There is a video circulating on Facebook in which Minister of Wildlife Tshekedi Khama and recently deposed Minister of Minerals Kitso Mokaila, do a little hip hop dance for journalists, perhaps to quash any hoovering suspicions of enmity. In the video recorded possibly a few months ago, the pair do a routine which involves dancing, slapping palms the way little girls used to do in the streets in the 90s. At the climax of this performance, the two men click heels in a way rather awkward for a pair of grown up men. A close observation of the video however shows who the real master of this routine is– Tshekedi.
It’s an innocuous little playful thing by the house of parliament in front of a scrum of cameras and curious eyes. When the little 40 seconds of goofing around is done, approving, satisfied laughter ensues. It is a victory for Tshekedi Khama, after all, just a few months before Mokaila fell to the sword after running afoul of the South African, Paul Smith, at the all-important Mining Development Corporation Botswana (MDCB) at the Minerals ministry. Smith was said to be close to Tshekedi. The Khama’s have substantial interests in the mining sector.
Smith according to sources inside Government Enclave, is largely fingered for the stealthy liquidation behind BCL in which tens of thousands of people lost their jobs. He is said to have acted outside of his mandate as CEO when he advised cabinet to liquidate BCL, a matter vehemently opposed by Mokaila and the MDCB board.
The Khama leadership, because of Ian’s sense of insecurity, has been characterized by a misplaced and inert trust of people of European origin, mainly males. The authority and sense of security men of European heritage provide to Khama is no different to one he felt when he was in the UK with Ruth’s family after difficult years in boarding school. His own social awkwardness in later life meant that he has had to surround himself with a buffer zone of what he sees as dependable expertise (European) and amenable African (sycophant) advice. Khama entrusts Europeans beyond just his belief in their intellectual ability. At a more practical level, he attempts to deal with his sense of dread and insecurity by accumulating vast material interests and an attachment to the instruments of presidential power whether material or legal.
Ian Khama once said he was the type of child who would hide under the table when people visited his father, which must have amounted to a considerable place of comfort given the number of times the family was visited in light of Seretse Khama’s profile, in both his pre-independent and post-independent phases. As a child, he was not just reticent, he was closeted and grew up socially stilted albeit with a guaranteed reverence by Batswana. His close relationship with his mother fostered in him a trust in people of a similar background. But Ian Khama is also a product of his times, when he was growing up, as earlier pointed out, people of African origin at the time, would have been subjects of colonial domination and dictatorial benevolence. Khama did not just yearn for the comfort of a European framework but yearned for it, seeing the combination of this royal status and his “Europeanism” as the ultimate objective in his own self conceived benevolence. Like the colonial royal houses he has been jealously guarded about those who he brings within his inner circle, depending upon familial affinity, history and more often than not misplaced blind loyalty, as a guide of who can be entrusted with the onerous responsibilities in his social space and leadership characteristics.
After Ruth’s death, overburdened by the Khama tag and the cult hero status adorned on him by revering Batswana, the shy and inward looking Ian Khama found solace in the familial, his trust of kith and kin and those with a strong historical connection to him became his calling card in his rise to power. Those within the president’s inner circle will tell you that he is blindly faithful to those close to him. Not many people get into his inner circle but those who do, find in it a space where everything can be deployed to protect them and their interest. In that regard, the socially naïve Khama has become a victim of his own blind dependence on loyalty- a thing that would hamper his ability to navigate and lead a nation he was ill-prepared to lead from the onset.
Khama’s dependence on Europeans, friends, kith and kin means that he can place them in a hierarchy. In that hierarchy, Europeans are at the top followed by or mutually coexisting with family, while African friends and loyalist are junior, only being ‘advisors’ at best. Even people like lawyer, Parks Tafa, who despite being his trusted legal advisor have never reached the authority and level expected to be enjoyed by someone like Court of Appeal Judge President Ian Kirby- who is also Khama’s godfather.
So, it is not accidental that a man like MDCB CEO Paul Smith was untouchable to the extent of costing Minister Mokaila his old job nor is it accidental that his “management style” of deference to Khama’s autocratic benevolence led to the resignation of Board Chairperson Reginah Sikalesele-Vaka in February. While Smith was finally sacked just last week by the new Minerals Minister Sadique Kebonang- Khama’s initial trust in him despite being so obviously ill-equipped catalogues what is an all too familiar story during his tenure: Khama would unquestioningly appoint a man of European origin who fawns at his every whim without assessing the risky consequence of such a man’s ineptness before appointing him.
Paul Smith as a European man is a creature on which Khama, due to his upbringing, projects his expectation of perfection or envy- just as long as he is white and of European decent. This complex goes back way before Paul Smith.
Late in 2007 then Vice President, preparing for his appointment to the State House, Khama put together the Business and Economic Advisor Council (BEAC), a thinktank that would be central to his vision of turning around the fortunes of the country. There were high hopes that a Khama presidency would bring improved living conditions because the man who had been the hero of Batswana during the dark times of white minority rule would now be President. In a way, the BEAC was tasked with putting together Khama’s economic masterplan. He turned to a largely unknown South African financial advisor, Nico Czypionka, who was tasked with leading the all-powerful organ. Khama also appointed his Belgian former brother in law Johan Ter Haar into the committee.
At the time Czypionka was appointed, the former Standard Bank Chief Economist was the Chief Executive of Economic Dynamics, an economic consultancy firm based in South Africa. Indeed, Czypionka had never done any work at the scope in which the BEAC was tasked, he was a banking economist. Czypionka’s star, like Paul Smith’s, rose quicker than anyone could measure, and soon he was battling the all-powerful Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, becoming the man behind government’s stealth privatization of Air Botswana. According to The Sunday Standard, Czypionka made enemies within Government Enclave because of his exceptional power and access to Khama’s office. He authored the Air Botswana privatization model blue print; was appointed the Air Botswana Privatization Evaluation Committee member, the Air Botswana Privatization Committee Reference Committee Member and surprisingly became the Air Botswana privatization chief negotiator. He defied cabinet and proceeded to prepare for the fire-sale of the national airline, preferring to use the funds to buy a stake in South African carrier Airlink. The matter blew up in the government’s face when both backbenchers of the BDP and opposition MPs stopped the disposal of Air Botswana in its tracks and government lost a case against the privatization.
To appoint Czypionka, Khama would have had to overlook seasoned Batswana economists from some of the best economic institutions in the world and similarly to appoint Smith he would have had to rule out local mining experts in a country that has been one of the biggest diamond producers for nearly half a century. But it is more than expertise Khama is looking for, at least not Black expertise. For a man whose childhood was characterized by the authority figures in the men European colonial origin, Khama, in his yearning for European expertise, does not just attract experts of European origin, he craves certain characters of such a blend – often these men are abrasive in their disposition; like the colonial authoritarian masters of old, their word is the law within the entities they run. It makes sense for a man like him to find something reassuring about men of European origin who do not just claim to possess answers to all his questions but actually project a can-do attitude. Smith according to reports possessed the same character flaws, something one insider called, the “inability to recognize corporate governance”, which caused what one minister called “the collapse of relations with all stakeholders”.
The impact of the BCL liquidation is yet to be fully realized and it won’t be until three quarters of Phikwe town and the diamond deposits discovered through Polaris II are sold off as part of the fire-sale of the mine. It is this overreliance on the perceived infallibility of European expertise that perhaps will leave a more serious blight on Khama’s legacy. The more insidious effect is that Khama’s major decisions are seen as not just devoid of local input, but actually a rejection of local interests, inadvertently the ambulance attendant is choking the patient, the hero soldier is bombing his own citizens.
In another example, take Khama’s decision to impose a blanket ban on hunting, buttressed by Tshekedi Khama’s shoot-to-kill policy. He is reported to have been influenced by his wildlife filmmaker friend, Derek Joubert, who is a devout conservationist. Khama also therefore encounters conservation from a very Eurocentric view. “The tug of war between the government, conservationists and commercial hunters, each with their own position about the most sustainable approach to mitigating the adverse impact on some wildlife species while keeping the tourism industry essentially profitable is one that will not go away.
“In this equation, what is often disregarded is the rights and survival of subsistence hunters in poor communities such as in Kgalagadi, Gantsi, Chobe and the Tuli whose threat to wildlife is confined to killing for supper,” writes journalist Lawrence Seretse in Mmegi a few years ago. Khama’s lack of understanding of the complexities of the historical context of land, ownership, access to natural resources by ordinary citizens and such matters means his policy position is imposed rather than weaved from within communities. And, when his younger brother amasses armaments to shoot-and-kill all and sundry that they label “poachers”, the Khama government runs the risk of being perceived as settlers of the colonial times. This in the Khama mindset is not a bad thing; after all who knows what is better for his people than him in his own benevolence? In Khama’s thinking, people of European can do no wrong and they have a God-given role as saviors of the world, natives and animals alike, but this is not expressed so crudely, it comes in the sophisticated language of the conservationist, or the privatization guru or the denationalization advisor. The lack of consultation with Phikwe residents in the closure of their own mine for instance is the same lack of consultation with Ngamiland and Kgalagadi communities in the cancellation of hunting licenses; both are an aggressive expression of the primacy of Euro centric expertise.
In a way Khama has an insecurity, a certain loneliness, which only the familial can ameliorate. No other president has had family so concentrated in position of influence when he took over.
By 2009 when Khama was nearly a year into his presidency he had a network of family members or close friends located around strategic areas of society. His younger brother Tshekedi was Member of Parliament for Serowe North West. Brigadier Ramadeluka Seretse his cousin was then Minister of Defence, Justice and Security. Johan Ter Haar his brother in law had been chairman of the Business and Economic Advisory Council in the lead up to the inception of the Khama presidency. Isaac Kgosi, perhaps the only one without a historical familial connection to Khama, was a confidante and founding head of Directorate of Intelligence Security Services (DISS).
Ian Kirby, the powerful Court of Appeal president, was then High Court judge having served as Attorney General. In the 80s, Kirby was a senior partner in Kirby Helfer & Khama, alongside Doreen Khama nee Mmusi who was married to Mphoeng Khama, the youngest son of Seretse Khama’s uncle Tshekedi Khama. Thus, Mphoeng was Seretse’s cousin and Ian is Doreen’s cousin by marriage. David Newman a friend, now American ambassador, is a former attorney and senior partner at Collins and Newman. He was High Court judge and advisor when Khama took over. Sheila Khama, cousin through marriage, was the head of De Beers Botswana- the company in a partnership with the Botswana government at Debswana. As head of De Beers, Sheila was a board member of the national mining conglomerate. At the time, it meant she served as a non-executive director to a number of group companies including De Beers Botswana, Debswana Diamond Company, De Beers Prospecting Botswana, Botswana Diamond Valuing Company, Botswana Ash and Gope Exploration Company, to name a few. Meanwhile Tsetsele Fantan a distant relative was appointed a member of the DISS Tribunal; basically having to provide the only oversight over Khama’s close friend, Isaac Kgosi, at the country’s top intelligence until.
Fantan herself is a daughter of Peto Sekgoma and sister to former minister David Magang’s wife. Peto was Mokhutshwane’s son. Mokhutshwane is Khama III’s brother. That way, Peto Sekgoma was a cousin to Sekgoma II, Seretse Khama’s father. Tsetsele is Peto’s daughter while Ian Khama is Sekgoma II’s grandson. The family lineage therefore, makes Tsetsele and Ian Khama cousins. Thus, Fantan sat on the tribunal to which people lodge any complaint they have against the DISS, some of which may have been about her cousin, the President.
Khama does not like people who flipflop – a view which would have possibly developed during his difficult years in boarding schools- where as a mixed kid you had to know your friends and stay close to them. This resentment could also be a projection of his relationship with his mother who stayed true to him through all those troubles he encountered, or the way his father defended himself against attack from governments and some Bangwato during his marriage debates. Even Seretse Khama valued people who stood by him, later granting vast support to people who had been on his side during his acrimonious fight with his uncle over his marriage.
In this respect the name Isaac Kgosi is most often associated with Khama’s office during his years as Commander of Botswana Defence Force and later as Vice President. He was Khama’s personal secretary during his tenure as VP. He has served Khama in different capacities over time, once as his personal bodyguard. He remains close to Khama both professionally and personally. He was appointed to head the DISS and was a crucial component of the team that formulated the institution.
Khama has stood beside Kgosi throughout his troubles. Because Khama prefers those close to him to be very close, to the extent that he often personalizes any criticism of those within his inner circle as being an attack on himself.
Tshekedi Khama, younger brother differs with his older brother’s leadership in one area – it has not lived up to its original billing. But like all siblings Tshekedi and Ian differ to agree. Tshekedi believes that his brother has always been naïve and socially unsophisticated, a man removed from the social psyche of a nation he was supposed to lead-but he does not believe Khama’s failures are solely his own making, in fact they are not of his own making. Tshekedi has a theory and the theory is thus – Khama is a victim of a few evil characters who captured him and led him astray and, chief among them is Isaac Kgosi. However, Tshekedi’s theory is an extension of something even more sinister; that the purity of Khama’s inherent ability, located within the Khama name and genealogy, is defaced by something local, something African. His contention that his brother’s leadership was good until it met Black African intervention- is a further assertion of the goodness in Khama being attributable to his European side and his weaknesses being equally attributable to his African side. Tshekedi is right in one area, Khama’s presidency has suffered serious damage from his association and defense of such people as Isaac Kgosi- but Khama has had to bend backwards for everyone – Black and White.
There is a familiar sibling rivalry dynamic to the Khama brothers, with Tshekedi as the loud brash younger sibling who has had to assert himself to be recognized. Tshekedi may not think his brother has been the best Khama president, he surely believes the Khama’s make the best leaders, hence his insistence that he, Tshekedi, should also reach the very top of national leadership before the end of his political career. In a way Tshekedi wants to fill in the gaps left by his brother’s presidency, and, as far as he is concerned, fulfill the legacy of the Khama name. In a way Tshekedi lives under the impression that the Khama’s have a divine legacy that cannot just be left at the presidency of his brother.
Khama family insiders say Ian would prefer that Tshekedi becomes president at some stage. Tshekedi has often said he will become president in the near future. In some way, the appointment of Masisi is seen as a way to secure a future Tshekedi presidency and provide if anything, some psychological security to Ian Khama. Khama fears for his future, not just politically but physically. Masisi provides for the best security for now, however in recent times those close to Khama have sensed a change of mood in the Masisi camp, that perhaps the outgoing president’s longer term plan might not be so secure after all.
Masisi, in recent times seems to have given indication that he might chart his own path once he is in charge, something which is causing consternation in the Khama camp. The accumulation of military armament during Khama’s term as commander, spending up to 4 per cent of GDP on defence, should not simply be seen as a soldier demanding toys for boys. It ought to be seen as a life-long complex to secure himself- personally under the pretext of securing the nation. It is similarly as much a means of accumulating of property, from land in Mosu to Ruretse as an attempt to dispense with that sense of insecurity. As Khama’s presidency reaches its end, his sense of dread, the fear of finding himself abandoned and susceptible to attack and the resultant need to secure himself even more is expressing itself in various ways.
Goaded by opposition leader Duma Boko with a threat to be arrested for any potential illegal acts performed by him or his surrogates were there to be a new government, Khama often warns that the change of government would bring chaos to the country, a rather less than subtle attempt to equate his own political, material security with that of the society. While Khama and his brothers hold vast interests in the tourism sector, and increasingly his brothers, in the mining sector as well, the Khama family has some of the largest land ownership in the country. But that is no substitute for the sense of fear for the future that Khama lives in. He has been building his compound at Mosu, at government cost, cordoning it off and building an airstrip. Journalists were recently told they could be killed for driving around in the area. BDF insiders say Khama wants to keep access to the latest presidential helicopter after his retirement, to a point where soldiers call it, “ya ga Rraetsho”, but without legal basis that could not be achieved hence his insistence that the Presidential Retirement package be adjusted to allow a retired president such access.
Khama, without the benefits of power, for the first time in his life, will have to make do with an even smaller circle of disciples, as glory-hunters leave for more powerful partnerships. He might lose some, and in some way that bothers him, hence the turn to material and military wares for a sense of security.