A routine question on Friday evening about privileges and benefits of former presidents who turn rogue and return to active politics got President Mokgweetsi Masisi so worked up and emotional that he poured his heart out, warning Batswana to think carefully if they want his predecessor, Ian Khama, to return to power.
Clearly worried sick about the damage caused by Khama’s consistent onslaught against the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) government, and in particular against him, Masisi cautioned that come October general elections Batswana have a choice to go back to how they used to live (oppressed under Khama administration) or to move forward. “Some of you have a tendency of trivializing very very serious issues. Do your bit with honesty and conscience. You can have him back if you want. O tlaa le kabolla ditshoka,” said Masisi, urging the journalist to stop trivializing serious national issues because ‘the stakes are high’.
The warning fit in well with earlier assertions by Masisi that the Khama administration had created a huge gap in connecting with the rest of the world, which the current government is reversing. Masisi said his international visits to meet world leaders is bearing fruit as there is renewed interest from investors willing to come to Botswana now that oppressive laws have been expunged. He gave the example of restrictive leisure operating hours during Khama’s reign as a major hindrance to investors as it curtails freedom for people to enjoy freely. “Leisure is a normal thing to do. In fact, while in the State of Nevada, I attended a farewell concert for Anita Baker with my wife. We also reconnected with Steve Harvey who is eager to come and invest in Botswana,” he quipped.
Enumerating other poor decisions by Khama, Masisi gave the example of an uproar by international media claiming that he had withdrawn weapons of war from game wardens. He said the decision to arm wildlife officers was irresponsible and illegal because even as they did not have requisite training, there is no statute that allows them to possess weapons of war. “That amounts to banditry. We could not allow such illegality to continue,” said Masisi.
For the first time, Masisi openly praised the opposition legislators who warned Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Members of Parliament against creating a monster by amending provisions governing the retirement benefits of former presidents as that will give Khama too much powers. As the Leader of the House at the time (April 2017), Masisi said he led the amendment to remove a provision that prevented former heads of state from engaging in any type of work under the false impression that the clause refers to formal employment or an 8-5 job. He said they took the literal interpretation of the word ‘work’ and have now only realised that the crafters of the piece of legislation meant the broader sense of different forms of active engagement. Now, the decision has come back to haunt them after realizing that for powerful citizens like former heads of state work could include influence. The situation is compounded by earlier assurances from Khama that he will not make any unreasonable demands, but will retire from government. Exasperated at the turn of events, and unable to provide answers about Khama’s anger towards the ruling party, which he has ditched, Masisi could only say: “I wish I could ask him my brother, my friend”.
“I take my hat off to the opposition guys. We should have known better. We denied that it will be like this, now it is as they warned us. My apologies, man did we make a mistake, a very big mistake. It is sad. If that provision (preventing former heads of state from engaging in any work) was still there we would withdraw all his benefits now that he has returned to active politics. He is supposed to be retired, that is why I denied him the use of state aircrafts because in retirement his personal projects are not a priority for running government,” said Masisi firmly, adding that signs of Khama turning recalcitrant started showing when, after handing over power, he started claiming that he was still the BDP president and will be the face of the party ahead of 2019 general elections before making all sorts of unreasonable demands.