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Wrestling Botswana back from Khama: A review

Wrestling Botswana back from Khama
Wrestling Botswana back from Khama: Enole Ditsheko Gaborone: Yearbook Publications, 2019. 423pp. Review by BARRY MORTON

Wrestling Botswana Back From Khama is the first book of its kind in Botswana’s publishing history. Released not long before last month’s election, it makes an extended case for voters to reject Ian Khama at the polls. Beyond that, it is an eloquent plea for Batswana citizens to ensure that the damage former president Khama and his administration wrought to the country’s democratic heritage be undone.

Ditsheko’s dual roles in his life — being both a journalist and a Zionist Bishop by profession — shape the manuscript in significant ways. The book makes full use of typical journalistic reportage, and is loaded with interviews, eyewitness testimony, and wide reading. At the same time, the voice of a Moruti is always there. Although neither the Botswana Constitution nor its democratic framework could be regarded as divinely inspired, nevertheless Ditsheko views and defends them with the same passion as he would the Gospels.

Ditsheko is simply unwavering in his insistence on maintaining the norms established by Botswana’s founding fathers in the 1960s. As such, I believe he establishes himself as an important national moral voice. We all know the consequences of what can happen in bad times ‘when good men do nothing’, and Batswana can be glad to know that Ditsheko will be on the lookout for political malfeasance for decades to come.

Although it shares some resemblance in its wide-ranging concerns to David Magang’s The Power of Perseverance, the only Botswana-related writing similar to Wrestling Botswana Back From Khama that I know of is Simon Ratshosa’s unpublished 1931 manuscript entitled ‘My Book on the Bechuanaland Protectorate’.

At that time, Ratshosa, having faced financial ruin and exile as a result of his opposition to Ian Khama’s uncle, Tshekedi, decried the increasing and despotic power of dikgosi under colonial rule. His combination of personal grievance, along with a defence of the traditional political order, is very much in the vein of Ditsheko’s writing.

Ditsheko recounts in emotional detail the injustices that he suffered as a result of his quarrel with the well-known NGO leader, Alice Mogwe. As a result of holding church services on his plot in the Village, Ditsheko angered Mogwe, who seems to have spent many years fighting noise pollution in her neighbourhood. Ditsheko recounts how Mogwe used her connections to talk to president Ian Khama, leading the Gaborone police to show up one Sunday and to arrest him and six others of his members for ‘common nuisance’.

Following their arrest, Ditsheko and his supporters are then held without charge and suffer a brutal beating in the cells of Gaborone Central police station.

During his three-day detention when his case is decided by officers awaiting instructions from the Office of the President, Ditsheko missed the opportunity to be at the birth of his daughter. Eventually, he is released and ends up in court, where his case is never truly resolved.

Moving from beyond this tragic and obvious injustice, Rev Ditsheko broadens his enquiry into a discussion of how Ian Khama’s government eroded the rule of law and otherwise eroded well-understood democratic norms. Unsurprisingly, the appointment of the now disgraced Isaac Kgosi to lead the newly formed DIS generates a lot of negative analysis. So does Ian’s undermining of the 2009 BDP Central Committee elections —following which he revised the rules in the light of a resounding victory for the Barataphati faction that he opposed.

Of course, the fallout between Khama and the rising Barataphati icon Gomolemo ‘Sir G’ Motswaledi led to Khama’s suspension of Motswaledi from the BDP. The latter’s forming of the Botswana Movement for Democracy in response is seen by Ditsheko as emblematic of the problems caused by president Ian Khama’s anti-democratic impulses. Many other painful and well-known episodes from the Khama presidency, such as the ill-fated civil service strike, the Kalafatis execution, and the arrest of certain journalists also gain extended commentary.

Ditsheko persuasively builds up a picture of Ian Khama as an aloof, close-minded ruler who seems unbothered by Tswana notions of consultation and fair play. Ditsheko presents a wealth of instances in which party members, Parliament, and various members of the civil service

find that their input is no longer of any consequence in decision-making, with everything instead dictated from on top.

Probably the strongest sections of the book are Ditsheko’s interviews with high-level insiders inside Domkrag and the government. These include straight-talkers such as Magang, Lebang Mpotokwane, Motlhabane Maphanyane, Margaret Nasha, Joe Legwaila, and Festus Mogae, as well as the more reticent observers Peter Molosi, Simon Hirschfeld, Molosiwa Selepeng, Daniel Kwelagobe, and Gaositwe Chiepe. Ditsheko also works in interviews with Motswaledi, the ailing Archie Mogwe, and the late Sir Ketumile Masire that are also notable for their candour. Finally, he ends the book with an extended interview with President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Some of the above-named were open with their views while Ian Khama and Isaac Kgosi were in office, while others remained tight-lipped until Ditsheko talked to them. All of them say very similar things: “In terms of inheriting the genes, Ian is the opposite of his father” —Motlhabane Maphanyane.

“He continues to drag this country down the drain, and he is surrounded by people whose agenda is to protect him so together they can loot from the ordinary citizens” —Sir Ketumile Masire.

“The first three presidents maintained democratic institutions. But in the last 10 years under Ian Khama, these very institutions have been severely undermined, totally weakened …. Particularly from 2011, when citizens started having fears that security spooks were trailing them, that totally undermined freedom of speech. It is one of the worst practices to have ever happened in this country. That bred an environment of high levels of corruption due to non-accountability of leaders because they were feared” —Molosiwa Selepeng.

“Later on, as the chief executive at the Botswana Housing Corporation, I came to understand what kind of man Ian really is. I don’t know why he felt greedy, but he arranged through Isaac Kgosi for me to extend favours to him in getting certain properties” —Motlhabane Maphanyane.

Some highlights: Sir Ketumile, very shortly before his own death, tells Ditsheko that he promised Sir Seretse Khama on his deathbed that he would promote Mompati Merafhe into the Cabinet so that Ian could take over the BDF: “Quett, make sure that the deal with Merafhe to pave way for my son to take over the reins of the army is realised,” Masire related for the first time.

Festus Mogae also admits publicly what he has said in private for some time, which is that appointing Ian as his successor was his biggest mistake. President Masisi, amongst other things, details his transition from short-term stand-in for Tshekedi Khama as Ian’s successor, and his ability to carve out his own role while sidelining Tshekedi. Ditsheko tries unsuccessfully to speak to Ian Khama and such acolytes as Isaac Kgosi and Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, but understandably gets nowhere. So his information largely comes from Ian’s critics. Nevertheless, the authority and quality of his sources is so overwhelming that it is difficult to not be persuaded.

An interesting subtext in this book is that it is written by someone from a botlhanka background in Ngamiland. While Ditsheko does not discuss these roots, nevertheless he is attacking Kgosikgolo Ian Khama, the senior member of one of Botswana’s biggest historical owners of people well into the 1920s. Sir Seretse, the great democrat, was born into a family that still owned many people. For such reasons we need to applaud Rev Ditsheko’s forthrightness and willingness to make use of his constitutionally-derived freedoms in attacking his former president.

The only Ian Khama-related topic Ditsheko seems unwilling to discuss is why the former president is still single, a direction one would have expected him to tackle given his willingness to speak truth to power.

My only reservation with this volume is that it is too long. A few topics receive more attention than they truly deserve, while a number of interviews and speeches are unnecessarily quoted in full. Rev Ditsheko says that his wife was his proofreader. Generally speaking, it is better to rely on someone who does not love you as your editor! The book, since it is fairly long, also badly needs an index.

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