Botswana’s former president won’t rule out joining new party, but doesn’t want to rule from the grave
Botswana’s former president, Ian Khama, has not ruled out the possibility of one day returning to government, if asked to be deployed by the new party that is on the cards.
Last weekend, Khama quit the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which he led for 10 years until last year.
The party was co-founded by his father, Seretse, in 1961.
Speaking to City Press at the National Airways Corporation offices in Lanseria on Friday, Khama dismissed recent criticism that he wants to rule from the grave.
When asked if he would consider a role in government, if offered by the new party, Khama just grinned.
“I’ve not been asked,” he said.
If he decided to join the new party, which is still in the process of being launched, he would prefer to be behind the scenes, he said.
It was never on his radar to join politics when he was in the army, but he was pursued to do so in the late 1990s.
“That wasn’t the path I wanted to follow. I believe I’ve done my bit and played my role. I’ve sacrificed those years that I had not planned for myself to be in government and politics. I’m just trying to get on and do other things. Being in government hasn’t crossed my mind for now. I’ve never thought about it,” Khama said.
On criticism that he wanted to rule from the grave, Khama said Botswana had always been different from those African countries whose presidents extended their stays in office by amending their constitutions to increase their terms to stay in power.
“That we didn’t do in Botswana. That I didn’t do. It never crossed my mind to do that. So, ruling from the grave is not something that I want to do because I think it leaves a very bad taste in one’s mouth.”
Botswana, a country of about 2 million people, had many people capable of leading it, he said.
“It should never be vested in one person, because that will always be very unhealthy. Ruling from the grave is certainly not my intention.”
Khama said he decided to quit the BDP because it no longer was the party that he belonged to and his father co-founded.
Khama cited several incidents that he felt were foreign to the party.
These include the alleged purging of members who worked closely with former foreign affairs minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, who announced her intentions to contest the party’s and the country’s leader, Mokgweetsi Masisi, during the party’s historic first leadership contest in April.
Masisi was reportedly nominated unopposed following Venson-Moitoi’s withdrawal of her candidature a few hours before a vote by party members.
“They (the Masisi faction) were getting up to all sorts of tricks to try to undermine her chances. They even went as far as suggesting that she wasn’t a citizen of Botswana. Imagine that. She had served two or three presidents, including him (Masisi) and suddenly, because she wanted to stand, she was no longer a citizen. That was cleared up, but it was one of the dirty tactics to try to take support away from her. There were also other actions they took to try to benefit Masisi and advantage him in the leadership elections. And then her supporters started being targeted,” Khama said.
He said the BDP was becoming increasingly divided. Three members of Parliament were suspended because of not being on Masisi’s side.
One of them, he said, fled to South Africa, fearing for his life, which has never happened in the history of Botswana.
“We’ve heard about it in other countries but not in Botswana. What was his crime? He was her campaign manager. He also intended to stand for the position of secretary-general at the next party congress in July, against Masisi’s preferred candidate, who is the incumbent secretary-general,” Khama said.
He had consulted with party members before coming to the decision to quit the party.
When he eventually announced his decision last weekend, he said those present threw down their membership cards to show that they were quitting the party as well.
“And this has been the mood in many parts of the country, not just where I come from. People have become fed up with the arrogance, complacency and intolerance that has been demonstrated by the current leadership.”
He said the BDP had been “hijacked” by the current leadership and indications were that it would lose general elections in October.
Botswana could not have another five years under the current leadership because it would “be a very bad place in five years”.
Masisi was travelling all over the world with ”hordes” of security personnel and government officials, something he had seen from autocratic rulers on the continent.
But Khama said if he decided to join the new party or be in coalition with the opposition it would not be his intention to wipe the BDP off the face of Botswana politics because of his past relationship with it and the legacy of his father.
“That’s why I said I will help and campaign with other parties. It is still to be seen whether I will join this new party or not.”
However, he said it was possible he would join the new party.
“I will not rule that out. If I see that it would be the best chance of ensuring that we don’t have this current leadership coming back into office, and the way to go would be to be part of the new party, certainly I would take that and, after the elections, see how we tidy up things,” Khama said.