Khama's doubts about dumping BDP


In this wide-ranging interview with the former president Ian Khama, he tells Mmegi scribe OARABILE MOSIKARE that he had serious doubts about leaving his former political home, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). He also distances himself from the alleged assassination of opposition strongman, Gomolemo Motswaledi and the death of John Kalafatis

Mmegi: Sir, you’ve indicated before that you didn’t really want to join politics. Thus far in your political career, two breakaways have formed from the BDP? Any regrets on this or thoughts?

Khama: Well I can’t talk for the BDP anymore, so I cannot indicate whether I have regrets. Maybe at the time when I was in the party you could have asked about the breakaway I am sure I would have had a response for you then at the time. But for now I don’t. Certainly on the latest breakaway I want to admit something to you that I don’t think was in public before. I did have my doubts as to whether I should be leaving the BDP. You know that last Serowe meeting in the lead up to it there were doubts in my mind that do I really want to do this.

Those doubts were based on the facts that myself and my family we had a long association with the BDP and what it meant to us and what I believe it was doing or it had done for the country.

And even after I took the decision and publicly announced that I was leaving the BDP I continued to have those doubts for some days. But you know ever since then when I see what has happened and what continues to happen it only served to confirm to me that I took the right decision. You remember when the BPF were trying their first meeting at Tsholofelo Hall and they were locked out that act on its own said to me ‘no’ I took a right decision. This is not a party that I want to be associated with. Any regrets? not anymore. They were there and now they have disappeared.

Mmegi: There are those who believe your tenure was authoritarian especially with regards to certain decisions you made such as against private media, the issue of the Judges etc. Your thoughts?

Khama: In life if you want to go about something especially if you are a Judge, a Judge is somebody who the whole nation looks up to and if you saw the nature of the letter they sent to the Chief Justice was such a bad taste and really you could see that the glue that is supposed to keep the Judiciary together and what it stands for and how it dispense justice, was going to be undermined. So when one takes these kinds of decisions, you don’ take them in isolation. I mean you don’t just wake up one morning and say I am going to suspend four Judges.

It was something, which I consulted about, and something I gave a lot of thoughts over for that to come about. But then don’t forget to talk again in the same light, I was the same person who lifted the suspension again after consultation and representation. Those are kind of things that you come across your desk when you are a leader from time to time. There are times when you have to take the decision based on principle and other times when you have to take decisions based on compassion.

I don’t think there was an advertising ban. I said to you before that we were spending a lot of money on advertising.

So yes you could have called it a ban, but we were trying to crackdown on government ministries on the amount of money they were spending on advertising. Now, one example that comes to my mind which you may remember is that whenever they used to have workshops or conferences you would then have a centrefold pictorial of people sitting behind conference desks, you know people who were keynote speakers and we just said what is that about when we looked at how much money we were spending and there was a lot of money going into it and we said no ‘we need to cut back’ and it needs to be controlled over how much money we spent.

Mmegi: What is your role at the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) and your response to critics who say you could be a liability to the opposition if the BPF secures a strategic alliance with the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC)?

Khama: I am the patron, they have asked me to be the patron of the BPF. If I am such a divisive leader then I guess the BPF would not have made up the grounds it has up to now. Anyway, I am not the leader of the BPF. So they can’t continue calling me a divisive leader if that is what I was.

Mmegi: A narrative has been spun that you are conspiring with rich South Africans to effect regime change. What truth is there in this matter?

Khama: That is totally untrue. I don’t need to recruit anybody in South Africa to bring about a change. I wouldn’t like to use the word regime change anyway; we are talking about going to have an election because regime change seems to suggest something untoward in terms of illegal. Governments change, normally and preferably through election process. And if I am conspiring or involved in that I am doing it with the electorate of Botswana not with anybody from South Africa.

Mmegi: What are your views on political party funding and the need for transparency around this?

Khama: I have always been against party political funding by government because I don’t think taxpayers’ money should be used in that way. Because taxpayers have a choice whether they want to vote or not and they have a choice if they do want to vote who they are going to vote for. So why should my money as a taxpayer be used to fund parties that I may not be aligned to. So I think as a judge of parties’ ability, the credibility and their popularity it is for them to go out and source donations and sponsorships for themselves.

And if they are a party that people believe in, then they will get that support but otherwise sometimes you, the other thing that bothers me is that when you give out money as a government to political parties, how do you share what you give? No one and one who supports it have never been able to answer such a question.

All of us here represent four parties, how much do you give to you and how much to do you give to her and how much do I give to myself. How do you work out a formula and in the current scenario some have said ok you give money according to the number of seats that are there in Parliament but that will be unfair because you are cementing the status quo that whoever is the biggest party in Parliament gets the biggest share of the slice. Would that be fair? When you go to an election, you know very well that the playing field is supposed to be equal, anyone is equal, does that mean now you give anyone an equal slice then you are going to have mushrooming of parties.

Are you going to be able to afford? If you see, I have forgotten how many there were in South Africa recently, they were so many. If you have political funding, you are supposed to fund all those parties. It becomes something not sustainable. That is why I am against political funding by the State.

Mmegi: Is the First Past the Post system still the best for Botswana in your view?

Khama: Yes I think so, it has served us well for now and I don’t see anything wrong with it and I feel if something is working you don’t need to change it. There is no system which is perfect. I know they have got proportional representation in South Africa and others have a mix of proportional representation and first past the post, but those things always call their own problems and they always don’t resolve problems. I think we just continue with what we have.

Mmegi: Is automatic succession still appropriate for Botswana?

Khama: Yes and no. If I think back to when automatic succession was introduced, it was brought about the fact that when my own father died at the time the Constitution if I am not mistaken said ‘Parliament will be able to elect the successor’ and they have to do it within seven days.

But if Parliament doesn’t manage to agree in seven days, then you have a vacuum. So they introduced automatic succession to give certainty that if anything happens to the President during his Presidency there could be a successor. And Parliament’s role would be to endorse or approve the Vice President or whoever the President nominates, to approve or not approve knowing that in the event something happens to the President.

So even today I think automatic succession for that purpose is relevant. Should anything happen to the President, he resigns, gets sick or anything else you have a successor. Where I think we can now question automatic succession is that ever since the late Rre [Sir Ketumile] Masire gave up the Presidency mid-term, we are now stuck in this wrought situation in Botswana and it is pretty much unique to Botswana whereby we have changes of Presidents not at election as it should be but mid-term.

And maybe they need to examine that itself because I have said to people even when I was President that should this thing be fixed, in such a way that you come in you do your 10 years or two terms if you leave mid-term, there should be some formula that we come up with that when there is a new person elected you, then you call an election so that we then have a change of government.

It could be presidential elections. Constitution could be changed. We have been amending our Constitution over the years and it can be amended to allow for Presidential elections. Or to say that in the event the President’s term is mid-term now, then whoever takes over finishes over the first part and then continues. Or allow him to finish the two terms up to the election.

Mmegi: Do you reckon Batswana are ready for a change of govt and why?

Khama: Of course they are because of the fact that you know they vote and they have been voting for opposition in various constituencies over the years. It shows that Batswana in those particular constituencies want a change in those constituencies. So it is just a matter of time before that happens to a government as well. Eventually another party will secure sufficient constituencies to form a new government.

Mmegi: What kind of political landscape would you ideally want to see post-October? Do you think locking out members of rival parties from public halls will happen after October elections?

Khama: One thing I think everyone has come to appreciate is that those kinds of events were not liked by Batswana no matter which party they belonged to. Many, many, people in the BDP and many, many, of them were disgusted by that or what happened at Tsholofelo Hall. Because they called me and said ‘this is wrong we don’t agree with this’ and it was something which really showed that intolerance is not part of our political culture.

Because of that reaction, I don’t see it being repeated by any other party. It can only be repeated by the current ruling party, but I don’t think any other party will do that. And especially when they are the ones who came up and condemned it in strong terms. They are not going to behave like these other parties or behave like Donald Trump when they say one thing one day and change what they have said the next day. Definitely that is not the case. I am quite confident that what happened there will never happen again under any other party.

Mmegi: Should the BPF fail to significantly influence the elections, what will your role be in politics after October?

Khama: I have not given that a thought quite honestly whether it influences or doesn’t influence you know, it is not something I have given any thought about. Right now we are just engaged in setting the party up and putting in place its structures and preparing for the elections.

Mmegi: Since you are always on the ground, do you see any prospect for the opposition winning the elections? 

Khama: I think this time around the possibility and the likelihood of them winning elections is the highest it has ever been in the history of Botswana.

Mmegi: What will be your role in the new government?

Khama: You have to ask them that. I don’t think I am looking for a role in particular. I would like to continue where I left off when I left office because I don’t see myself playing any role in politics. What has happened has been forced upon me.

Mmegi: May you sir comment on the allegations that one of your private security officers is being investigated for illegal possession of ammunitions and firearm?

Khama: I say it is a load of nonsense. I didn’t read the article because don’t read that publication anyhow because these are publications which are captured. We just know they are going to constantly and continuously do engage in gutter journalism. But an illegal firearm, I know about that particular firearm because it was bought over the counter. I myself have bought a similar firearm but it is not really a firearm in terms of being a lethal weapon. It is not lethal. It is called paint ball gun. They shoot a hollow ball and they also fire red pepper pellets so that when they hit you it disintegrates and releases pepper powder.

That is the kind of gun I know they have, you can go and purchase it over the counter in some shops in Gaborone. So if there is anything illegal about it, then I will assume that the police would have stopped those people saying ‘you can’t sell these things over the counter’.

Or if they consider them to be lethal then you would have to have a permit to buy them. Like I said I bought exactly the same thing over the counter and you don’t need the permit.

In fact I can tell you they sell over the counter more lethal weapons than those, but still you don’t need a permit for that. It is just a story designed to try to discredit me that there were people who are part of my private security who were found with those kinds of toy guns.

For them to be going around beating their chests if that was serious you would have thought action have been taken against them already. It is like that recording where there were some people who were plotting to pin the deaths of [Gomolemo] Motswaledi [John] Kalafatis on me. And they were instructed to go and manufacture evidence for me and then to be accused and found guilty, imprisoned and then hang for those murders.

Those were the exact words.

I met somebody who listened to that recording on three occasions who said to me that the recording lasted 13 minutes and could identify some of the voices in there. And then people were saying that ‘no, no if we do that, if we manufacture evidence and it comes out and that we imprison him and then hang him go tla nna le tshololo ya madi mo Botswana’.

And then the suggestion ok fine let’s send it to the International Criminal Court. But somebody said even ‘we send it to the International Criminal Court we will need evidence and even more evidence’.

And they were told go and manufacture the evidence. Those were the words ‘manufacture the evidence’. And then this thing failed because they realised that this was something which could not work. So now the latest thing is to come up with this plot of an assassination attempt and now I can see where it is heading. So that article ya maabane was sponsored. It is the latest attempt to try to get at me. Even that thing ya Mozambique that the aircraft returned mid air there was no assassination attempt. There was an issue that took place inside that aircraft that caused them to turn around, an issue between people.

Mmegi: An issue between people?

Khama: Ya!

Mmegi: Who were these people?

Khama: Hmmm! I am not going to say what was the problem in the aircraft and it was forced to return. They had to find justification because it was such an embarrassment.

I mean you think of it this way; there are allegations that there was no electricity in Mozambique or something, so you come back and not land in Gaborone and say ‘ok divert it because of that’ and the sponsored paper said ‘no, there was an assassination attempt’ is that believable? Of course it is not believable, why would you turn around mid air and snub your hosts? The people are there waiting for you to arrive and you are in the middle of the air and said ‘no we are coming back’.

Mmegi: Are you sure the hosts were not informed about the security surrounding that incident?

Khama: Why will they take off, because from here to Mozambique is a short flight in that aircraft. In that period that it takes, it doesn’t take the whole day to fly to Mozambique, maybe an hour. So you say to yourself if there was something they could have known before they took off. I know there is director general of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) [Peter Magosi] in this, there is no assassination plot on the President; that is a fact. It is all fake news; it is all manufactured with a particular person in mind to discredit.

That is the only reason. Remember last year, they were talking about coups, they are trying to link [Isaac] Kgosi with a potential coup, the Israelis will come from Israel and so and on and so on, has it happened? Nothing at all! Even this thing of assassination started last year but it hasn’t happened.

And then you say, if there is such an attempt, shouldn’t the nation being informed so that the members of the public could be on the alert be given information. Should the Cabinet not be informed? Should the Parliament not be informed that there is a threat on the President’s life? They go around spreading this tarnishing the good name of the country because Botswana has always been known to be a peaceful stable country. But they don’t care if it is to find anything, any trash to throw at their opponents. They are prepared to sacrifice the good name and reputation of Botswana for their own self-interest.

Mmegi: So you are not anywhere involved in these assassination attempts on the President?

Khama: Do you think the way you know me having been the president of Botswana I will be the one to plot the assassination of a President in this country or any other country? Why would I do that? I believe in the ballot not the bullet like I said many time.

We are going to the elections, that is where things will happen. It is just a lot of nonsense I am sorry to use that word but it is.  I think Batswana know that it is not true. It is not credible, it is not believable and when they continue to peddle these false stories as a government it is sad because these are the people who are leading us, they are the people who should be telling us the truth.

Mmegi: Why do you have private security when the government has provided you with security?

Khama: Because in the Constitution it is said the President decides the number of security (officers), so he could give me one person or two. So one time last year, some of these security guys received letters saying they were withdrawn with immediate effect the same day. So I just said to myself ‘ah that this is something I don’t have control over, they can just remove these people like that and that will disrupt some of the engagements and the way I go about with my own life. So I thought well in the event that happens, they shouldn’t be able to meddle with people who are private secu

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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