EPHRAIM KEORENG looks at President Ian Khama’s friends in an attempt to make sense of the complex character of the man who runs this country. The advice rendered by this clique makes or breaks the Presidency and at every point there is a stiff contest for the President’s ear. The question is – who does Khama listen to?
President Ian Khama’s detractors have accused him of a lot of things, like lately the government’s hostile attitude towards the private as exemplified by the arrest and detention of Sunday Standard editor, Outsa Mokone and the fleeing of the paper’s senior journalist, Edgar Tsimane.
Tsimane has since sought and been granted temporary asylum by the South African government after he told Pretoria that he fears for his life here, adding that security agents have kept him under watch after he wrote stories viewed as being highly critical of Khama and his administration.
There are also those who feel that Khama’s decisions and those of his government, especially on security, political and international relations, like the acidic verbal lashing at the United States government for cautioning the Khama administration to avoid despoiling Botswana’s clean democratic record, are very much on point. They see in Khama, a strong leader who has a plan of where he wants to take this country, asserting his authority and that of his government in the process. But then, at what price, wonders those who feel the president is taking the republic off-rail?
A leader is a complex being in that he or she has to balance various interests and ensure that his actions and decisions do not run counter to the nation’s interests. After all, Khama as the president of this republic, serves the national interest like other well-meaning Batswana citizens in various positions on the food chain. So, to understand Khama, we here look at the president through the prism of the people who gives him advise; the advises that in the end become or should become his executive decisions.
Masire and Mogae
Naturally, in our democracy, where we have had a de facto one party rule, due to the fact that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has remained in power since independence, it has been a tradition that the predecessor becomes an advisor to his successor. There is a smooth transition of power. It is after all automatic succession, as the BDP government calls it. Premised on this, President Sir Ketumile Masire, after handing power to Festus Mogae, became the latter’s advisor. After all he has ‘seen it and done it all’ while in the hot seat. Likewise, Khama has both Mogae and Masire to advise him on various issues. However it has now become apparent that he does not take it. The recent revelations by Mogae, who castigated Khama’s administration for lack of no rule of law, shows that there is a communication gap between the two. Critics were saying why did Mogae choose a public platform to attack his successor, while others said perhaps Khama does not take his advise nor bother to give him audience.
Tafa is one of the most powerful men in this country. Besides being the head of electoral board of the ruling party and many other positions, he is also President Khama’s personal lawyer and trusted legal advisor. In 2009, after the BDP’s Kanye Congress, Tafa’s power as a kingmaker were revealed to all and sundry as he defended Khama’s decision to unilaterally appoint sub-committee members. When there was doubt over this, Tafa issued a press statement to support Khama’s action, attracting the chagrin of the then secretary general, Gomolemo Motswaledi, who wanted to know where Tafa derives the powers to issue statements without his sanction as secretary general. However, Khama came to his legal advisor’s side and said, as party president, he instructed Tafa to issue it. The whole issue would later become the stuff of epic legal fights, and later resulted in the first ever BDP split as Motswaledi and others in the central committee defected to form the Botswana Movement for Democracy. At one point Tafa has acted on behalf of the Attorney General. There is a school of thought that holds that, Tafa is the power behind the throne, who guides Khama’s every move in things political and government-related. There are many examples that show that Tafa is not your ordinary man. He is among the few people in President Khama’s circle, who might know who the president will appoint as his deputy after the general elections. Tafa is not only respected by other Khama close advisors, they also fear him.
Khama has spent most of his working life as an army commander. At times, critics have wondered if it is possible to ‘de-militarise’ the three star general who has been in the army for 21 years. Colonel Isaac Kgosi, a former Military Intelligence operative, has been a close Khama aide since their army days. When he became Vice-President, he brought the man with him as his private secretary. Kgosi would later ascend to be the founding head of the infamous Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS). Some BDP Members of Parliament, who attended that decisive meeting convened by Mogae to reveal his choice of Vice-President to the MPs, say when Margaret Nasha sought for Khama’s recusal, “the duo left together. They have always been very close and even now, he has the president’s ear”. Of all the security chiefs, he is close to the president and it is without a question that he enjoys access to the president, thus making his position very important in advising Khama especially on intelligence and security-related issues.
Olopeng retired as captain in the army where he had Khama as his commander. The two have been close since their army days. Even now they are very close, both as friends and as boss and junior. They sit in the BDP central committee, with Olopeng as deputy treasurer and Khama as party president. And now the former is vying for the Tonota parliamentary seat, where if he was to win, he will be in a much better position to offer advise to Khama as his party deputy treasurer, friend and MP. Like Kgosi, his position and role in shaping the Khama presidency is key.
Mogomotsi Kaboeamodimo is Khama advisor who has been consistent in his loyalty to the president. At one point in the campaign towards the 2009 general elections, his devotion to Khama made him forget that he is a civil servant as he went before Botswana television cameras and read a statement prepared by the president on party issues. In this action, deputy permanent secretary, Kaboeamodimo achieved a first in the history of Botswana’s history by reading out a speech on behalf of a political leader while still serving as a civil servant. Some have said the man should just don on the BDP’s red clours once and for all as he has shown that he takes sides with the BDP. Under him, now the Botswana television has become mostly a government and the president’s platform which among others, serves as a medium to bash the opposition and the media. This is the man who advises Khama on media issues and the fact that the president’s relations with the media have become very low shows that he could be misleading his boss.
Ponatshego Kedikilwe holds the dual positions of Khama’s deputy at the party and government leadership level. He is the BDP chairman, making him the second most powerful man after party president, Ian Khama. With a Masters in Public administration among others and a sterling public service career that spawns decades, Kedikilwe is the most experienced of all Khama’s advisors. Having served in previous administrations as a top civil servant and later as a minister in various portfolios, he should be a reservoir of experience upon which Khama can draw from to take this country forward. However, it is not clear how much of advise is given and taken between the latter and his boss, as Khama’s leadership style has been seen as brash and at times lacking in experience. With the benefit of hindsight, some of the mistakes could have been avoided. However, it should be understood that an advise is not necessarily a command, so even if say, Kediklwe advise against certain decisions, the president, has to make his final decision as the buck stops with him.
Seretse is also a pivotal player in that, besides being a former soldier, the Brigadier is also a cabinet member, thus making him one of Khama’s official advisors. A trained lawyer, Seretse is also a cousin of Khama and he is said to be an independent-minded politician who is never afraid to offer his advise, no matter how uncomfortable it could be. As a minister of defence and security, his portfolio also makes him the Commander-in-Chief’s principal defence and security advisor, especially on policy issues.
The BDF Commander
The Commander, Gaolathe Galebotswe is responsible for the strategic and operational command of the defence force. He has under him, the Ground Forces Command, the Air Arm Command and the Defence Logistics Command, all of which have their heads who report to him. Known as GG, the commander is said to be a former commando, an elite special forces operative who underwent the most extreme of endurance tests.
Commissioner of Police
The police chief, Keabetswe Makgophe like his counterpart in the military, plays a pivotal role in that as head of a law enforcement agency, the police, he is responsible for ensuring that people respect the law. Through his charges, he is able to ensure there is peace and good order in the country. The police have been hailed for fighting crime. However, as to the influence of his advise to the president, it remains unclear especially that Khama is seen as being more close to the military than the police.
The Attorney General, a former law lecturer and feminist, Dr Athaliah Molokomme has continued to play a very visible role in terms of advising Khama as president. In fact the current issue before the court, where Mokone has been accused of sedition, the AG’s office played a major role. The deputy AG, Nchunga Nchunga, represented the state in the bail application before the High Court judge Modiri Letsididi.
The Permanent Secretary to the President is also an important player, who is expected with a wealth of experience in public service. He has served as a district commissioner, and now as PSP he is also secretary to cabinet. He heads the civil service and thus making him Khama’s most important advisor in issues related to the administration of and over the public service. He also serves as Chairman of Debswana Diamond Company (Pty) Ltd, government’s most important company. Molale holds a BA and an MS in Agricultural Economics and a Diploma in Experimental Statistics.
On foreign relations issues, Phandu Skelemani is Khama’s main advisor and since his tenure, his cavalier approach to international relations issues especially on Zimbabwe, the prosecution of sitting presidents by the International Criminal Court in The Hague and others, have confirmed what critics see as Khama’s foreign policy. In fact Khama himself has on various occasions lambasted other African leaders and those from beyond the region in mostly, for failing to live up to democratic ideals. However, the question that lingers now, is, how did it happen that when Botswana, who is always quick to point out an error by other states, suddenly felt slighted when the United Stes government issued a cautionary statement, to say this administration should not deter from the country’s highly acclaimed democratic tradition. This rebuttal by government, where she said the US also has its Guantanamo Bay issues, marked a new low in Botswana’s foreign relations engagements.
Mokaila - who holds the powerful ministry of minerals and water resources, under which the country’s economic mainstay, diamonds fall under - is a very key player in Khama’s presidency. He is also a former military officer who has served under Khama and the two men are very close as their fathers once worked together - Seretse Khama as president, and Mokaila senior as his private secretary. He is also close to the Khama’s young brothers; Anthony and Tshekedi.
The president’s brother, Tshekedi, is very much his own man and has on many occasions displayed his independent streak debating various issues with members of the public on radio, where he would at times criticise the government where it errs. The minister of environment, wildlife and tourism as an insider and most importantly as a cabinet minister is expected to have an influence in shaping his brother’s decision making, especially on matters pertaining to tourism and wildlife.
Mpho Balopi holds the powerful position of the ruling party. However, the question is, is he capable enough to make those in cabinet to account to the party? When he took over, Balopi asserted his authority among ministers. However, the ruling government’s poor public relations, especially going towards the elections, where there are questions over its appreciation of press freedom, tolerance of corruption and abrasive response to the US government over the Outsa Mokone arrest, shows that the secretary general has to wield his power and make sure Khama’s cabinet presents a good image of his government.
Of course Khama has many advisors like any president, but at the end of the day, it is up to him to take advise. But does he really take anyone’s advise?