity, as it had done previously. Each president was to be handsomely retired. This is the fundament that now has come back to haunt that party. A too powerful ex-president and schemer, one who has both the muscle and the clout to alter the party’s fortunes. Yone “ka thagolela leokana!”
Their conditions
Yet, in a very real sense everything stems from the terms and conditions of a retired president, the social power and control he continues to wield as an elder and one who has been. Ian Khama took his looming presence into public office, from the newly established army which was largely his brain child or that of his father, to the office of the vice presidency when he was recruited into politics by a party that had been driven into a political dead end, a party that singularly needed a larger than life presence, in the form of the son of the country’s first president and thereby making true the party slogan, ‘ya rona le bana ba rona’.
It is this one problematic truism that today calls for closer scrutiny, in light of the fact that power has been vested in the same hands since independence. Is this what was meant as ‘democracy’ and is this what we mean by it today? What then do we understand by the connotation that we are a republic? That the position we find ourselves in today as a nation is a far cry from the republicanism that suggests equality between citizens. Ian Khama’s entry into politics had the aura of a mythical fulfilment, of a prophecy in the minds of the average voter. An arrival of he who had been awaited. Yet he refuses to relinquish his hold on his anointed legacy. Why should he, he would ask? He has served his term to it conclusion and has duly been retired, but he still has lots of energy, economic muscle and political influence.
The case before the courts
Today, Ian Khama, is crying “wolf” against government, and threatening the incumbent president and his administration with a lawsuit over the issue of what he perceives as animus. He wants to be allowed to hire Isaac Kgosi as his private secretary. He does not understand why this administration denies him his wants, his rights and the rights of his friend Isaac Kgosi.
What he clearly has failed to hear is the public’s hue and cry over the impunity of both himself and Isaac Kgosi, that characterized the final epoch of his administration, nay, to be honest, most of the life span of his administration. He has conveniently forgotten the calls made even in parliament to have Isaac Kgosi tried by the country’s courts of law. He has also forgotten charges of torture and high handedness by Isaac Kgosi and his DIS. But critically he has forgotten the recent charges of corruption in a case in which Bakang Seretse is presently answering to the courts in which he himself is mentioned as is also Isaac Kgosi. One need not reflect back on the long outstanding DCEC investigations into the Kgosi corruption allegations from 2010 and the lack of knowledge of the whereabouts of the “Kgosi Docket”. All these facts have not adequately impressed on the former president, the gravity of the situation, nor simply the circumstantial grounds that may cause those in the administration to blink.
Yet when all is said and done Isaac Kgosi is Khama’s personal pickle not our own, unless issues of national security are called into question. Which one would have to say they would. Knowing the personal relationship between the two ex-soldiers that tended to overshadow even professional considerations, would anybody not be perturbed by the duo, left to their own devices in dangerous and far flung places like Mosu? More especially since one of the bones of contention now seems to involve the use of the official airplane, an issue in which Isaac Kgosi is said to have acted contrary to the president’s instructions? While certainly the twosome may have done enough in their day to ruffle feathers within the government enclave and create the animus that now threatens the former office bearers, no evidence is being led to suggest the state is being malicious in its actions.
Khama’s argument
Khama’s argument is one of grandstanding, it is essentially self-serving, for the personalization of state power. That to the extent that even though he is outside office, he is still in control and actively remains the face and head of his father’s party. He has been coy in his intended aspirations, he was carried to every nook and corner of the country to ‘bid the nation bye, bye’ and used the state structure to conflate a “fond adieu” with endless giving.
The crowds that came to see him off, the Meneelo gifts they offered him as he made to leave have all confirmed his personal popularity that is now tempting him to wish for another go at power, even if it has to be from behind the throne, tugging at a puppets strings as its master. The ruling party reacted in deafening silence to the threats Khama posed and in its own classic way claimed that the former president was exercising his rights. It turned a blind eye to the overt danger it was creating for itself.
It is clear however that Khama’s interventions in Bobirwa, the constituency where he was offered the largest herd of cattle as a gift, in an exercise spearheaded by the area Member of Parliament who, it seems has now fallen foul with the former president, have seriously rattled the feathers of the ruling BDP. His involvement with the new challengers seeking party positions must give the present leader of the BDP pause for concern and many sleepless nights.
Animus or ad hominem
The argument presented by Khama that the administration suddenly has something against him, something of an animus (hostility or ill feeling) and or ad hominem (an argument or reaction directed a person rather than the position they maintain) is undeniably laughable.
Khama forgets that he ruled the country with a vice grip, together with his friend who is now being ‘denied’ employment. It is more so laughable when the former president uses the fact of his stay in or close to power; ‘40 years ‘ he says describing the length of time his friend Isaac Kgosi spent in government service. And he adds, 40 years of service ‘with distinction’. Now what distinction could he be talking about? Notoriety and impunity and the many cases that would not be tried for as long as Kgosi’s principal was president?
But perhaps the comment is merely directed to reflect how long the two men have stayed at the top of society and political power, the period he and his friend served each other. Why was that so? Because principally they were the patrons of the ruling system. And perhaps no other reason, because certainly they were not the only competent soldiers we have had. It was more the complex web of powerful connections that kept them there. Okay, Ian Khama led the BDP to victory once and to an almost total defeat the second time around. And he was not the first president to win that party an election albeit with ever increasing loss of popular vote.
What however goes beyond all the current jokes is the manner in which the former president is launching his strategy and frontal assault. While during his presidency he disavowed the national media, today he courts it for attention. He is giving interviews left and right and coming through in all those in the media that give the space he so craves now, as conciliatory.
He clearly needs a good PRO to re-launch his political comeback and the media is obliging him with coverage, both in the mainstream publications and social media. His drive for attention has no limit, in a social media clip Ian Khama says he will go to the courts to seek redress and he will even engage the leader of opposition UDC to conduct his defense. Advocate Duma Boko has dismissed this as hogwash. And it is just as well because news of this had become viral by the middle of the week with members of the Front asking themselves whether their leader would go to defend both Ian Khama and Isaac Kgosi.
What then seems to be his greater scheme, is that Ian Khama would not only collapse his own party by fracturing it, but also drag the opposition into the fray. That, as many suspect, might be the ultimate trophy for the former leader. He would have cleared the coast, to leave only himself as a leader with a substantial following. Khama may be dismissed as one who may not give up power. But the consistency with which he daily reminds his audience that he is The Paramount Chief of Bangwato is troublesome.
Each of Botswana’s tribes has a chief even as many would shy away from pronouncing themselves Paramount. But they are chiefs all the same and they do wield considerable influence in their own places. Khama’s beef with Bakgatla ba Ga Kgafela’s paramount chief is still a very sore point in the flesh of many a tribesman. The fact that Kgafela was hounded out of his chiefly office by another chief that doubled as a national president has not yet been forgotten. When he launched against Shaw Kgathi recently in Bobonong, Khama knew he was scratching the scar of an old wound. Shaw Kgathi counts himself as a close scion of the Malema Babirwa chieftaincy, a chieftaincy that has had running battles with the house of Khama.
Khama’s antics would probably be less interesting had it not also been for the fact, Ian Khama’s younger brother, Tshekedi Khama, a man not known for hiding his ambitions had not inadvertently joined the fray. Tshekedi Khama who for a long time was expected to throw in his lot and try his luck for party leadership has now instituted his own legal suit against his party and the party of his father and brother.
The junior Khama is protesting the conduct of the BDP primaries in Serowe where for the first time he has a real challenger. Are these the political machinations of a former president trying to secure a political coat of armour against possible criminal prosecution? For now the general perception is that Sir Seretse Khama’s children are seeking their political inheritance. Is it that simple? Is a polity ever a family property? Time will tell.