from ODIRILE TOTENG in Gaborone, Botswana
GABORONE, (CAJ News) – THE arrest of the brothers of former president, Ian Khama, apparently at the orders of current Head of State, Mokgweetsi Masisi, is not only heightening the ugly spat between these most powerful political figures in Botswana.
This collapse in relations is disintegrating into a source of wider conflict in a country that for decades has been feted as a model of democracy and respect for the rule of law in Africa.
Botswana, a consistent and sometimes lone voice against autocracy in the continent, is losing it.
Adding fuel to the already fiery situation, last weekend, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) arrested twin brothers, Anthony and Tshekedi Khama (64), as well as the latter’s wife, Thea.
A critic of government’s wildlife policies, she was released last Saturday but the ex-president’s brothers were in detention until release three days later.
The charges against the sons of the country’s first president (1966-1980), Sir Seretse Khama, could not be ascertained but Ian (69) alleges the clampdown is a persistence of the harassment and persecution the family is being subjected to since the feud with Masisi (60).
So, the charges are trumped up. It is a vendetta, he alluded.
The Khamas are not taking this lying down. They are planning legal action.
Edward Robert, DIS spokesperson, however told media this matter “will be guided by the dictates of the law.”
It is alleged the Khama brothers were denied access to lawyers and subjected to sleep deprivation. Their exiled brother lamented this as a form of torture.
Ian Khama’s spat with president Masisi has been enormous. It dates back to two years after Masisi was sworn in as the fifth president of the Southern African country.
At heyday, they were comrades-in-arms. Masisi was the outgoing president’s preferred successor amid some opposition from the ruling party that has a tendency to self-slaughter.
Previously, he had appointed Masisi as Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Minister of Education and Skills Development and eventually Vice President in 2014.
However, fallout followed.
No sooner had the new president assumed office than the ex-head of state (2008-2018) accused his successor of authoritarian tendencies, after Masisi reversed his predecessor’s decisions and appointments and constrained Khama’s retirement perks.
In a hard-hitting letter following his brothers’ arrest, Ian Khama, who is on self-imposed exile (in neighbouring South Africa but was recently in Zambia), lamented “rapid downward journey under Masisi” and the arrest of his siblings as “yet another blatant act of illegality, vindictiveness and abuse of power by the regime.”
Masisi, who between the two rivals has been tight-lipped on the animosity, was in Ian Khama’s post branded a “dictator”, “desperado”, “despot” and said to be working with “his DIS goons” to persecute the Khama family.
In November last year, Anthony Khama was again caught up in the feud.
His property was searched on allegations of keeping guns and rifles belonging Ian Khama.
The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), in the aforementioned letter, has been denounced as “a sinking ship” led by “its wayward captain.”
Ian Khama denounced Botswana, largely a peaceful and stable country since independence from Britain in 1966, but beset by sporadic infighting within the governing party, as “a banana republic” under its current leader.
He wrote the letter, made public on his social media platforms, after he was in Zambia for the burial of that former country’s president, Rupiah Banda.
Ian Khama alleged how Tshekedi, a Member of Parliament and former cabinet ministers under the two administrations had been approached to rejoin the “mismanaged” BDP after its disappointing results in the recent bye-elections.
He rejected the offer.
Anthony is an entrepreneur.
Ian Khama also alleged a “fake post” by DIS purporting he was suffering from depression and had to be seen by doctors and hospitalised.
While it is an open secret Ian Khama and Masisi do not see eye to eye, this is the most severe the enmity has been.
A series of incidents had previously brought the animosity to the fore.
Matters came to a head when the former president (Khama) left BDP to join the opposition Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF), a newly formed breakaway from the BDP ahead of the 2019 general elections.
The party’s inaugural meeting in the capital Gaborone was disrupted after the venue was found locked and chained.
In 2020, the international spotlight was cast on Botswana after allegations by the government that Ian Khama was plotting a coup.
This tested relations with neighbouring South Africa after prominent businesswoman, Bridgette Motsepe-Radebe, was alleged to be the financier of the said plot to overthrow Masisi.
Motsepe-Radebe, of Tswana descent, is the sister to South African First Lady, Tshepo Motsepe, and businessman mogul Patrice Motsepe.
He is also the wife of Jeff Radebe, a stalwart of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC).
The courts dismissed the coup charges.
Ian Khama’s confirmation in the media that he would be returning “ahead of schedule” has sparked apprehension in the country and fears it could further destablise the factionalised BDP where the former leader still has some support and the Khama family still holds legendary status.
“I will never rest whilst I have a breath of life in me which they have tried to cut off, from returning our nation to a democracy and making our people once more proud of their country, and to remove us from the clutches of tyranny,” the ex-leader said.
Lucas Mosweu, an analyst, warned tensions were running high between the BagaMmangwato chieftaincy and Masisi’s government.
Ian Khama, is the tribe’s de facto paramount chief.
Socio-political commentator, Eric Setlhare, said the turn of events could have ramifications on stability of the country of 2,4 million people and the ruling party.
“Revelations by Khama that some members in the ruling party have sent messages and called to support him is bad news for BDP. This leaves it vulnerable again,” Setlhare said.
Ironically, BDP split in 2010 after members formed the Botswana Movement for Democracy in protest of Ian Khama’s leadership.
The 2019 primary elections also threatened to tear the party apart after Masisi fired foreign affairs minister, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, a day after she confirmed she would contest the party presidency.
She later withdrew from the race after vote rigging claims. Ian Khama supported her candidacy.
BDP, which had not commented on the ructions, is now fragmented between supporters of Masisi and secretary-general, Mpho Balopi.
The next general polls are set for 2024.
– CAJ News