In an extraordinary interview with the SABC on March 8, former Botswana president Ian Khama accused his successor Mokgweetsi Masisi of hounding him and trying to reverse some of his policies, like wildlife conservation.
Khama, who was on his way to India for a ceremony to mark the Dalai Lama’s 60 years in exile, said the government refused to fund his trip; withdrew his security and ordered embassies not to provide protocol assistance.
Here are excerpts of that interview:
On the deterioration of his relationship with President Masisi:
When he was my vice-president, I had no issues at all, to be honest. I chose him from amongst others who had more experience, more maturity than himself because I thought as well, I was aware of the north-side divide. One didn’t want to perpetuate any kind of feeling that the leadership of the country is the prerogative of one geographical side of the country and not the other. So that was one of the reasons why I thought I should bring him in as my vice president despite the fact that I knew later on after the appointment that there were those that were unhappy.
So, you got to go with someone you think would be best suited for the job. That’s what I did. But regrettably and very unfortunately since that time, I have come to realise that maybe I had misjudged and now we have a bit of a situation where there’s a standoff between himself and myself. When we meet, which is very rarely, we will of course talk but otherwise we just go our own ways and I have had to put up with deliberate attempts to isolate me by the government for national events. Take this trip to go to India for this 60th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s exile; the government said they were not going to facilitate the trip in any way yet they are supposed to give me funding, that’s a provision for one of my benefits. So that’s something that I am taking up legally, unfortunately I have to do that. They have instructed our embassies to the countries I would be passing through not to provide me any protocol assistance. I am very grateful that here in South Africa I have been provided that assistance. Yesterday, the security team who are charged with my protection were instructed not to accompany me on this trip as well; that’s what we are having to put up with.
Masisi’s government has instructed state media not to cover his programmes:
For the first couple of months after leaving office, I decided I would continue with my outreach programmes. When I was in office I used to fashion and consider myself a humanist and a conservationist and I care very much about the welfare of people, the environment and all forms of wildlife and I said I want to continue in that role even afterwards. I said people are not just going to see me disappear from the face of the earth, for as long as there are disadvantaged people in our country I will continue to support their lives. The state media has been instructed not to report all of that.
On Masisi reversing some of his signature policies:
It’s just a bit strange that someone who worked with you, who supported you and agreed with you on the things that you were doing would do this about-face. He’s the President now, he can introduce whatever policies he likes but one feels a bit hurt and put out that what we spent many years building and the successes we have had, and ours is known when it comes to conservation, and as a democracy to see that starting to go into reverse. That is something one just can’t sit by and let it happen.
On the sacking of Cabinet minister and his ally Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi after she announced intentions to challenge Masisi at April’s special congress of the Botswana Democratic Party:
Her being dropped as a Cabinet minister was not so much because she was a woman but it was more because of his (Masisi’s) intolerance of having an opponent. The minister was fired because she dared to stand against him, and that is immaturity, political intolerance. She now has to be looking over her shoulders all the time, they have got people from the intelligence departments following her around when she travels around the country. That’s just not an atmosphere that we are used to in Botswana, there’s a lot of intimidation and fear. It’s just upsetting after everything we have done.
Right now, the ruling party is very much divided and I am aware that a lot of people are very unhappy, it’s caused a lot of uncertainty in the country going forward and I have even heard that there’re some investors who said we want to hold on, we’re not sure where this is heading. So we really need to get this thing sorted sooner rather than later.
We have elections later this year, and we also have an elective congress in a month’s time and he’s going to be the first President who will be challenged and the reason is because it’s felt he’s not doing a good enough job. Going into that, we see a lot of things that are going on. I wouldn’t call it a crisis but over time it could lead to that. But I am confident that the foundation that has been laid for our country, the years of solid good governance and democracy and also the culture and character of the Batswana people will see us over this temporary glitch.
Was a raid on his accountant’s office to fish incriminating information on him?
My accountant’s offices were raided, but they weren’t raided over me but because of other people, he has other clients. So they were actually targeting other people because the search warrant indicated the other people, the companies they were looking for. But in the kind of atmosphere that exists now, when you talk about tax evasion – I just want to say it, you will expect me to say it – I have never ever avoided taxes. I have an accountant because he is the one responsible for making sure I file my tax returns on time and properly as the law requires. That I have done religiously year on year.
On the arrest of Botswana’s former director-general of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), Isaac Kgosi:
What I find very, very disturbing is that the former head of intelligence was arrested as soon as he and his family arrived back from overseas, a big high-profile arrest on the instructions of the President. They have been to his house on several occasions and up till today, this is now two months after the media were invited to witness it at an international airport, what did it turn up? Nothing! You would have thought, from my experience both in the security agencies having served there and in my time in government, that when you have a kind of high-profile arrest of that nature you definitely have something on that person you are arresting, but up to now, zero! This is now the kind of situation we are going through in the country which we have never seen before.
Is Masisi a threat to his legacy, and how has his family reacted to the developments?
I am not really concerned about myself and family, but the country. The 10 years as president and 10 years as vice president before that was for me an investment in ensuring that I should move the country up the ladder. To see that now starting to come apart, we just can’t allow that to happen, by any means.
If he could talk to Masisi now, what would he want to tell him?
I would like him to be that person I thought I really knew as my vice-president because at that time we were almost like brothers, we were close. I couldn’t really fault him as my vice-president, despite what others were telling me about him, I just didn’t see it. I took bullets for him, I supported him with all his career-enhancing ambitions especially for the party chairmanship. Even when there was a mini-cabinet revolt about him, I stood by him. He had a nature, a character which I just felt very close to and part of. What I am seeing now is a totally different person than the one I knew. I think he has it in him, even if it was an act, please could he bring back that act again so that the country can move forward and enjoy the reputation it has always had.
On the current government providing assistance to Zimbabwe
The extension of assistance to Zimbabwe is something that I even did during my time in office. As a democracy, what we want for our people – the observance of human rights, for them to have and enjoy their freedoms – as a member of the international community we would like to influence that for other nations where there’s a deficit in democracy. Right on our doorstep we had president Mugabe who was flying in the face of democracy, and yes I took flak for standing out on the continent and pointing this out; Bashir in Sudan and our support for the International Criminal Court. I could sleep much better at night knowing that I had stood for those principles, but we continued having a relationship with Zimbabwe. We used to try and help them out when they went into difficulties.
On China’s expansion into Africa
It’s something I felt quite strongly about. China is the second biggest country in the world, in terms of economy. People are falling over themselves to get China to invest in their countries, but at what cost? If it’s going to be an investment, it must be a win-win situation. We don’t want to have a situation where China comes in, because ours is a small economy with a small population, the way they do things, they try to bring in companies and the entire workforce. I always said it’s not my role to create employment for Chinese, but the Batswana.
The other problem I had was the quality of work they delivered, and it was not of good quality. There’s the other accompanying problem of corruption with their nationals. I’m not generalising but there was a lot of that tendency of corruption. If you look at China, they are not a democracy like what we are. Why hobnob? I had a couple of invitations for state visits to China and I declined them. I said how do you hobnob with a present leader who himself seems to be rolling back on democracy in that country, and they have a terrible human rights record.
There’s no doubt that they have set themselves an agenda, and they are not going to divert from it. China is going to continue to do what it thinks is best for China. For the rest of us there would be nice words given that they are trying to develop the continent of Africa and so on. When I discussed this with others, they also had come to realise that it’s not the silver lining they expected in dealing with China. So, you just have to be very careful. It’s also important, always – as much as it may be attractive to get loans from a country like China – that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket economically, you must diversify your markets. One day when China does run into problems economically as it is now, it will pull everyone down with it, those who have all rushed over there as a sort of major investor in their economies. – ZimLive Transcript.