The cost of Masisi, Khama fallout!

Despite assurances to the contrary, let us face the reality: all is not well between the former President Ian Khama and President Mokgweetsi Masisi. While Masisi has been a loyal servant and ‘boot-licker’ to Khama, the latter appears to accept the reversal of the once servant- Master relationship.
Staff writer Tefo Pheage explores the relationship between the two men and argues that the duo’s transfer of power although initially smooth is the first truly controversial and confrontational transition in our history. History will reflect that should the ongoing tensions persist, Masisi and the ruling party will feel the pinch more than as it may be the case in neighbouring Zimbabwe and South Africa, where popular former presidents are currently at odds with their former deputies who are currently in power.
It is public knowledge that the peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next has been a hallmark of Botswana’s democracy. To populations living under dictatorships, such transfers of power in Botswana have demonstrated the virtues of self-governance and any embellishment to this legacy will surely do the nation and continent an injustice.
Sources within the intelligence community warn that never before in the country’s history has a president and the former head of state spied on each other in the manner of Khama and Masisi, while political veteran Michael Dingake adds an additional warning that Khama won’t give in “as he has been a soldier who never fought any real war and has therefore never experienced surrender.”
The question perhaps is: Was Khama ever ready to completely relinquish the reins of power and how prepared was he for a life away from all power?
As captured in the words of the 19th century British politician Lord Acton, “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This proverbial saying we are told conveys the opinion that, as a person’s power increases, their moral sense diminishes.
Power is often defined as the ability to make someone do what he would otherwise not do. For most of his life, Khama has been a commander of an army, a large and powerful tribe and an irksomely submissive nation. Those who served at the barracks say the Khama persona was so strong that even the self assured late vice president, Mompati Merafhe in his days as the army commander defied protocol and referred to junior Khama as ‘Monngame’ (my senior). A subservience that can be traced back to the powerful Khama dynasty, from which Merafhe was a tribal subject.
On April 1st, 2018 the nation and the world witnessed yet another transition of power in Botswana as dictated by the constitution through the automatic succession clause. Both Khama and Masisi have portrayed it as a smooth transition and so as many of us believed it to be. They posed for photographers and pledged their full cooperation in transferring the reins of government; nobody anticipated an imminent fallout, for that would have been unheard of in this small nation’s political history.
Presidential transitions are complicated and can be dangerous if mismanaged. It is not only in Botswana where theories and gestures of mistrust are taking centre stage. In the neighbouring Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa nearly lost his life last-month following an assassination attempt – a plot he associates with the former regime of Robert Mugabe. At home, Masisi disarmed Ian Khama’s brother-Tshekedi’s Ministry of weapons of war which were seen as open to abuse and a potential threat to national security. The move was clearly a sign of the mistrust that prevails though both factions. Reports that stashes of weapons were discovered and removed from Khama’s home in Mosu have been denied by Masisi. Masisi has despite the denials of weapons being seized at Mosu, stood firm at a recent press conference marking his 100 days in office and called on his detractors “to bring it on if they so wish.”
It is not only in Botswana or Zimbabwe where the former president is visibly at war with the incumbent. In South Africa, former president Jacob Zuma is also not on good terms with his successor after he was unceremoniously deposed. Zuma has vowed to fight back by forming a new party aimed at destabilizing the African National Congress- his lifelong party.
In Botswana there are already talks doing the rounds that Khama also wants the ruling party chairmanship, a move which the party Secretary General, Mpho Balopi says while constitutional, the move would be will be going against the party’s long-standing tradition, which considers it taboo for a former president and father-figure to be embroiled in divisive party politics.
Khama is still a popular figure, perhaps more so than Masisi within the BDP, as evidenced by a recent thunderous ovation he received upon his arrival at the recent party national congress where he also made a financial pledge to the party. Should Khama persist with the intention of contesting, assemble his team, Masisi and the BDP may be the biggest losers just, as it may be in South Africa where Zuma is still popular.
The retirement by Khama was viewed with caution by his arch-rivals, who had observed that he may seek to cling to power though means outside of the national constitution. Some of those critics may now feel vindicated following his overtures to run for BDP chairmanship and the resultant bickering with his former deputy, to whom he had promised unwavering support.
It is a new and unexpected fallout between the former friends who have for years applied the see-no evil-hear-no evil principle to each other. It seems the cordial relationship was all a façade and we are reminded of Khama’s favourite line, “politics is a dirty game”.
Political veteran, who has lived under all the previous presidential dispensations, Michael Dingake’s views on the political fallout, is that Khama didn’t expect Masisi could be his own man, ruthless to a fault.
“It should be a lesson to Khama, if you look around and read political history, I know Ian doesn’t read, perhaps he reads only about Napoleon Bonaparte, but the classic example of not taking bootlicking subordinates for granted, is etched boldly in the USSR history between Josef Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev. Nikita strongly denounced Stalinism after the death of Stalin, and when a delegate challenged him at the 20th Congress that he, Nikita was part of Stalin’s reign of terror, he admitted that they all feared Stalin!,” Dingake told this publication, “Look how the new Angolan president is attacking the nepotism and other corrupt practices of Eduardo dos Santos! Juniors under autocrats don’t necessarily share the autocracy of their seniors.”
“Khama of course wasn’t ready for the fallout; how could he, when he favoured Sisiboy above his own brother and other yes-men? It’s a shock to him! Moreover someone like Khama, born with a silver spoon in the mouth, palace residence, servants at every nook and cranny of the palace, second in command of the army at a tender age of 24, BDF commander, VP of the Republic a day after retiring from the army, calling in the presidency on arrival to grant sabbatical leave, flying BDF helicopters with permission of a captured president,” Dingake said, further adding that this is the background of a high flying African big man.
Dingake says he doesn’t remember any confrontations between Masire – Mogae and adds that theirs was a civil post-presidential relationship, a view that is supported by Masire’s long-time Private Secretary Bergsman Sentle who says he doesn’t remember any confrontations between Masire and Mogae following the former’s retirement.
Sentle says “as you may know Masire was an obedient and simple leader and I do not remember any day he wanted access to things that were beyond his entitlements.” He adds that “if there were such requests made to Mogae, they did not go through me as his private Secretary but all I know is that their relationship was very cordial to the end of Masire ‘s days.” He says they held meetings together and visited each other on a regular basis even after they had both left office.
Mogae did not want to be drawn into the matter when called to share his views by this publication saying he is quite busy currently and would not want to engage on the matter. He has, in the past been an unapologetic critic of Khama and his way of doing things and has been on Khama’s neck throughout his presidency. Unlike Khama and Masisi’s current relation, Mogae was his own man doing his own things. There were however reports that he used to clash with Khama when he frustrated some of his international business friends. Like Masisi, Khama was picked by Mogae ahead of many who felt they were more deserving. But like Mogae, Khama snubbed those who felt entitled to the position for a man he would later see as an irredeemable mistake. Mogae, unlike Khama kept out of party politics.
Dingake says Khama has reason to be worried for he doesn’t know what is to follow. “But of course, he won’t give in, he has been a soldier who never fought any real war and has therefore never experienced surrender,” concludes Dingake.
While Masisi is evidently fighting for political survival, Khama is probably livid that his interests are being crushed by a man who rose to power and stardom through his hand and mercy.
Khama has been banned from flying official planes which he used to fly at will, his sidekick -Isaac Kgosi was unceremoniously dismissed from the Directorate of Intelligence services-then the most powerful post in the country. Khama was obviously hoping to rely on him to keep tabs on government affairs and protect their interests. Khama’s security detail was cut by almost half and he is currently entrenched in another war to save his controversial airstrip which feeds his tourism interests, despite having undertaken to return the airstrips control to CAAB.
All the above, among the other interventions by Masisi make this transfer of power the first ever truly controversial one in the history of the nation. Botswana does not have a history of contentious handoffs and this ruptured friendship between these two statesmen heralds a new dawn in a nation known for its peace and stability.
The nation is undoubtedly still trying to adjust to the turbulence of a new administration. Its efforts to downplay the fallout are proving to be politically expensive owing to the continuity in the confrontations. Khama currently does not have a Private Secretary, whose role is pivotal in the life and schedule of the former president. The presidency has ruled out Kgosi as replacement of former Secretary Brigadier George Tlhalerwa who resigned last month-perhaps to take a breath of fresh air and enjoy his hard earned package. To date nobody knows Khama’s contact person but its business as usual.
A highly placed source within government enclave says something went wrong between the incumbent and the incoming in the final days of the previous administration, that we are not privy to. “Forget the photoshoots, handshakes and pledges. Statesmen don’t vent out their bitterness in public. Nowadays it is customary for the outgoing and incoming presidents to pose for photographers and pledge their full cooperation in transferring the reins of government. The truth will come to you reporters and historians one day,” he said.
The world over, where the president has been succeeded by his vice or another member of his party a friendly relationship exists. Where and when the president of one party is followed by a president of another the situation is markedly different, one needs only to look at Obama and Trump.
It is important to note that transitions have varied challenges, when there is a change of party, few political appointees of the outgoing administration expect to remain in their posts. President George Bush of America sent a letter to those he appointed, reminding them that, unless the new administration indicated otherwise, their employment terminated with the end of his term. Everywhere in the world every president built his legacy the way he wants it to be and this includes deciding whom they wish to serve and what needs to go in their administration.