Botswana’s former president, Ian Khama, has vowed not to rest until stability in his country is restored.
Speaking to City Press on Friday night at the Intercontinental Hotel at OR Tambo International Airport, he said he would be seeking external interventions, if need be, to bring his country back to normality.
Khama was preparing to catch a flight to attend an event in India – at Dharamshala, the residence of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile.
Under Khama’s presidency, Botswana had been hailed for being a stable democracy.
However, the situation has recently destabilised under President Mokgweetsi Masisi ahead of the country’s general elections, set to take place in October.
At the centre of this instability has been political bickering between Masisi and Khama, who has publicly pronounced his support for ex-foreign minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi to contest Masisi for the presidency of the governing Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).
The BDP will hold its elective congress in May where, for the first time, the party’s presidency will be contested.
Khama said he was recently invited to attend a meeting at the headquarters of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Gaborone by chairperson Dr Hage Geingob, who is also the president of Namibia.
“He asked to see me so I can give my side of the story,” said Khama.
“He expressed concern as a neighbour, as the chairman of the SADC and as the president in the region. He expressed concern [about Botswana] precisely because of what we have been saying: that this is not what we expect of Botswana.
“I feel guilty because I am caught right in the middle of this ongoing problem, after having tried to move Botswana up the ladder in all areas. Now to have this thing, this burden…”
Khama said he would speak out in the same manner in which he had confronted former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe about the crisis in that country.
“I am not just going to lie idle and see us lose the ground that we have gained over the years,” he said.
Masisi’s administration, said Khama, was not supportive of his visit to India because of its cosy relations with China.
“Because of these new-struck relations [between] the current administration of Botswana and China, I think they feel they have to do China’s bidding and have succumbed to pressure from China to have no contact with people the Chinese do not like.”
Khama said he had not supported the stance of communist China against Tibet during his presidency.
He has also been vocal about deals struck by African countries with the Chinese – which, he has warned, were brokered in China’s interests and not in the interests of African states.
“During my time as president, I felt that this was an affront to our sovereignty as a country and that we can’t be told who we can and cannot meet.
“As I said earlier on, this was particularly the case given that China is not a democracy like we are.
“On the other hand, you have His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, somebody who is only putting [out] there issues of peace, compassion and unity.
“Surely you cannot fault that. It is something that I have tried to follow in my life, so I can certainly find a lot more in common with the Dalai Lama than I can with the People’s Republic of China.”
Khama said his relations with Masisi’s government have deteriorated to such an extent, he has to constantly fight to receive some of his privileges as the former president, even though these are prescribed in the country’s Constitution.
He cited instances where he has been refused access to modes of transport, including aircraft, to enable him to carry out his community outreach programmes.
He said he was not even invited to attend the Fallen Heroes’ Day commemoration event on February 27.
This, Khama said, was an attempt to frustrate him.
He added that people close to Masisi had told him that the president was misusing his powers to erode Khama and his family’s legacy.
They also told him that Masisi felt insecure about Khama’s achievements, and the best way for him to act was to try “to erase [the insecurity] by erasing some of the policies that I was involved with, to try to isolate me from these kinds of national events, and not have any recognition of me at all”.
Speaking about tensions and divisions within his party, Khama said that recently in his home village, there was a large meeting of party members, who were upset about the developments in Botswana and had gathered to air their views.
However, a couple of days ago, a list of the names of those councillors who were present at the meeting and who support Venson-Moitoi was circulated, proposing that they be suspended for attending the meeting.
Khama said the meeting was not illegal because in Botswana freedom of assembly is guaranteed even by his party’s Constitution.
“If the councillors were to be suspended, I hear people say, all those who gathered there feel that there should be a mass walkout from the ruling party.
“But when you look at the names on the list, a lot of the councillors are delegates to the elective congress, which is set to take place in a few weeks – and they are all supporters of his [Masisi’s] opponent.
“So, by suspending them, they will be reducing the number of people who will be voting for her. We will see whether they will be suspended or not.
“But if they do get suspended, it will spark, I think, a revolt in parts of the party. I won’t rule out the possibility that there could be a split,” Khama said.
He warned that if there were to be a split, it would end the BDP’s chances of leading again as the majority party.
“If this thing continues for the next few months leading up to the general election, my assessment is that we would still be a party that has the most seats in Parliament but not enough to form a government, so we would have to go into a coalition. So, the BDP will lose an election.”
Khama said he was not feeling unsafe in Botswana but indicated that there had been reports of raids that were to be made on his home, which have not been carried out.
Asked if he could be lobbied to enter politics again, Khama said he would turn his back on the people currently leading the party because he had never experienced before how people somersault in the way they have done now. [Msindisi Fengu]