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'Behind every Botswana President, there is Ram'

KGOSIETSILE NGAKAAGAE
President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s business association with Ramachandran Otapathu is problematic.

I could try and find a name for it, but will choose not to do so, for now. I will merely say, for now, that it does not look good, and if looks count for anything, then there is a problem.

Yet another Botswana president, has a business relationship with the serial presidential business suitor. Either Ram, as he is affectionately known, has a deep fascination with the presidency, or there is something about him or his business enterprises that our Presidents are tripping all over each for.

It was President Festus Mogae. Then followed President Ian Khama’s right hand man, Isaac Kgosi. Now it is President Mokgweetsi Masisi. Whoever the next President or Viced President is, they must proceed to Ram to demand their shareholding as a presidential entitlement. Better still, let’s just put Ram’s business enterprises in the green book.

To be sure, there is no evidence that former President Ian Khama was directly tied to the man, or to his business interests. It is a matter for the public record, though, that during his reign, Isaac Kgosi commanded the most influence on the Presidency. He was the de facto Vice President, more powerful than the then Vice President Masisi himself.

He was appointed for, and gratuitously granted shareholding in Ram’s flagship enterprise, Choppies, ostensibly redeemable by future dividend from the same shareholding. The country, is asking itself questions; all for the right reasons. Has our Presidency been captured by Ram? Could this enduring romance with the Presidency be absolutely benign?

Some amongst us insist that these are stale questions. Some, choose to politicise the enquiry. They argue, that the President is a citizen on the same business footing as the man who sleeps under the bridge. They argue, that, in pursuing his business interests, he should be viewed as every citizen, away from his presidential status and honours.

It’s a dishonest argument that ignores the pitiless logic of facts. The President is the President. He is the man in whom all executive power vests. Ram’s business competitors know exactly where they stand with him when the President is on his side. The civil service knows exactly where it stands with him when the man who directs it is on his side. Even law enforcement, are no less aware. He cannot, conveniently, be equated to any other being.

Just yesterday, the President’s Press Secretary was on radio, passionately contending that the President had declared his business interest to the then sitting President, Ian Khama, when he was still Vice President. To me, the statement raised more questions than answers. It essentially meant, that both the DIS Director and

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the then Vice President (now President) were in business with Ram almost certainly, at the same time.

The two most powerful men after the President, bearing unequaled influence on him, had  business connections with the presidential magnet, who incidentally, had business ties with another Vice President in Zimbabwe. It is still a mystery, how he missed President Khama directly. And, of course, Ram contributed immensely to the President Masisi being President. Behind every Botswana President, there is Ram.

Ram’s business flirtations with the Presidency are happening within a rather interesting context. When Choppies ensnared President Mogae - for whatever reason they did it - , one of the retail giant’s competitors courted, and secured the then Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe - for whatever reason it did it. 

I do not know the full extent of his interest in the retail giant, but I do know that he served in their Board in some capacity. Business is a two-way street. How exactly can the public look away, when businesses appear, credibly, to be competing for influence with political power? I cannot say, precisely, if Kedikilwe was given shareholding, but it would be preposterous to assume that he worked for free.

It would be preposterous, further, to assume that his name was picked out of a hat. Whether he received any benefits or not, it is not unreasonable to suspect that he wasn’t courted for his presidential influence. To some amongst us, there were concerns as to whether our Presidents and Vice Presidents would not be vulnerable to corporate influence in the discharge of their public trusts. The Presidents, and their Vice Presidents, do not care.

Some contended that the President must be allowed some business freedom, in order that he does not become a burden to the State upon retirement. I am rather ambivalent about the proposition. Our Presidents are assured very gratuitous pensions and retirement benefits for the same reason.

Their primary focus must be on their jobs. They should not work too hard to secure their lives after retirement. Batswana have not forgotten that one of their Presidents was literally bought out of the Presidency by corporate interests. It is a dark stain on our democracy that has blighted the nearly unblemished record of a great President. We cannot afford to repeat that mistake.

I say that our Presidents must stay away from Ram. The man’s affinity for romance with  the presidency, must be brought to an end. It is irresponsible, to waive on our faces, the absence of a legal prohibition. It’s about ethics, not law. Look I don’t have anything personal against His Excellency.



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