Ian Khama’s mysterious rise to presidency

An envoy’s letter tells a tale of undue pressure that Ian Khama has always exerted on the system from very early on. If the author’s narrative is anything to go by about Festus Mogae’s opinion that young Ian indeed pressured his mother to exert undue influence on her husband, then President Seretse Khama, that he Ian should have a military unit formed for his own pleasure, and that came to pass, Ian has always had his way much more than most realize, writes BOTSWANA GAZETTE REPORTER

Broadly thinking, this now begs the question: Why or how did Ian Khama go for military training in Sandhurst in 1972 in the first place? Was Seretse Khama’s formation of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) a pre-planned Khama family undertaking, considering the fact that Parliament only passed the BDF Act in 1977 that saw formation on the army in April 1977? Before enactment of the BDF Act, a paramilitary division, the Police Mobile Unit, was in existence. Why wasn’t the young Ian sent to a police academy in 1972?

In his January 16, 1981 letter, a certain Willi(am) Turner penned a letter under the office of the British High Commission’s Gaborone office to a Mr Micheal J. Long of SAfD, FCO, titled Botswana Defence Force. In the opening paragraph, Turner writes of his visit to the Governor of the Bank of Botswana. “I made my first call on the new Governor of the Bank of Botswana, a very bright and able young Motswana called Festus Mogae.” The author goes on to mention that this visit was immediately after Mogae had returned from a four-year stint with the IMF. Turners writes of how Mogae said he was “appalled at the setting up of the BDF” in view of the economic scene since he left for Washington. Mogae had always opposed it and told Turner of how, when he (Mogae) was due to leave for Washington, Ian Khama had commented to him that it was “good riddance” for Botswana because now the BDF would be set up.

The writer continues that Mogae confirmed to him that he had always believed that the BDF was set up solely because of Ian Khama’s pressure, through his mother, exerted on the late President Seretse Khama, Ian’s father.

The author continues to say that Mogae had commented to him that “the BDF is now a monster, absorbing more of the national wealth than could be afforded and diverting funds from worthwhile projects”. Turner’s letter narrates further how the then ailing president Seretse overruled his vice president Ketumile Masire and the Cabinet and basically gave Ian Khama everything he wanted. In the letter, Mogae opined to the author that in the subsequent era, the only enemy to the BDF was President Masire and then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Baledzi Gaolathe.

This revelation puts paid the question of the Khama-Gaolathe enmity and explains why as president Ian found it fit to eject Gaolathe, then finance minister, from his executive while Gaolathe was on his deathbed. It also explains why Ian, in his eulogy at Masire’s funeral, never spoke about his personal relationship with Masire but instead chose to use the occasion to quiz and tease the likes of Daniel Kwelagobe about a crossroads.

Fast forward to 1998 and the Mogae presidency after Masire, and Mogae invites none other than his erstwhile nemesis, Ian Khama, to become vice president. This was an odd turn of events, looking at these men’s past relations. Subsequent newspaper reports stated that the BDP sought the services of a political guru, Lawrence Schlemmer, who recommended that someone from outside the party be brought on board to quell the warring factions of the ruling party then. It is suggested that that was when President Festus Mogae decided to pluck Ian Khama from the BDF into vortex of power as vice president and someone to whom everyone looked for solutions to problems, primarily those ravaging the ruling party.

But this is just one dimension of the story. The autobiography of David Magang, “The Magic of Perseverance,” paints a totally different picture that shows that Ian Khama’s ascension to the presidency was long coming and planned far earlier than Batswana have been made to believe. In the book, Magang narrates how as the Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Affairs in 1983, he was approached by an executive of the American State Department (foreign affairs) Washington, about Ian Khama’s impending ascension to the presidency. “We hear Ian Khama is to resign from the army to take over as President of Botswana.” Magang quotes the official as having said. “The country must be agog with excitement, isn’t it?”

Magang notes how the official had gone on to narrate how the white community in Botswana, particularly the De Beers top brass, were known to be crooning for a Khama presidency. The real estate tycoon narrates that four days upon his return from this trip, at a function of then Managing Director of the Botswana Development Corporation, Ralphs Stevens, at which Bank of Botswana governor Quill Hermans and other expatriate government officials were in attendance, the matter of Ian Khama’s ascension to the presidency became topical, again. Magang writes of how Ian’s mother, Lady Ruth Khama, confronted Magang’s son Lesang and later himself personally about their seemingly opposed position to her son Ian’s ascendency to the presidency.
This chronicle blows the fish out of the water and negates the current storyline, as we know it, of Schlemmer’s recommendations. A rather interesting part of this storyline is the De Beers position. Magang mentions that one of the few people that he is aware of as having recommended Ian to Mogae was De Beers top executive Louis Nchindo. The 1983 comment of the American State Department official of De Beers top brass rooting for a Khama presidency and Nchindo’s recommendation in 1997/8 go a long way in showing that De Beers has always been an influential behind-the-scenes power broker in Botswana’s political discourse.

The obvious question is what is in it for them, and pointedly the giant company’s interest in an Ian Khama presidency? The obvious answers to these questions make no surprise at all that in subsequent years, we see Khama’s former brother-in-law, John te Haar, a Belgian, become Chairman of Ian’s Economic Advisory Council. Remember that Belgium is the diamond transaction hub of the world where De Beers trades primarily. It also comes as no surprise that De Beers Group Chief Executive Officer, Gareth Penny, took Ian Khama’s nephew, Marcus ter Haar, under his tutelage as his Personal Assistant at some point. De Beers are co-owners of Debswana with the Government of Botswana. Marcus ter Haar, who is the son of Ian’s elder sister Jacqueline, is currently Managing Director of Okavango Diamond Company (ODC), which is wholly owned by the Government of the Republic of Botswana and charged with the marketing and selling of Botswana’s diamonds. According to the ODC website, the company sells P5 billion worth of diamonds every year.

In his book, Magang writes that whereas he is sure that while Mogae sought the advice of national elders and/or friends regarding Ian, Masire was not one of them. Magang mentions an incident in Molepolole in December 1999 where Masire told him (Magang) that he had quizzed both Mogae and Ian about the wisdom of Ian ascending to the executive. The same tension the nation witnessed when Ian vehemently refused the elders’ advice from Masire, Mogae and other BDP party veterans on the Motswaledi-Ian Khama impasse, let alone give them the courtesy of an audience!

The highlight of the Ian Khama-Masire discord was very much evident at Masire’s funeral. But in his entire eulogy, Ian said everything but that. In avoiding to tell a nation that can be forgiven for having regarded Masire Ian’s second father, Masire having been a alongside Seretse and subsequently Seretse’s trusted vice president, Ian became transparent as an ogre than he intended.
In the end, the million pula question lingers, why did President Mogae, with his animosity for Ian spanning decades, and given the position of party elders like Masire who equally detested Ian’s ascendency, choose Ian for the vice presidency and thus paving Ian’s way to the highest office in the land? After all, the BDP of the day had other – even superior – candidates who could have made the grade. For instance, Magang was in his 60s and willing to take the baton. Which leaves us with the question: What is it that we don’t know as a nation?