President Mokgweetsi Masisi has downplayed suggestions that there is a rift between him and his predecessor Lieutenant General Ian Khama saying such claims are just fertile and creative imagination of journalists.
Addressing his first press briefing as Head of State, Masisi said former President Khama still enjoys the benefits that are accorded to former Heads of State. “There is a green book and in the event there is a special request it will be put to the sitting President to consider,” he said, responding to a specific question about reduction of privileges extended to Khama in retirement.
Khama is alleged to have requested permission to continue flying military aircrafts, which Masisi refused through a memo dated 24 May 2018 signed by Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Air Arm Commander I. S. Phatshwane to all commanders in camps around the country. The memo reads: "With the retirement of the former President Lt Gen Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama, you are informed that he is no longer allowed to fly any BDF aircraft as crew. When flying the former President, you are required to accord him VIP status and crew should be as per Airstaff Instructions (ASI)".
Masisi said contrary to media reports no weapons of war were recovered from Khama’s homestead in Mosu but dismissed that as artistry and creativity of the media. He said such false reports are fuelled by secrecy and misinformation from those responsible for sharing correct information.
"That is going to change. Going forward we will give you all the information you need so that you can write stories which are accurate...," Masisi chuckled. Justifying the trimming of staff, Masisi said during Khama’s retirement he had a lot of belongings to move, hence he retained many employees, but it has to be reduced in line with the Green book.
Masisi was Khama's right hand man, to the extent of publicly confessing to being a bootlicker and a sycophant. However, lately the two appear to have irreversibly drifted apart. Their close confidantes indicate that they are no longer on speaking terms as Khama feels that Masisi has betrayed him. Clearly Masisi is proving to be a master at the game, having convinced Khama that he is a loyal servant and is forever indebted to him. Recent developments point to the contrary, with Masisi reversing all draconian decisions Khama enforced through Directives written at the Office of the President. It will appear Masisi realised the risks of rocking the boat – with his eyes firmly placed on getting the Presidency at all costs. Had he raised any protests against Khama’s way of doing things, it goes without saying that he would have been sacked without wasting any time.
Early in his presidency Masisi made his intentions clear when without consulting his predecessor he fired the Director General of Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), Isaac Kgosi and replaced him with his erstwhile nemesis Peter Magosi. That was the last straw that broke the camel's back. “This took Khama aback as he had an understanding that Masisi will retain Kgosi as he also played a pivotal role in saving his political career, especially to ascend to the presidency,” confided a close source. In fact, the Khama’s Presidency never denied claims that DISS had intimidated those that were attempting to oppose Masisi’s election as the chairperson of the ruling party last year.
After Kgosi was slapped with a letter relieving him of his duties, it is allegedly that he immediately called Khama who rushed to OP to find out what was going on but found that Permanent Secretary to the President Carter Morupisi had already left the office.
“The biggest risk of the fallout, however, is stirring up rivalry among former army generals as they are now aligning and regrouping to fight back possible revengeful tactics by Magosi,” revealed the source. So dicey is the situation that some observers say the risk of some classified information being leaked to the public to try and fight back is very high.
During the recent Matsieng airs how Masisi and Khama sat in two different places, a clear sign that there is serious tension between the two.
The two, who used to be very close, did not sit next to each other at the recent Khawa Sand Dune Challenge with Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Thapelo Olopeng sitting between them during the official proceedings.
Facilitators not ‘frustrators’
For the past 10 years, Botswana has been accused of closing itself from the outside world due to its draconian immigration laws. As a clear shift from the Khama administration which has been accused of frustrating investors by refusing to issue them visas, Masisi revealed on Wednesday that he has instructed the Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs Dorcas Makgato to undertake a total overhaul of immigration requirements to open up the country and make Botswana an attractive destination for investors.
“We don’t want to bottleneck trade, hence I was instructed by the President to overhaul our immigration laws and policies,” said Malesu.
One of the investors who were allegedly turned down by Botswana is Africa’s richest man, Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote, who had shown interest in investing in Botswana. Reports indicate that in recent years, Dangote, through his company, Dangote Industries of Nigeria invested US $ 400 million in a cement plant in Kafue on the Lusaka-Chirundu road in Zambia after he was denied visa to visit Botswana by the Khama administration.
Hope for prohibited immigrants
According to Masisi, Government is currently reviewing appeals to his office, which are growing by the day, from people who have been declared prohibited immigrants or slapped with visa restrictions. Some of the people whose visa restrictions is being reviewed include that of South African Economic Freedom Fighters leaders President Julius Malema, Advocate Dali Mpofu, Floyd Shivambu, MPs Magdalene Moonsay, Andile Mnxitama and Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and Advocate Gordon Bennet who successfully challenged the relocation of Basarwa from Ranyane settlement and Steve Corry of Survival International. Since 2008 over 40 foreigners from countries whose residents do not need visas to enter Botswana were slapped with visa restrictions.
Liberalisation of DISS
Although he was economical with the details, Masisi also revealed that he has instructed DISS to focus on economic intelligence to address emerging threads of joblessness and economic diversification. Such a deliberate decision will assist decision makers to better understand the economic underpinnings of politics and society in different regions.
Recently during a press briefing one of the DISS Directors Lesego Tsholofelo indicated that they might consider the DSMA-Notice (Defence and Security Media Advisory Notice) as a way of harmonising their relationship with the media. This is an official request system alerting news editors not to publish or broadcast items on specified subjects for reasons of national security which is commonly used in the United Kingdom. They are only advisory requests, and so are not legally enforceable; hence, news editors can choose not to abide by them. However, they are generally complied with by the media.
Draconian media laws
Masisi emphasised the role of the media in society, stating that it is through the Fourth Estate that that those in leadership can reach every Motswana and be held accountable. “Cabinet ministers will engage the media thoroughly going forward. It is a commitment we made during our retreat at Manong Lodge,” he revealed adding that the fourth estate has purpose for existence.
He has promised to re-engage the media and other stakeholders to find an amicable resolution to the stand-off with the media over the controversial Media Practitioners Act of 2008.“Let’s end this. Let us talk and we will engage you,” he said.
On 10 December 2008, shortly after Khama became president, Parliament passed the controversial Media Practitioners Bill. The Bill, which faced fierce objections and an outcry from the media and the public in general provides for the setting up of a statutory media regulatory body and the mandatory registration of media workers. President Khama signed that into law before the end of December 2008.
The entertainment and arts industry, beer guzzlers and imbibers of the 'not-so-holy waters' are waiting with baited breath for the finalisation of a decision on liquor outlets operating hours. Shifting from the Khama's style of leadership, which worked with Presidential directives, Masisi announced that Government is going to consult extensively on the consumption of alcohol with the view to review the alcohol levy. He said the final decision will be informed by expert advice and empirical evidence from different stakeholders among them economists, health experts, the police and the arts/entertainment industry.
Masisi readily conceded that although there are divergent views about effects of consumption of alcohol, it is indisputable that the industry created a sizeable number of jobs while supporting many small and medium enterprises, and is a source of livelihood for many other people. “The entertainment industry has a potential to create employment and help in transforming the economy,” he said.
To buttress the point Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Thapelo Olopeng announced that entertainment hours have been relaxed and the National Stadium and other places of entertainment will be opened up for music festivals and other events.