Botswana: Former president Khama claims continued harassment by President Masisi

By Carien du Plessis
Posted on Friday, 13 May 2022 16:43

Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi speaks to Reuters at the One & Only Hotel as the African Mining Indaba 2022 takes place, in Cape Town, South Africa, May 10, 2022. REUTERS/Shelley Christians

The Botswana government has rubbished claims by former president Ian Khama that his successor, Mokgweetsi Masisi, was harassing him. Masisi himself refuses to speak on the matter himself.

Press secretary to Masisi, Bathlhalefi Leagajang, said there are more important things to do. “The President has an economy to run, and to resuscitate from the hardships of Covid-19,” he told The Africa Report on the sidelines of the Mining Indaba in Cape Town this week. Masisi is one of the presidents from the Southern African region who attended the summit to interact with investors.

“He’s got a nation to save from Covid-19, and he’s got the manifesto deliverables to work on. That’s what the President is laser-focused on. He’s got no time to be discussing former president Khama. He’s got more important things to deal with, not [former] president Khama.”

The government said in a recent statement, issued by acting permanent secretary for government communications, John-Thomas Dipowe, that it is “hopeful that this matter can be settled through astute investment in constant dialogue,” but the tone of Leagajang’s reply betrayed impatience.

Dipowe said it was the government’s “most sincere desire to put an end to this invective that seeks to divide the country”. He also accused Khama of pushing “normalised fabrications and misleading narratives” about Masisi and said it was time to “sternly address” this because it “threatens the integrity of this country”.

“Former president Khama is alarming friends of Botswana, and he is also diminishing one of Botswana’s powerful assets: democracy.”

Spy vs government agencies

Most recently, the tension between the two leaders manifested in a fight between two government agencies. Two of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime’s (DCEC) offices were sealed by officers from the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) who went there on an “investigative mission” – one day after Dipowe’s statement was issued. According to some reports, this move is related to the investigation into the weapons Khama is alleged to have in his possession and which are alleged to belong to the state.

The high court on Monday ordered that the documents should be handed over to the registrar of the high court for safekeeping.

Botswana’s Federation of Public, Private & Parastatal Sector Unions claimed in a statement the DIS had “gone rogue” with this move and was meddling with the work of the DCEC and eroding its independence.

They also say the DIS has harassed the police and other agencies while they should have been engaging through established government channels.

Criminal charges against Khama

Khama was charged last month alongside three of his allies in connection with the firearms, which prosecutors allege are illegally in his possession.

The others charged are former spy chief Isaac Kgosi, police chief Keabetswe Makgophe, arrested last month after being suspended in 2019 for allegedly wrongfully issuing firearms licences to Khama, and Victor Paledi, former director-general of Botswana’s DCEC.

Khama has said that Masisi himself was behind these charges as well as the persecution of his brothers and their families. Dipowe, in his statement, said Masisi “has never, and never will, preside over any affidavit”. Botswana’s institutions are independent by law “both in-process and in decision-making”, he said.

Dipowe went on to say “all citizens and residents of this country are treated equally before the law” and Khama’s case “should be left with the Judiciary to deal with”.

He also said Khama’s claims that there have been attempts by agents linked to the government to assassinate him were untrue and that the “misinformation” peddled by him “stands to tarnish Botswana’s reputation, image and her relations with her neighbours, the African continent as well as the international community at large”.

Botswana has enjoyed a long-lasting reputation as one of Africa’s most solid democracies.

Khama’s claims

A report published in February by the international think tank, the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI), has warned that the dispute between Masisi and Khama “could destabilise the country and its institutions”.

Khama, in a number of interviews with mainly foreign media outlets, accused Masisi of harming Botswana’s democracy through actions such as allegedly rigging the 2019 elections. He resigned from the governing Botswana Democratic Party months before the polls to join the opposition after a fall-out with Masisi, who took over the reins from him in a peaceful transition the year before.

The election rigging claims were not upheld in court, but the BTI report said the allegations alone dented Botswana’s democratic credentials as it was the most petitions ever registered after an election. Masisi has been just as intolerant towards the opposition as Khama used to be, the report found.

Unpresidential?

Another issue between Khama and Masisi is the government’s refusal to allow him the benefits he’s due as a former president.

A court last year ruled that the government should compensate him for the costs of his air transport and security when he travelled to India in 2019 to honour an invitation from the Dalai Lama. The government cited its recognition of the ‘One China’ policy as the reason why it could not support Khama’s trip to the exiled spiritual leader.

Khama has also complained that he is being persecuted by government agencies, as his name was mentioned in an affidavit by DCEC detective Jako Hubona in a case against former intelligence agent Welheminah “Butterfly” Maswabi, without him being charged.

In the state’s case, it was alleged that he, together with South African businesswoman Bridgette Motsepe, was responsible for a scheme that took more than $10bn out of Botswana to South African bank accounts.

A private investigation commissioned by Motsepe and done by UK-based Omnia Strategy, chaired by Cherie Blair, found there to be no evidence for this.

The case was thrown out of court for lack of evidence, but Botswana’s prosecuting authorities are still pursuing legal action against the South African government in a quest for mutual legal assistance – which would also involve probing whether funds were laundered through the country’s Reserve Bank.

Diplomatic tensions

Khama had been living in South Africa since November, after he missed a government deadline to hand in firearms he is alleged to have in his possession illegally.

His presence there came up in a discussion between South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa and Masisi during an official visit by Masisi to Pretoria, but Ramaphosa has denied that there were any tensions about Khama’s presence in the country.

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