Leaked intelligence information from de-classified United States of America (USA) Central Intelligence Agency portrays Ian Khama as a ruthless power monger who always gets his way in his pursuits.
The leaks show that Khama, who recently formed Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) and is now its patron after ditching the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), first thought about forming his own political party in 1983 after the then President the late Sir Ketumile Masire blocked him from contesting the 1984 elections under BDP.
According to the CIA intelligence reports compiled in the 1980s titled 'A political leadership challenge’ Khama had always wanted to join politics and challenge Masire for the party presidency. In 1982, Khama who was then the deputy commander of Botswana Defence Force (BDF) constantly met with the then Botswana National Front (BNF) president the late Dr Kenneth Koma to discuss his political ambitions.
“Masire’s concerns about Khama have been heightened by Khama’s meetings with opposition leaders who urged him to resign from the military and run as BDP candidate in order to effect change from within,” reads the CIA intelligence report.
Interestingly in 1998 Koma endorsed the appointment of Khama as vice president, something that led to the fall out between him and other BNF MPs who later dumped the party to form Botswana Congress Party (BCP) the same year.
According to the report in January 1983 Khama who by then was the deputy commander of the BDF met President Masire and discussed his possible resignation from the military and his desire to become BDP candidate for the then Serowe North constituency.
Masire, who was uncomfortable with the coming into politics of Khama, is said to have used the constitution to block Khama. Masire is said to have raised the issue of the constitution to Khama that he has to wait for five years as per the provision which prohibited paramount chiefs from joining politics unless they abdicate bogosi.
“A major impediment for Khama’s political aspiration however, is a constitutional amendment –sponsored by his father – that makes a tribal chief ineligible for political office until five years after relinquishing his tribal position,” reads the intelligence report.
Put in a tight corner, Masire who realised that Khama had mobilised some elders within the party especially his relative Goareng Mosinyi who was also a cabinet minister, he enlisted the assistance of the then BDF commander Major General Mompati Merafhe.
“Masire, with the cooperation of the commander of BDF, Maj Gen Mompati Merafhe, has taken steps to limit Khama’s influence. A senior officer – an ally of Merafhe – was promoted recently to Khama’s rank of Brigadier and given the operations command that had previously been Khama’s,” reveals the intelligence report.
The officer promoted to the rank of Brigadier and put in charge of the Operations command was Colonel Matshwenyego Fisher. To further neutralise Khama’s influence, the BDF adopted a policy of favouring supporters of Merafhe for promotion.
The report further states that while Masire was trying to limit Khama’s powers, on the other hand the latter was weighing his options. “(Khama) was weighing his options on whether to renounce the chieftainship, work within the BDP, join an opposition group or even form his own opposition party,” reads the report.
In a surprising turn of events, at some point Merafhe informed Masire that Khama harboured ambitions to replace him as the Commander of BDF. This, he observed through Khama’s nagging questions on when he (Merafhe) will retire from the army. Masire then moved swiftly in 1989 and nominated Merafhe as Specially Elected MP thus paving the way for Khama to assume the Commandership of the BDF.
Khama’s big break
Unhappy with the way Louis Nchindo was handling government negotiations with De Beers, Masire is said to have told him to his face that he was not happy with his performance as the Managing Director of Debswana.
In 1992 Masire dropped Nchindo as the MD of Debswana, replacing him with the late Baledzi Gaolathe. After the fallout with Masire, Nchindo found an alliance in Khama and allegedly promised him that he will help him to fulfil his ambition of becoming the country’s president.
In 1994 BDP had a shock of their life when the Botswana National Front (BNF) amassed 36.9% of popular vote while that of the ruling party dropped from 64.8% to 54.7%. Though it was initially said De Beers funded the engagement of political strategist Professor Lawrence Schlemmer to help improve BDP fortunes it later turned out that it was personally funded by Nchindo. Interestingly, the report recommended that Masire should retire early and that the party must bring someone with popular appeal and not dented by party factionalism to help the party.
On the 31st of March 1998, a day before Mogae was inaugurated as the third president of Botswana, Khama resigned as the commander of the BDF raising speculation that he would join politics and become the Vice president. On the 2nd of April 1998, President Mogae appointed his cabinet which included Khama as Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration although he was not yet a Member of Parliament.
In his book The Magic of Perseverance, David Magang revealed that on the 3rd of April President Mogae announced to the BDP parliamentary caucus that Khama is his preferred candidate for the vice presidency. Roy Blackbeard, who was Member of Serowe North, resigned and Khama contested the by-election winning with 2,986 votes against 86 votes of the BNF candidate.
Ruling from the grave
Having been in power constantly for 20 years – first as Vice President and later as President; recent developments show that Khama does not want to be far from the control of the country and its fortunes. His fall-out with the current President Mokgweetsi Masisi is clearly about the fact that he cannot get his way. He has decided to form his own party – Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) – to join forces with the opposition in an all-out battle to topple his successor. Time will tell if the opposition would allow him to get all his desires if they are to win power. Increasingly it cannot be ruled out that he would in time possibly aim to return to the country’s presidency.