SEROWE: In an interesting development, former president Ian Khama has advocated for the disbanding of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) and its sister spy organisation, Military Intelligence (MI).
Khama, who during his tenure introduced the DIS, and seemed to thrive on its services when in some quarters the nation cried foul about its extrajudicial killings, is certainly the last man to complain about the spy agencies.
The DIS in particular was Khama’s favourite organisation and the former president was reportedly obsessed with its services.
Secondly, during his tenure as State president, Khama had appointed his blue-eyed boy and deposed spy agency chief, Isaac Kgosi as the pioneering helmsman who today is facing allegations of corruption charges and others.
Now that Khama is no longer the State president, he told a tribal meeting he had called in GammaNgwato capital, Serowe last weekend that some ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) legislators had approached him and assured him that they will use their powers in Parliament to close the two targeted government departments.
Employees of these two departments, according to Khama will then be spread across other government departments.
“The current President Mokgweetsi Masisi-led regime is using these departments to serve its own interests. Yes, the departments are no longer serving this nation as they now serve an individual against the interests of this nation,” Khama parroted similar accusations that were apparently levelled against his government when he was in office. The grand plan according to Khama, “no State president should utilise the services of the intelligence agencies in future as they continue to unleash terror upon the people.”
He cried foul: “We formed these two departments thinking that they will work diligently and serve this nation and not serve the interests of the President. Because the departments are now out of order. Since I am a former president I am fully aware how these departments function.”
He feared that if the two departments could continue to do as they are doing, without specifying, “Botswana’s human rights record will deteriorate to the levels of Sudan, Libya and Zimbabwe amongst the known dictatorships.”
He told the Serowe meeting last weekend that immediately after his address, the Masisi-led regime and its two departments were likely to intensify their harassment on him and people close to him.
University of Botswana (UB) lecturer of political and administrative studies, Adam Mfundisi concurs that the DIS can be disbanded as they did in Chile after brutal operations against citizens by the secret service there.
He however, points out that the argument could be why Khama is agitating for the dismantling of the DIS now when he knows the spy outfit is one symbol of his legacy in the political landscape of Botswana. To him, “One can argue that the former president has realised after 10 years that the formation of the DIS was not well thought out. The cult of intelligence has raised serious doubts about its unviability in Botswana.” But, to Mfundisi, the answer is neither here nor there.
“The DIS replaced Security Intelligence Services (SIS) which was an offshoot of the Special Branch (SB). State security was in the hands of the SIS or SB before 2008, which comprised police operatives and engaged in protecting national assets and political espionage,” he posits.
The DIS was created to have strategic objectives going beyond the traditional mandate of the SB or SIS. It was now a national intelligence service gathering intelligence internationally as well as externally.
As a brainchild of Khama its other objective was to protect his administration through intelligence gathering of his opponents and taking action against them. It covered areas previously undertaken by other security agencies, for example, the MI, Police, Wild life, to mention a few. “Overlapping of functions and objectives led to covert tensions amongst the security apparatus. Now, after handing over the DIS to the new administration, it
Mfundisi further posits that Khama has realised that the DIS no longer served national interests as envisaged in its inception but serves the interests of the governing elite.
It has become a dilemma to the nation as it is used to protect the interests of the President as the Executive.
“We have witnessed something that is anomaly where the head of the DIS has become the chief bodyguard of the President forgoing his strategic role in the organisation. It seems he does not trust his charges to execute the safety and wellbeing of the President,” the UB don analyses.
Why is Khama doubtful of the essence of the DIS?
Mfundisi thinks journalists need to probe Khama further as he may have inside information on the issue of dismantling the DIS which symbolises his reign in power. “The DIS and the MI are two twin intelligence organisations. DIS for national security and MI for military security. There are overlappings in their operational duties and mandates. I might be wrong to say DIS can be dismantled but MI cannot because the military will become weak without an intelligence gathering structure for its domestic and external operations,” emphasided the UB don.
But personally, Mfundisi holds a strong view that both are essential for national defence and security of the country indicating that there is need for major reforms of these institutions as otherwise; people will lose interest and trust on them if they engage in illicit operations.
“Both must not be used for political purposes because that would pollute their professionalism,” he quips emphasising that the DIS must recruit intelligent people and desist from recruiting solely from the military. It must diversify its recruitment and selection processes.
Does Botswana need intelligence organisations?
“To me the answer is yes. But, we need them to do national duties not partisan politics. They must not owe their allegiance to an individual but to the Constitution and people. They must safeguard national interests and not personal interests. They must adhere to ethics and accountability standards. We need strong oversight bodies that are not partisan,” he concludes.
Another UB academic, senior lecturer in politics, Dr. Kebapetse Lotshwao says it’s important to note that most countries, if not all countries have intelligence services.
The UB don is adamant that intelligence agencies are part of an institutional framework of every functional state. They perform specific functions that enhance national security and protect national interest by providing information to other state institutions and policy-makers.
“The important thing, is to curb abuse of power by these institutions by strengthening oversight over them,” he explains and highlighted that in light of the fact that every country needs intelligence services, Khama is wrong to suggest that the DIS and the MI should be dismantled.
His take is that if the institutions have defects, such should be addressed. He wonders why such institutions were not dismantled during his presidency when they engaged in bad governance practices like extra judicial killings and corruption.
Lotshwao has a strong feeling that Khama’s views are driven by bitterness that he has lost control of the State and all its institutions, including intelligence services, “and because he has lost control, he can no longer use such institutions to advance his narrow interests.”