It has been 11 months now since it has been talk and no action between President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his predecessor, Ian Khama. Why has it seemingly been difficult for the two to meet and resolve their differences amicably? Lately, Khama has taken shared his troubles with the Masisi administration across the borders perhaps in endeavour to seek sympathy on the global stage. Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE finds out why the feud between the two took so long to peter out
FRANCISTOWN: There is definitely more than meets the eye between Masisi and Khama. Their fighting cannot just stop. Week in and week out the former allies clash over a number of issues.
Equally, the supporters of the two statesmen have known no peace, more so that Khama has thrown his weight behind Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi who has broken party protocols to challenge Masisi for party presidency next month.
Venson-Moitoi was minister of Local Government and Rural Development until she declared her interest last year to challenge Masisi against the norm of automatic succession.
The ex-president has since declared his support for Venson-Moitoi in the not so cordial campaigns for the BDP presidency.
Within our shores, Khama’s cousin, ormer Cabinet minister, Ramadeluka Seretse made an effort to reconcile Khama and Masisi last year and the efforts failed, recent reports have suggested.
Party elders, former president Festus Mogae, former vice president Ponatshego Kedikilwe, former Cabinet ministers David Magang and Patrick Balopi and others tried their luck without much success.
Namibian online publication New Era Live reported recently that the Namibian President and Southern African Development Community (SDAC) chairperson, Hage Geingob recently met Khama to get his side of the story.
When Geingob paid a familiarisation tour recently, Khama was invited to attend a meeting at the SADC headquarters in Gaborone.
Resultantly Khama was quoted as saying: “He asked to see me so I can give my side of the story”. He even added: “He expressed concern as a neighbour, as the chairperson of the SADC and as the President in the region. He expressed concern (about Botswana) precisely because of what we have been saying: That this is not what we expected of Botswana”.
With all the incessant experiences and hardened attitudes, what is the source of Khama/Masisi political bickering?
University of Botswana (UB) senior lecturer in politics, Dr. Kebapetse Lotshwao says although Masisi and his predecessor Khama have not disclosed the source of their differences, “I think the main factor behind their differences is the control of the State. In Africa, as in some other developing countries where the private sector is weak, the State is the source of power”.
The control of the State allows one to keep political and business opponents at bay, says the UB don adding that, “for over 10 years, if not more, Khama controlled the Botswana State. Him, his family and their associates accumulated wealth through the control of the State.”
However, when Masisi took over, Lotshwao says he introduced some reforms, for instance, the President wants to open the tourism industry to locals. These reforms are threatening Khama’s interests and those of his family and associates.
Since his interests are under threat, it’s natural for him to try and fight back, hoping to defeat Masisi, impose a more compliant leader in his place and thus preserve his interests.
However, in recent interviews and political meetings, Khama had claimed that his hands are clean and was not guilty of any wrongdoing.
Besides the control of the State, Khama’s resolve to undermine Masisi’s authority could be caused by fear that the President could hold him accountable for some bad governance that occurred during Khama’s reign, including extra judicial killings and corruption.
Recently, Khama’s accountant was raided in Gaborone at the time security agencies led by the Directorate on Intelligence and Security (DIS), Botswana Unified Revenue Service amongst others raided Khama’s ally, former spy chief Isaac Kgosi who is suspected of tax evasion, money laundering, corruption and other financial crimes.
“Therefore, to avoid these possibilities, Khama has to try and strike first by attempting to remove Masisi by sponsoring a weak and compliant leader that he would be more comfortable with,” argued Lotshwao. Although Khama enjoys some goodwill as former president, Lotshwao doesn’t think his outbursts abroad can dent the country’s image.
“In fact, many strategic foreign actors know where power currently lies and would never support a person who had no power because he is no longer president,” he noted, adding: “Most will be on the side of government and the President of the day. This is dictated by their interests.”
Although Masisi is no Messiah, Lotshwao insists that he too deserves to be given space to rule as all former presidents including Khama were given such.
He concludes by plainly emphasising that where Masisi and his government miss a step, the courts, the opposition, the civil society and the academia, amongst others are there to hold him accountable.
UB political and administrative studies lecturer, Adam Mfundisi asserts that the feud between former and current presidents is not new in the annals of politics as it has happened in other countries, notably USA; Truman - Eisenhower feud and Trump - Obama feud. To him, what is different in the Botswana context is that the incumbent President and the former have had long-time interactions as superior (President Khama) and subordinate (President Masisi, Vice President.)
“Some sections of our populace take some of Khama’s statements as jokes, but some of us sensedtrouble. For example, Khama joked that when President Masisi ascends to the highest office he will appoint him the commander of the army. He intimated that if that may not materialise or suspect anything to the contrary he may remove him from VP,” says Mfundisi.
He observes that Khama handed power to Masisi with high hopes that his interests would be safeguarded. President Masisi had always been a staunch supporter of Khama. The latter had overtly or covertly entered into agreement to protect Khama’s legacy.
Before the end of the Khama reign, Bills were promulgated and passed in Parliament to give the outgoing president far-reaching privileges and benefits.
The outcry from the opposition forces was ignored. President Masisi was leading the amendments to the presidential benefits denigrating opposition voices within and outside the BDP.
“Khama is obsessed with entitlements from the cradle. The BDP and its leadership provided a haven for Khama to enjoy unfettered power and privileges. Remember the controversial sabbatical leave, which was extended to him when he retired from the BDF,” reminisces Mfundisi, adding that Khama had always enjoyed unlimited power.
Additionally, “Khama is a proud man. You denigrate him, and his ego explodes. He has been groomed for leadership at a tender age. And assumption of BDF leadership at 24 made him to develop honour and pride to be always in control.” The military is not a democratic establishment and Khama had always been in control, calling the shots. Civilians, according to the military culture are ‘second class’, the military being the custodian / guardian of the State.
What further annoyed Khama are the appointments of people who were fired by the BDF for various behaviours. These gentlemen are the trusted inner circles of the incumbent to the chagrin of the former president. There are suspicions that these gentlemen are on a mission to revenge against Khama whom they allege instigated their firing from the BDF.
Khama feels betrayed and President Masisi feels that he is being destabilised from running the country as per his objective judgements. Both leaders’ advisors, posits the UB political analyst, “are fuelling the feud and failing to advise them professionally.” “They have been polluted by the environment and are taking sides not objective arbiters.
Personality cult or politics of personalities has taken foothold in Botswana and it will destroy the peace and tranquility best known for this country. We need a paradigm shift in thinking and actions,” he declared about the advisors of the two men.
“The two cannot be reconciled,” Mfundisi emphasises and notes: “At the initial stage of the feud, time was lost to reconcile them before the schism exploded. Now it is up to the two presidents and their factions to duel in Kang and thereof. The Kang congress will break the party and a new political party will be born as it happened after Kanye elective congress”.
His plain advice is that as State President, Masisi must act with restraint; measure his words; know that ordinary people take his words and statements as a given.
“What broke the relationship are statements that denigrated Khama’s legacy as well as not fulfilling the promises the two men entered into. Khama had legitimate expectations that the incumbent will protect his interests. That abrogation which amounted to sheer betrayal triggered a chain of events. Statements from the Office of the President attacking personal Khama and his associates prompted Khama to retaliate. Drastic changes also contributed to the feud, which indicated that Khama had messed up the economy, socio-political development.”