• Limited free ride on OK1
• His henchman fired
• Security detail cut
• Masisi reverses policies, key appointments
• Khama’s loyalists angry at developments
• A fight back from the aggrieved expected
Former President Ian Khama’s privileges are falling faster than most had anticipated and claims are rife that this has created tension with his successor. And as things stand, with power no longer in his hands, there is little he can do about his circumstances.
While most had assumed that transition will be part of the honeymoon phase where the incoming leadership would be guarded; that has not been the case. In fact, sources have revealed that the tension began well before President Mokgweetsi Masisi was inaugurated.
While Khama had managed to put together a special retirement package for himself allowing various special privileges what he couldn’t control was that a lot of such benefits were to rely on the goodwill of his successor, the incumbent president. A lot could have gone well for him if the head of the feared Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) his close ally and confidante Isaac Kgosi had remained in the post. But disaster struck when Masisi fired Kgosi, replacing him with the man Khama had himself dismissed – Peter Magosi.
Now in charge, Magosi’s view is that there is nothing special about Khama that makes him to have more security detail than former President Festus Mogae. As such Magosi is taking steps to reduce it. While Masisi’s handlers have issued a statement denying that there was purging underway in the civil service, observers point to key appointments and dismissals made in a very short time since assuming office.
According to close watchers, there is an increased sense of insecurity among top civil servants who are not sure about their career prospects under Masisi’s administration.
Observers question why Masisi would immediately work to dismantle what he together with Khama agreed to build based on the assumption that he had been part of the previous administration’s decision making team.
Kgosi’s dismissal, it is said, was provoked by his decision to give Khama access to the DISS aircraft after Masisi had turned down a request from the former President to use the Presidential helicopter. Kgosi’s decision was seen as an act of insubordination; which stood to undermine Masisi’s authority.
The clean out appears to have targeted the security sector with steps having already been taken to move ammunition, equipment and aircraft from the Tourism Intelligence Services (TIS) and reduce its power. Magosi had until his appointment working closely with TIS which at some point arrested some of Kgosi’s DIS operatives accusing them of poaching. The new administration appears to have heeded appeals that it was unconstitutional to have TIS operate like an armed force when Parliament had not given it such powers. With claims that some of the aircraft had been offloaded from the anti-poaching unit, it goes further to show that Masisi was not in agreement that TIS should have been run as it was. In fact most had anticipated that Tshekedi Khama would not have made it into Masisi’s cabinet based of the criticism he had faced for the way he was running his ministry. But Masisi not only retained Tshekedi, he returned him to the same Tourism Ministry – a move seen as a political deal cut with the outgoing President to protect his brother.
Masisi simply doesn’t have the luxury of time. His political future depends on each step. And playing safe was never going to be an option. Based on his personality, he would also have been acting against himself. He didn’t require a magician to direct him to the interventions he had to undertake – Batswana’s protests have been loud enough. Their hatred of DISS, or at least the way it had been operating, had been clear.
It was predictable that when he pulled the trigger to remove its head, he would get the loudest cheer. Even the opposition parties sang praises for him. More than anything, Masisi demonstrated that he was fully in charge and Kgosi was not untouchable as he had alleged when appearing before a Parliamentary Committee in early April. Masisi has moved to consolidate power and silence those who doubted his abilities to be commander in chief. He has made further telling appointments with Terrence Rannowane taking over from Maruping Dibotelo as Chief Justice. Other key state appointments are due with the army commander having reached retirement age.
He is called to make brave decisions while at the same time ensuring he wins public appeal because he has a General Election looming which he has to win to get his own legitimate term. His party – the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) – having been in power since independence, is for the first time ruling with a below 50 per cent of popular vote. Divided and uninspiring as they seemingly are at the moment, the opposition parties stand a very strong chance of winning state power next year if they can improve and refocus their energies in working well together. Masisi is well aware of this; it gives him sleepless nights.
Yet it will not be easy for Masisi. As he tries to right the missteps of the past and re-energise the party and government, he is equally creating enemies from various angles. There is on one side loyalists of the former President who are increasingly disillusioned by their lost pecks and entitlements. They are in denial that a new administration is in place and that it requires room and space to run Government.
Another group is that of kingmakers who never made it to the top table to get a slice of the cake. This is the crew that worked day and night to pave the way for Masisi to rise to the top office – be it by campaigning for him in the party or donating to him handsomely. Some had assumed they would be made cabinet ministers or be appointed to the top civil service jobs. Bitterness from a sense of not being appreciated is causing havoc in their thinking – something that could draw them closer to those sharing their dislike of Masisi.
The purge going on within intelligence community and the general civil service is also increasing the disillusioned crew. Most sensitive is the pushing out of intelligence operatives who could cause a parallel operation which will then consume more time for the security personnel to police instead of focussing on protesting national interests and people.
Masisi could suddenly see challengers emerging next year, denying him a clear path of standing as presidential candidate for the BDP. The spy war that is likely to emerge would not work well for him since those he had aggrieved would put this operatives to good use to build their base and seriously threaten to destabilise the political landscape. What this will mean is that Masisi will be forced to depend on his loyalists at the DISS to intimidate his perceived opponents and once more this will take the operatives from their national duty to a partisan pursuit.
It is imperative that as he entrenches himself, he looks into the blind spots to ensure that he is not blindsided to the after effects of what would be genuine and proper action to take. He needs to tread with outmost caution and secure more win-win episodes than otherwise. One of the chilliest warnings from Khama loyalists to Masisi is that he ought to know that as a paramount chief of Bangwato he has influence in the whole central district, the most dominant constituency of the ruling party. He needs Khama’s influence next year to carry this voting bloc.