Of late, the debate on former President Ian Khama’s involvement in politics while still holding his position of a Chief, has come under sharp focus by some, if not all members of the public largely belonging to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). From where I stand, this debate is painfully hypocritical let alone self-serving. It must be stated without flinching that these issues are topical because the tables have turned with Khama providing political mileage he would otherwise provide to the BDP, to other political formations. And in driving a political agenda that could potentially hurt the BDP, he effectively uses the chieftainship tag to drive the point home. Naturally and considering the bigger political implication and ramifications of Khama’s intentions, the BDP should be worried and scared to the marrow.
After his installation as the Paramount Chief in 1979 or thereabout, Khama became the Commander of Botswana Defence Force (BDF), the Vice President and eventually the President of this Republic. At the political level, he was a member of the BDP in whom the country and the world were informed that he was a fit and proper person to have assumed political leadership. He was showered with any and every accolade one could think of under the sun. This served the BDP very well and capitalised on it at every turn. When the founding Ombudsman the late Rre Lethebe Maine recommended that Khama was not entitled to pilot BDF aircrafts as contained in his report then, he was vigorously defended by his political principal at the time Rre Festus Mogae. The BDP did not raise any finger to condemn both Mogae and Khama on this score because it served it well politically and otherwise.
Leading to the 2014 general election and specifically at a political rally in Maun, Khama was at his best, humiliating and embarrassing his colleague in the traditional space Kgosi Tawana Moremi where his ex-wife was at the top table. The Voice newspaper online edition dated October 11, 2014 carried a picture of the then BDP National Campaign Manager Alec Seametso seated on the left hand side of Moremi’s ex-wife at the said rally. Predictably, BDP rally attendees cheered and ululated as Khama and his delegation took turns to batter Moremi left, right and centre. As fate would have it, Khama and Moremi are reportedly, not only Chiefs-cum-politicians but have strong family ties. During his tenure as President, Khama addressed Kgotla meetings throughout Botswana as a Chief and a politician. For the BDP and its supporters to now make issue with Khama doubling both as a Chief and politician is hypocritical and disingenuous of the high order when the status quo favoured it when he was with the party and not when he is not. They say what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
As if the above is not enough, there is an argument made again largely and predictably at the annoyance of the BDP faithful, that the retirement benefits and privileges of Khama as a former President must be suspended or withdrawn. Before delving into this issue, it is imperative to state that the law on amending the former Presidents’ retirement benefits was rushed through parliament on that fateful night as did 13 Bills rushed on the 7th August 2019 in the last lap of the current parliament. This can only happen where the numerical advantage is grossly abused. It is also important to mention that the frosty relationship between the President and his predecessor is the catalyst to Khama’s current political agenda. With particular reference to the former Presidents’ retirement benefits, the issue raised is that Khama, as a former President, is misusing such retirement benefits to further his active participation in mainstream politics. I fully agree that Khama is having an unfair advantage over his political opponents in using such retirement benefits to pursue his political agenda against the purpose for which they were conceptualised. The BDP should be the last to complain because this has been its game for the last decades.
But having said the foregoing, it should be stated that when the current law was hurriedly amended for political expediency which has now painfully back-fired, there was stiff but futile resistance from amongst others, opposition political parties across the board together with the general members of the public. These parties argued and correctly so, that there was no compelling need to amend the law then because no rational need to amend it had been established. The need to amend is in my view and at best self-serving and at worst, not serving the purpose of looking after the former President. But because of political expediency and numerical advantage in parliament, the BDP did not as always, heed the advice. Here we are. The BDP, as could be inferred by whomsoever, was tailor making the amendment to specifically suit Khama and itself for maximum political returns. And the thinking it be inferred again, was that Khama would remain a member of the BDP post his retirement where his retirement benefits would become handy in furthering the political agenda of the party. We are all aware that opposition parties and some commentators have been bashing the BDP and its operatives for time immemorial, I should mention, for using State resources for partisan party politics. If Khama was still a member of the BDP, it goes without saying that the BDP and its supporters wouldn’t be worried or annoyed by Khama’s current doubling as a Chief and a politician on an agenda not beneficial to it. And this worry or annoyance is premised from the fact that Khama’s current political agenda could potentially work against, and dethrone the BDP. This is where the crux of the matter is located hence the palpable worry and annoyance.
One should ask why Khama’s retirement benefits are not being withdrawn on account that they are used for a purpose other than the intended. President Masisi has already answered this question recently when he conceded and asked for forgiveness for having removed the provision from the amended law on former Presidents’ retirement benefits. In essence, the President was admitting that his hands are firmly tied behind his back to contemplate, let alone causing action to effect withdrawal. It is natural that Khama would immediately approach court should his benefits be tempered with. A suggestion has been made that former President Mogae would equally be affected on his own retirement benefits should Khama’s be tempered with. I disagree. Rre Mogae is peacefully enjoying his retirements benefits in which he is not involved in active politics like Khama. So there will be no need to tamper with his retirement benefits.
In summary, the noise about former President Ian Khama’s involvement in politics while still a Chief together with a threat to suspend or withdraw his retirement benefits, is evidently self-inflicted. It is borne purely out of the fact that Khama is now using State resources to advance opposition politics at the detriment of the BDP. I am not by any stretch of the imagination condoning what Khama is doing except to say that the BDP MPs who amended the law governing former Presidents’ retirement benefits are responsible for this state of affairs. If the interests of the country were paramount over narrow political interests constructed around an individual like Khama, we wouldn’t be seized with the current conundrum. While I am happy that the BDP feels the pain of using State resources for partisan politics which itself has generously benefitted from for so long, I am equally unhappy that such resources in this case are not properly used. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise. Judge for Yourself!