With the facts of President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s business interests and the people he chooses as business associates coming to light, it is becoming increasingly difficult to convince anyone that Botswana’s first citizen is not protecting his associates at the expense of the entire nation, especially indigenous Batswana in the business sector whom he undertook to uplift. Staff Writer LETLHOGILE MPUANG looks at what looks like betrayal on a mammoth scale.
In November 2017, a group of indigenous Batswana entrepreneurs convened for a meet-and-greet session with Mokgweetsi Masisi when he was still vice president. The meeting was held at a residence owned by former investment banker, Boiki Tema, in Gaborone. An important purpose of the gathering that was of particular interest to Masisi was to source donations for the 2019 general elections. Some of the attendees of the meeting claim that Masisi expressed great pleasure in seeing how this group of indigenous entrepreneurs had built successful businesses over the years. It is said that he made an undertaking to them that he would end the dominance of non-indigenous Batswana in the economy and fully support what he termed “Batswana Ba Sekei”
The second installment of that meeting was held in February 2018, just a few months before Masisi ascended to the presidency, at one of the residences of Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) treasurer, Satar Dada, in Gaborone Central. Masisi is said to have reassured the same group of indigenous entrepreneurs that “good times” lay ahead of them. Dada and construction mogul Nicolas Zackhem were the only two non-indigenous entrepreneurs at that gathering.
In the run-up to the 2019 general elections, President Masisi’s administration launched what was styled a ‘clean-up’ campaign into the corruption that had characterised the government of his predecessor, Ian Khama. Spy chief Isaac Kgosi had been fired and replaced with Peter Magosi in May 2018. Soon after, a series of corruption investigations were launched on Kgosi. A total of 10 companies and individuals were raided by the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DISS) for their (possible) association with the disgraced founding head of Botswana secret service, Kgosi. Bash Carriers (Pty) Ltd, International Aviation Solutions (Pty) Ltd, Defence Concepts (Pty) Ltd, Bango Trading (Pty) Ltd and Asphalt Botswana (Pty) Ltd were some of the companies that came under scrutiny, as did Shathani July, Otshegeditse Basiami, Thatayaone Seduke, Tshepo Sebina, Moffat James, John Little and Welheminah Maswabi, who became people of interest to law enforcement.
The Botswana Gazette has it on good authority that some of these individuals and companies that were raided by DISS in February 2019 were represented at these two meet-and-greet sessions with Masisi. Property belonging to some of these companies that was seized has been returned. However, some of these Batswana owned businesses subsequently failed to recover from the effects of the raids and have since shut down.
DID RAM BUY IMMUNITY FROM MASISI?
The spirit and direction of the DISS raids on Kgosi’s associates were undoutedly targeting Kgosi’s links and business associates. Inspite of that, some within the circles are complaining that wealthy businessman, Choppies CEO Ramachandran Ottapathu, was never questioned or even visited when his dealings with Kgosi were well known. CIPA records have shown that President Masisi holds a stake in at least 10 companies with powerful businessmen of Indian origin, including the controversial Choppies CEO, who is better known as Ram. Acree, a business owned by Masisi and Ram, has benefitted several millions of pula between 2017 and 2019. Although, these deals remain legal, observers say this relationship makes Masisi’s business partners untouchable. The late former president Sir Ketumile Masire termed the practice buying influence.
It is public knowledge that while in public office, Kgosi conducted several business deals with Ram and Choppies. In September 2011, Kgosi was issued a Choppies share certificate. Reports in 2014 alleged that the shares grew to P17 million at the time. The shares were given to Kgosi as a gift. Reports also suggest that there were other businesses that Ram and Kgosi co-owned. Furthermore, Ram and his other business partner, Farouk Ismail, have deposed affidavits in court in support of Kgosi against his alleged P10 million tax bill. “The link between the two is unquestionable and it is even stated in official records,” said a source close to these dealings.
In spite of that, Ram has confirmed that he was never questioned by any of the investigating agencies for possible links to Kgosi’s alleged corruption. DISS spokesman Edward Robert says he cannot divulge any information in relation to the Kgosi investigations. According to the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crimes (DCEC), DISS was the lead investigating agency in these investiagtions.