Uncovered: The secrets of the Khamas, BDF & Masisi Clash

  • Khamas angry at rampant poaching at their Wilderness tourism business
  • Fed up with ‘useless’ BDF watchdog, Tshekedi volunteers armoury to beef up security
  • Confirms that they invaded BDF territory with arms of war to assist- BDF opposed the intrusion
  • Wildlife director confirms rampant poaching in Wilderness Safaris held arreas
  • Wildlife confirms demanding BDF to up their game
  • Tshekedi, BDF, PSP open up over the big fallout

Skeletons are emerging from the cupboards of the tourism industry, revealing the origins of an ugly war that has led to the unexpected and premature fallout between the former president, Ian Khama, Botswana Defence Force Commander Placid Segokgo and President Mokgweetsi Masisi.


The fallout pre-dates the unceremonious seizure of weapons of war (as defined by the Arms and Ammunitions Act) from the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and its parent Ministry headed by Shaw Kgathi, who reported to President Mokgweetsi Masisi that the Khama brothers, Tshekedi and Ian were using weapons of war to protect their private business interests, precisely Linyanti concessions.
The origins of the feud began when Tshekedi’s anti-poaching personnel invaded Linyanti Concession – under the management of Wilderness Holdings (Linyanti Investments (Proprietary) Limited). The concession, in which former President Ian Khama has an interest, is known for its diverse wildlife, including endangered species and is a key revenue earner for the international safari operator. Investigations by this publication reveal that the justification for the occupation of the concession by the anti-poaching unit was ostensibly to provide further security to supplement that of the BDF, which, the Tourism Ministry and the Khamas felt was lacking owing to the escalation of poaching in the area. The same preferential treatment was extended to another Khama investment- Selinda concession, located 50 Kilometres west of Linyanti Concession where Ian Khama also has a significant stake.
No law currently exists that allows for the tourism ministry to carry out military styled operations with arms or war for any anti-poaching exercise. As previously reported by this publication only the Botswana Defence Force is permitted by statute to carry such weapons and conduct such operations. Director of Wildlife and National Parks, Otisitswe Tiroyamodimo has confirmed to this publication that “the Linyanti and Selinda concessions security are the responsibility of the BDF” and further confirmed that “several poaching activities were taking place at the concessions, especially elephants at Linyanti.”
When pressed on documents uncovered by this publication, Tiroyamodimo confirmed The Botswana Gazette investigations that his department had invaded the Linyanti Concession in what he described as “a decision to beef up security in the area owing to continuous loss of game,” this loss of game, he said prompted the department “to mobilise their weapons of war to the area”.
Information in possession of this publication reveals that at that time it sought to re-enforce the BDF at Linyati, the wildlife para-military unit was warned by the BDF that it had no authority to engage in a military styled campaign. A warning that became the genesis of what later turned into a quarrel which nearly resulted in a regrettable fire exchange between the two militias.
Highly placed sources within the military confirm that the move by the department of wildlife infuriated the command of the BDF, who felt that they were being undermined by the department for invading their area through their unsolicited assistance. The BDF viewed the move as a personalisation of a militia with weapons of war to serve the Khamas’ business interests. Khama owns a 5% stake in Linyanti Investments-a concession which covers 1,250km of the northern Kalahari in the Chobe District. The concession ends in 31 December 2025. According to Wilderness Holdings, Khama purchased the shares “at a market related price” on the 8th October 2002 when he was Vice President of Botswana.
Reached for comment on the arms dispute yesterday, Wilderness Safaris Conservation Manager, Kai Collins said he did not want to get involved in the politics of the matter but responded through an email saying: “It is important that the government departments that are dealing with poaching have the relevant resources to protect the wildlife as well as themselves as the poachers are heavily armed and not afraid to use their weapons to evade arrest.”
Kai Collins stated that: “Poaching of elephants in northern Botswana is a major concern. We are protecting the largest remaining population of savannah elephants in Africa, so we know where the poachers are going to come looking for ivory – within our country’s borders. Elephants, rhinos and other wildlife are the living diamonds of Botswana and support a thriving tourism industry providing the majority of employment for communities living adjacent to wildlife areas.”
In a response to this publication’s questions last week the BDF which has since 1987 played an increasingly prominent role in anti-poaching operations in support of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks said that they “wish to state that the BDF is a professional military whose mandate is to defend Botswana’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and national interests. The Defence Force’s dedication to preserve the faunal resources of this country, which are the backbone of its tourism sector, is evidenced by the significant quantity of equipment and personnel resources engaged in anti-poaching operations,” charged the BDF through its spokesperson-Major Fana Maswabi.
When asked this week about the Linyanti concession saga, the army distanced itself from the event, including being involved in the seizure of arms of war from Tshekedi’s Ministry, which they said, they knew nothing about.
Another source working within the security services reveals that immediately following the Linyanti and Selinda Concessions fracas between the two government militia groups, the BDF and its parent Ministry reported the matter to President Masisi emphasising the need to ‘tame’ Tshekedi before the situation spiralled out of control. A decision was taken to disarm the tourism ministry and seize its weapons of war. The development paralysed the department of Wildlife militia who were, as a result compelled to withdraw from the area.
This publication is in possession of a leaked letter written to the BDF where the Department of Wildlife instructs the BDF “to up their game” and cover a vast area of land to prevent further poaching along border lines. Wildlife director Tiroyamodimo confirmed that they “wrote a letter to the BDF requesting them to widen their scope of coverage.”
In spite of the call by the department of wildlife for the BDF to improve on its operations, highly placed sources within the Ministry of Tourism informed this publication that following the disarmament of the special Rhino Squad last month, three rhinos have been slaughtered in confined and protected game lodges at Tuli Block and Gantsi. Set up in 2014 as a specialised paramilitary protection and intelligence-gathering unit, the ‘Rhino Squad’ was mandated to protect rhinos, which were and are being relocated from poaching hot-spots in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Botswana is widely regarded as a safe haven for wildlife with the rhino population rising to 154 in 2014. At least 25 were relocated between 2015 and 2016. In 2017, 12 out of 100 white rhinos destined for Botswana were airlifted from South Africa to the Okavango Delta.
Apart from the 3 recent killings, reports indicate that one black rhino was confirmed killed by poachers in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan area in February 2015 and one in December 2016 outside Maun.
Wildlife conservationists fear that the disarmament of the tourism anti-poaching unit may have inadvertently opened the door for poachers to invade the once militarized territory. A sentiment shared by both TK and Ian Khama.
Tshekedi speaks…
This publication visited Tshekedi and requested an interview in respect of the withdrawal of weapons of war from his Ministry. During the interview, Tshekedi confirmed that his ministry’s weapons of war have been confiscated.
“I cannot hide it. The automatic weapons have been withdrawn. I was called by Minister Kgathi who informed me that President Masisi wanted to see me whereupon I was informed that a decision has been taken to withdraw all the arms from my ministry as it was not provided for by the law. I respected the President’s decision and I still do today,” Tshekedi said.
Asked why he decided to focus the anti-poaching militia in areas where the Khamas’ have business interests, Tshekedi said that it was not about their business interests as perceived by some, “there are a lot of businesses that side, to me it was about protecting what we have as well as the respect we have earned for our tight security and unforgiving attitude on poachers,” he said.
Tshekedi said he was aware that some people were going around spreading news that he wants to establish an army of his own and that a civil war may arise. “I am not a soldier, I have never been a soldier and I have got no ambitions of being a soldier. If I stir war in Botswana I will be endangering my family, the good people of Botswana, the foundation and legacy of peace founded by my father. In a war nobody is safe including those who have caused it. Those who know me will tell you that I like peace,” he said, adding that what he hates with a passion is a poacher.
“Many people attach these weapons of war to me, but the truth is that the department of wildlife carried these weapons since the tenure of the country’s second president, Sir Ketumile Masire. Why is it an issue now, because it’s a Khama?” Tshekedi challenged.
Asked on the way forward now that weapons of war have been withdrawn, Tshekedi revealed that the he has been promised by the President that the Act will be amended to allow for his Ministry to carry the weapons, “We need them; our poachers are more sophisticated and dangerous now. I do not want to deploy empty handed officers because I never want to go to any family to tell them that your son was killed by a poacher while my children are home safe and enjoying life. We are more vulnerable now, but we will survive because we are working around the clock to find ways to.”
Commenting on the shoot to kill policy, Tshekedi said the policy has always been there even before he came to the ministry. “The only difference was that it was to be effected only at a time of attack but what we realised was that poachers are dangerous and ruthless. They know of their risks and know that it’s a kill or be killed game.”
Tshekedi’s brother, Ian Khama did not respond to our enquiries as his Private Secretary Brigadier George Tlhalerwa surprisingly referred our enquiry to government spokesperson Dr Jeff Ramsay. “Kindly direct all communication to Former President Khama to Dr Ramsay at Office of the President,” he responded through an email.
When reached for comment, Ramsay said the person responsible for the former president Khama is Tlhalerwa.
Where did Tshekedi’s weapons of war go….?
Unconfirmed reports from within the military indicate that the weapons of war withdrawn from Tshekedi are currently in the “wrong hands” and in the care of civilians. At the time that they were confiscated from Tshekedi’s ministry it was widely believed that the operation was performed by members of the BDF but the BDF has since distanced themselves from the weapons saying they do not know anything concerning the weapons, their nature and whereabouts. It remains unclear as to which arm of government conducted the clandestine operation and under whose custody the weapons are now registered.
The Permanent Secretary to the President, Cater Morupisi informed this publication that “the withdrawn weapons of war from Tshekedi’s Ministry have been taken to the national armoury.” He could however not say under which department, saying such information is a security issue. An armoury is a secure place for the storage of weapons but the concern at the BDF is that all weapons of war are held under the BDF and nobody else. The BDF reiterated to this publication that they have neither received weapons of war from any government agency nor been informed that such weapons were seized.
When specifically called upon by this publications to account for the whereabouts of the military equipment seized from the department of wildlife, the BDF Spokesperson, Major Fana Maswabi confirmed information gathered by the Botswana Gazette, “we are not aware of any withdrawal of weapons of war from the Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism.”
The BDF’s response suggests that the army was not involved in the process of seizing the weapons and this confusion as to their whereabouts, sources within government reveal has given rise to suspicion both within and outside military that is fermenting a cauldron of mistrust between senior members of government, the military and the security apparatus.
Khama banned from flying BDF Planes
In May this year the BDF issued an order to its air wing advising commanders of squadron to prevent former President Ian Khama from flying army aircraft.
According to the savingram signed by the Air Arm Commander, Major General Phatshwane partly reads: “With the retirement of the former president Lt Gen Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama you are informed that he is no more allowed to fly any BDF aircraft as crew.”
The order titled “Air Arm Command operation standing order No 2 of 2018” further states that “When flying the former President, you are required to accord him VIP status and crew should be as per Airstaff Instructions (ASI).”
The leaking of a BDF savingram to the media, an unusual occurrence at the best of times, was perceived by government sources as a public castigation of the former president, curtailing his wings further.
The development came after the Directorate of Intelligence Services Brigadier Magosi confirmed to this publication that it is true that they have cut Khama’s security detail after it was realised that they were more than what they were supposed to be. He further said they had learnt that they were more than former president Festus Mogae’s. Kgathi did not take our calls at the time of going to press