Former President Ian Khama’s interview on SABC on Saturday March 9, 2019 was notable for the perception Khama has of his own magnanimity and that of the majority of urban Batswana. For Khama, Botswana has certainly gone backwards, as he claimed in the interview, but only because President Mokgweetsi Masisi is advancing his own agenda.
It is interesting to hear Khama speaking of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) being in shambles and that the turmoil in the party is a result of its undemocratic leadership, unaccepting of a challenger. It is interesting because Khama was brought in to politics in 1998 to unite a fragmented and factional BDP.
For Khama, the continued factionalism in the ruling party is not a sign of his own failure and the failure of the anti-democratic Automatic Succession which was introduced to steer his ascendancy to the country’s highest office, but rather the fault of President Masisi. Khama, has shown and owned in his 30-minute airing on SABC how manganous he thought he was as opposed to the autocrat he became.
Khama tried to speak eloquently on democracy but his understanding of it is synonymous with the thinking of royalty and hereditary entitlement. His interview is replete with “I selected Masisi,” “I thought he thought like me, which is why he was a good choice”, “We thought the same”. The mentality of leadership that has nothing to do with democracy but a sense of entitlement. Khama is so narcissistic as to publicly claim that he wants Masisi to “be the person I thought he was”, and all the while doing so on a platform, he so despised while he held office, the fourth estate and the pillar of any democratic dispensation.
Autocracy, kleptocracy, cronyism and fear were synonymous with Ian Khama at the end of his reign. For Khama to claim that “Masisi not doing good enough job (sic)” which is why he is the first president to face internal opposition is laughable. It may well be that it is because Masisi, unlike Khama has allowed internal dissent to find a voice. It may well be too that in allowing such dissent Masisi would object to it being under the auspices of a former president seeking to circumvent the national constitution and the 10 year term limit as President.
For Khama this is moving backwards as a nation and his entitlement to rule his pastoral estate from his questionably acquired Mosu home. Should we forget the his then private secretary Isaac Kgosi (later the Director General of intelligence services) attended Landboard hearings on the allocation? Should we forget that public funds were subverted from the BDF, that now claims it was unaware that the land was Khama’s personal property, to build a private airstrip?
Khama came to political office proclaiming his four and subsequently five Ds, he touted himself as a true democrat and anti-corruption champion. He flouted the former and compounded the latter. Using the power of the constitution as regressively as he could Khama tried to block judges from being appointed and argued that such power vested only in the presidency. Under Khama, the Attorney General had the gall to argue that the LGBTI community did not fit the constitutional definition of “persons” and that ARV treatment should be denied to fellow human beings.
Least we forget that under Khama, dissent was met with an immediate prohibited immigrant status, on a local level tender vanished and money became the key political currency, not ideology. Foreigners were deported en-masse, and Khama’s decision could not be challenged.
Gomolemo Motswaledi was expelled from the BDP, and when he challenged his expulsion Khama invoked an even more regressive interpretation of the presidential immunity than had never been previously adopted. Masisi has not expelled those who criticise him. But for Khama this is Botswana going backwards.
Our courts have repeatedly condemned bringing accused to court before investigations are complete, yet for Khama, the privilege of high office means that you should not be arrested. There is no justice for all for Khama, rather the people’s justice and the elite’s justice, and by elite one must understand that as those that support his views and way of thinking. Khama condemned his personal friend and confidante’s arrest in public claiming that a “High profile arrest means you have got something on that person; but 2 months later and they have not been charged,” but of course Khama does not see this as a proper democratic advance and a rest for the rights of others, he sees it as a personal attack and an infringement of his friends’ rights; a friend who informed the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee that “he was answerable to no one”.
“This is now a kind of situation we are going through in the country, which we have never seen before. I’m not really concerned about myself and family, but the country. The 10 years as president and 10 years as vice president before that was for me an investment in ensuring that I move the country up the ladder, and to see that now starting to come apart we just can’t allow that to happen, by any means,” Khama told the SABC, oblivious to the autocratic tenure of his statement so replete with I and without defining the “we” who can not allow Masisi to move Botswana backwards into the awaiting arms of the anarchist “democracy”.
Khama went on to claim that “When I was in office, I used to fashion and consider myself a humanist and a conservationist and I care very much about the welfare of people, the environment and all forms of wildlife and I said I want to continue in that role even afterwards…” without regard to the true meaning of “Humanism”, his philosophical moralising guided not by empirical evidence but his own assertions of his grandiosity and misguided benevolence.
“It’s just a bit strange that someone who worked with you, who supported you and agreed with you on the things that you were doing would do this about-face. He’s the president now, he can introduce whatever policies he likes, but one feels a bit hurt and put out that what we spent many years building and the successes we have had… and as a democracy, to see that starting to go into reverse, that is something one just can’t sit by and let it happen.” Khama lamented to SABC forgetting that under his regime Botswana steadily and progressively fell in international ratings on rule of law, media freedom, corruption and human rights. Do we forget or choose to ignore that fact that under Khama the disparity between the rich and the poor grew even more disproportionately than under his father, Masire and Mogae combined?
But Khama’s hypocrisy knows no bounds, in March 2018, a mere one year ago Khama toured the country soliciting for retirement gifts, he claimed that he had chosen the future president, Masisi “…because he is a very intelligent person. He is an expert in governance, a politician of note and he is a cultural expert. He knows Botswana’s traditions, cultures and everything. He is knowledgeable. Since working with him he has never disappointed me, not even once.” Such character traits are not reversed because someone has taken an opposing view.
The SABC interview however is most notable for Khama’s attack on Botswana’s foreign policy under Masisi. August 2018 Masisi became Botswana’s first president to visit China in an official capacity since president Festus Mogae’s visit in 2006. Masisi has made known his overtures to the Chinese government in the hope of gaining much needed direct foreign investment. This is a policy decision that is within the sole ambit of Masisi’s administration. In one interview Khama sought to undermine that policy and threaten Masisi’s economic aspirations.
Khama attacked the lack of democracy in China, the Chinese position in the South China Seas and China’s human rights violations with particular reference to the Dalai Lama. But China has its own form of democracy, it has a territorial claim to the South China Seas and views the Dalai Lama as a separatist rebel leader. Back home, Khama would certainly not have allowed anyone to call for the cessation of any province, save for the heavy handed treatment of refugees he kept imprisoned in Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants.
It is interesting to note that Khama, groomed in a colonial military school who claims Masisi is a cultural expert fails to appreciate that China understands democracy more along the lines of Africa’s own philosophical communal ideals in Botho than the West. China is far from perfect but its ideas on democracy are undeniably different from the just as flawed western systems we have embraced. China perceives the purpose of promoting democracy to advance political development, concentrate resources on accomplishing larger goals, deal with greater challenges and address people’s concerns, China perceives the community as having greater significance than the individual, much as Botho, and certainly more than the former colonial power’s ideal of western liberalism and Thatcher and Reagan’s neoliberalism which Khama so unrepentantly implemented.
But one of the key considerations of democracy and democratic change of power is that former presidents ought to fade into the local political sunset and focus on anything other than their successors success or failure. Masisi will be judged by the electorate come April and October. If he falls let it be on his own terms and not because some former quasi failed tyrant seeks to dictate what is good for Botswana at home and abroad. Khama, you forget we have known you for 20 years; you can not keep playing us for illiterate povo forever.