Tichaona Zindoga Political Editor
There are two things that loom large when people discuss Botswana’s president Ian Khama in Zimbabwe: his maverick (if queer is not the word) nature and a particular knack for taking potshots at President Mugabe.Associating openly with the opposition MDC-T, whose leader he once gave refuge to in 2008 and being mutually associated with America, Khama is worshipped in opposition circles for obvious reasons.
On the other hand he is considered an irritation by supporters of President Mugabe, who constitute the majority of the population.
Incredibly, President Mugabe has refused to be drawn into this war, and once stated that he would never publicly ridicule a fellow African leader and has even gone out of his way to praise Khama’s father and the younger Khama himself at various platforms.
This includes just a fortnight ago in Zambia when we were in Lusaka for the inauguration of President Edgar Lungu.
In spite of this, though, over the years, Khama has been calling for President Mugabe to step down, for the implied benefit of his pal Morgan Tsvangirai, and more to please Americans, their mutual master.
This week Khama dispatched another of his familiar cause célèbre. While it will do nobody any favour to repeat all he said in an interview with the British news agency, Reuters, the nub of his assertions was that President Mugabe should have left office “years ago” and that Zimbabwe has “plenty of people who have good leadership qualities who could take over”.
These are not words said in good faith. Because Khama is a known opponent of President Mugabe and a lackey of the United States of America, all he has at the back of his mind is the removal of the revolutionary leader and replacement with an American puppet.
And that is unacceptable.
It is critical to note that Khama believes that he is more qualified to speak on Zimbabwe than anyone else, including the majority of Zimbabweans who have faith in President Mugabe and have constantly voted him into power both at party and national levels.
The reason is simple: Khama is singing for his supper.
Equally, he is just a megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur born out of misplaced international plaudits that are meant more to please America and the West, Botswana’s “protectors” since colonial times. Botswana is often hailed as a democracy and model African success, the model of the grovelling “good’’ African.
The fact of the matter is — and we do not want to hazard insulting the good people of Botswana because of one deluded man — the country is anything but.
Indeed, it has progressively deteriorated under his rule, which honest people there and abroad have been decrying.
“End of an African
This week, commemorating Botswana’s 50 years of “independence”, one journal, The Conversation, questions if Batswana were on a decline and if this was “the end of an African success story?”
Giving background, the piece in question notes that Botswana’s philosophy since the days of Khama’s father, Sir Seretse Khama, has been to rely on and curry favour with western powers.
“The more aid Botswana received, the more of a success it could become . . . The approach had its greatest appeal in the US. It inspired diplomats, politicians, scholars, and anti-apartheid activists. In the following decade (since 1966), Botswana became one of the highest recipients of US foreign aid per capita,” notes The Conversation.The country may have done fairly well in the past, but under Khama the “exceptionalism” and success are diminishing and: “Today, there are valid reasons to question Botswana’s ‘success’ . . . Growth is slowing in an economy that has failed to diversify away from diamonds. More worrying, Botswana’s supply is expected to run out within the next two decades.
“As the nation reaches 50, the historical context of Botswana’s ‘success’ reveals it to be an outstanding example of image-building in circumstances where survival was tied to international visibility. Botswana may be reasonably depicted as a ‘United Kingdom’ (name of an upcoming film on Botswana) that triumphed because of its inspiring message of interracial unity. Nonetheless, the portrait of success is outdated. It is unlikely to be revived for future anniversaries without substantial improvements in economic progress, human rights, and social justice.”
In May, Botswana’s Sunday Standard newspaper said President Ian Khama “has traits of an autocratic leader where democracy and human rights are trampled upon and dissenters are harassed, victimised and hunted down”.
“In support of their arguments his critics join the dots and find a pattern that includes state sponsored victimisation and imperialist style of leadership. A ‘Me nice’ who spends most of his time running around the countryside enjoying the ululations and endless dances from desperate rural poor. Just doing literally nothing basically by pretending to be busy, with his night vigils distributing blankets and feeding the desperate rural poor with soup, fat cakes, bibles and shirts.”
The paper recalled that when he took over in 2008, Khama promised a new way of doing things and a “transformational style of leadership”.
“But the writing is clear on the wall,” avers the paper. “There has been complete departure from his promises that even he Khama is in a complete state of confusion . . . Under the leadership of President Ian Khama, one cannot deny that the myth of autocratic miracle is responsible for the contagion of strong man syndrome where endemic corruption, lack of inclusive growth and policy paralysis has certainly contributed to the gathering storm, which is undermining the old political cloud that Botswana has been exposed to or rather known to be.”
Botswana has witnessed unprecedented killings and purges of Khama’s opponents.
In 2014, Kenneth Dipholo called Khama a “soulless dictator”. He said: “In contemporary Botswana, all government business is about President Khama. He is the creator of all the laws of the land and the pioneer of all policies and programmes for the poor and lost souls and he will not shy away to make decisions and will not apologise for introducing pitiful schemes that humiliate the dignity of citizens while portraying himself as their saviour.
“State programmes funded from the national treasury are now referred to as President Khama’s programmes . . . President Khama and his cronies have gone on record as having said that one or two killings would not tarnish Botswana’s reputation. Consequently, more people have died at the hands of state security since Khama’s presidency than in the 40 years before his ascendance.”
That’s shocking for a supposed democrat like Khama!
Freedom of the media, that great pillar of democracy, has eluded Botswana under the autocracy of Khama.
Last month, Joel Konopo, former editor of a major paper, the Botswana Guardian, told Pen America that, “Outsiders have a general perception of Botswana as a free, open, and democratic country. But there has been noticeable regress in freedom of speech and expression under President Ian Khama. Khama views private media in a similar (negative) light as unions and the opposition. The president has often used state resources to divide the private media, particularly through selective advertising. He has gone on record saying that he finds reading newspapers boring. At one point he told the High Level Consultative Council (HLCC)—an annual meeting between government and the private sector—that he intends to establish a fund that will assist senior government officials and ministers to litigate against private media. That is, the use of taxpayer money to fight private litigation on behalf of ministers and government officials.”
There have been arrests and intimidation of journalists and two years ago a Sunday Standard journalist reportedly fled Botswana and was granted asylum in South Africa. Outsa Mokone, a newspaper editor and another victim of Khama’s who was accused of sedition, believes Botswana’s status “as the darling of organisations such as the Ibrahim Index and Transparency International is outdated.”
“I believe from here it’s going to be downhill,” he is quoted as saying. “It’s going to be very difficult to reverse this. President Khama has done serious damage to this country.”
Given all this, the narcissistic little autocrat Khama should just shut up than try to raise his finger against worthier statesmen such as President Mugabe.