Khama’s support for BPF heightens tensions with Masisi

Former president of Botswana Ian  Khama
Former president of Botswana Ian Khama

Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi said he regrets having been party to a decision to amend an act allowing former presidents to work, which is the reason his predecessor, Ian Khama, is back in politics and actively opposing him.

The spat between the two men is gaining momentum by the day as it becomes ever clearer that they will be locking horns in the upcoming national elections, set for October. This marks a first in Botswana’s political history – and a rare event where a former president would pass on the baton, only to vie for it almost immediately thereafter.

On his return to Gaborone last night from a US visit, Masisi accused Khama of “somersaulting” on the reassurance he gave him that he would never be problematic to government in his retirement.

Masisi said an old act was relaxed to allow Khama to do some work in his retirement, adding that it was something he now deeply regretted acceding to, because Khama’s return to politics was the last thing Masisi had expected.

The president said the old act carried a provision that a “former head of state will not be allowed to work, and if they do, they risk their entitlements being taken away”.

He said he and government officials had changed all this, interpreting “work” as meaning a 9-to-5 job.

In a video posted on the Botswana government’s Facebook page, Masisi said the following about this change to the old act: “We were accused mercilessly by the opposition and we rebutted those accusations, myself included. I take my hat off to the opposition today, and I owe you and them an apology … man, did we make a mistake.”

He said Khama had assured him that he “will never not support government and that he will never destabilise government” if allowed to work as a former president.

“Then he somersaulted,” said Masisi, adding that this was because officials had “taken ‘work’ in literal terms, but work can be [interpreted as] influence”.

Masisi said if the old act was still in place, “we’d be taking from former president Khama all the benefits, because he has retired”.

“Part of the reasons I refused to allow him to use the [state-owned] chopper sometimes, in my view and assessment, is because his trips are not as necessary as government work.”

Masisi said he had taken the decision that since Khama was “in retirement”, work was not a priority for him.

Making plain his awareness that Khama could be planning a comeback to office, Masisi sounded this warning to Botswanans: “But if you want him back, fine; have him … he will teach you a lesson.”

Khama announced late last month that he was parting ways with the governing Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), citing the fallout between him and Masisi as his reason for doing so.

This was the party co-founded by his father, Sir Seretse Khama, and which Khama had presided over during his 10-year reign. It has been the governing party since Botswana’s independence in 1966.

It remains unclear whether Khama will head the newly formed Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF), although he addressed the party’s inaugural meeting earlier today.

The meeting was covered live on the Facebook page of the country’s national newspaper, Mmegi.

Khama used the platform to accuse Masisi of not playing fair, saying the first venue booked for the party’s inaugural meeting in Gaborone was found to be locked and chained. Khama said this was because it was known that he would attend the meeting.

“The truth is, [Masisi] didn’t want me to make public appearances and wanted him to be the only one seen. That’s why they deny me the use of a state-owned aircraft,” he said.

And Khama took a swipe at Masisi in a media briefing last night, saying he blamed himself for the current conflict “because I’m the one who put these people in government so they can today be a problem like this”.

“I am happy that they are doing this … it shows where the problem comes from. And I think now, I must fix things, and I’m putting it upon you to help me fix things,” said Khama.

“Let’s do it through elections in October,” he added, suggesting that he was going to contest at the polls, probably through the BPF.

The BPF, Botswana’s newest party, is still undergoing final registration processes. It has yet to be officially launched and hold its congress, where Khama could be elected its leader.

Khama recently told City Press that he would not rule out the possibility of returning to government.

While his links with the BPF have yet to be fully ascertained, Khama has been openly endorsing parliamentary candidates of Botswana’s current opposition party, the Umbrella for Democratic Change, headed by Duma Boko.

Now, with the BPF likely to gain from Khama’s supporters, who have promised to follow him to any party he joins, the upcoming elections are expected to be the most interesting ones yet for Botswana.

And, since the BDP is set to enter the election race not as well supported as it was, it remains to be seen if it spells the end of the road for the party after 53 years in power.

Masisi said earlier this week that he and BDP officials would work hard to ensure that they retained power. He also pledged to resign as president of the party if they failed to achieve this.

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