Botswana: Conflict Between President Khama and Brother and the Issue of Democracy

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When you talk about the oasis of the democracy in Africa, Botswana stands on the number one position. As the most stable and the least corrupt country in Africa, the sparsely populated country of 2 million people, which is surrounded by South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe, has been an epitome of good governance, at least in the African sense of it ““ especially in the area the freedom of speech. Being the only African country, which has never witnessed instability since its independence 50 years ago, it is little wonder, therefore ““ and unusual in Africa for that matter – to hear that President Ian Khama of Botswana ““ and his administration – has been under bold critics of late. However, what has raised some eyebrows in certain quarters is not the criticism itself; it is, rather, the fact that one of the critics of President Khama`s policy is no other person than his own younger brother, Tshekedi Khama, an MP and minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism in President Khama`s cabinet.

Recently, the strife between President Khama and his brother has reached an acrimonious height that the President strongly demanded that his brother stopped his negative public utterances against his ruling administration ““ especially his attacks on the Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi. According to the President, his brother`s criticisms create a heavy dichotomy within his party and ridicule the government as well.

Mr. Tshekedi Khama`s recent criticism of the Vice President and the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS). Isaac Kgosi has forced President Khama to call a family meeting at the Ruretse farm on the outskirts of Gaborone. The meeting, which was attended by both the President`s elder sister Tebogo Khama and twin brother Anthony, called on the younger Khama to not only respect Masisi but to equally endorse him as the chairman of the ruling party, Botswana Peoples Party (BDP). It is understood that Tshekedi in fact allegedly backs Nonofho Molefhi, another candidate for the BDP chairmanship race. As expected, President Ian Khama favours his Vice President, Masisi. This is not the first time the President called a family meeting to discuss his younger brother`s “problems.“   However, it is generally believed that after the most recent meeting, the younger Khama is expected to toe the family line and show his support for Vice President.

Tshekedi Khama` recent outburst following the request of a sum of P15 million by DISS for the suppliers` and expenses incurred during the BOT50 celebrations, which are aimed to mark the countdown towards the country`s 50th independence anniversary on Saturday, July 5, really forced President Khama to react angrily. The younger Khama criticised the government of his brother, saying it does not value the lives of Botswanans whose lives and properties are lost in the hands of wild animals. Tshekedi Khama suggested the money should rather be paid to those citizens who are victims of wild animal menace.

“We have people who have their relatives killed by wild animals while others have their crops destroyed. We are failing to compensate them due to lack of funds, yet we can splash over P15 million into DISS coffers.” Tshekedi Khama criticised.

While some members of the ruling party, including President Ian Khama, were flabbergasted by Khama junior`s criticism, others have praised him for his fearlessness and willingness to speak for the poor. Yet, another group of people questions the motives behind Tshekedi Khama`s antagonistic comments. Is he really honestly fighting for the poor or does he have some political ambitions? Some doubt his recent Man of the People credentials, having in mind that as the minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation, and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama has been seriously criticised in certain quarters for carrying out certain controversial actions and payments some feel are unconstitutional. Worse still, Tshekedi Khama surprised many when he voted for the approval of the supplementary budget. Yet, another group of people wonders whether Mr. Khama junior is systematically trying to brush up his political resume, in case his elder brother, the President retires. The latter group wonders whether Tshekedi Khama`s attack on the Vice President and the DISS boss aimed at eliminating potential political heavyweights and obstacles towards achieving his personal political ambition. Or is Tshekedi Khama simply acting as a social critic, exercising his democratic rights and indeed the freedom of speech and choice by criticising the government and government policies of his brother? By trying to force Tshekedi Khama to toe the family and the party line, has President Khama put the family and the party policies above the fundamental democracy of Botswana?

Interestingly, unlike in many other African countries, where this kind of political differences would most likely lead to political intimidation, persecution, and incarceration of the government opponent, however, the mature political climate of Botswana hardly permits those blatant undemocratic acts. This is why the country must applaud its democratic attainments, as it approaches its 50th years of independence. After all, the level of development of a country is often judged by the level of its citizens` freedom, as well as the position of the minority in the country. That makes the disagreement within the ruling party of Botswana interesting and inevitable. However, the big question is how best to solve the differences, albeit in a harmonious way. Hopefully, this is what President Seretse Khama Ian Khama has set out to achieve.