By Irene Morewagae
The otherwise peaceful Botswana, widely seen as the beacon of Africa, is currently
locked in bitter feud between former president, Ian Khama and current president,
Masisi took over from Khama in April 2018.
The country heads for elections in October this year, and the sitting president has
accused Khama of trying to influence his ouster from power.
In an interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) in
Johannesburg in early March this year, Khama accused Masisi of over-asserting himself
and reversing a raft of his (Khama) decisions and appointments, and restricting his
perks and privileges including his right, as former president, to commandeer and fly the
“There is a standoff between himself and myself,”
Khama, who was on his way to attend a Dalai Lama’s 60th anniversary in India, said he
had to use his own resources for that trip.
“That’s something that I am taking up legally, unfortunately,” he said.
Khama said the security team had been instructed not to accompany him for the trip,
and that the government media had been instructed not to cover his events.
Among the decisions that Masisi allegedly overturned was the complete hunting ban
and his government now allows controlled culling of the huge elephant population.
“He is the president now and does not answer to me,” Khama told the SABC. “But one
feels hurt that someone I worked with will do that.”
Khama also said he felt hurt that there is a reversal of trying to achieve gender equality
in the country.
“However, I don’t think she was dropped from the cabinet because she is a woman, but
because he doesn’t have tolerance for opponents,” he said. “That is political immaturity,
Khama was referring to the demotion of former Local Government Minister, Pelonomi
Venson-Moitoi from cabinet allegedly for challenging Masisi for the ruling Botswana
Democratic Party (BDP)’s presidential nomination for the October elections.
The BDP’s elective congress is in July.
Masisi accuses Khama of working with Venson-Moitoi, who hails from his (Khama)
village in the Central districts of Botswana.
In turn, Khama slammed the ruling party after Venson-Moitoi withdrew from a leadership
contest, saying it was rigged in favour of Masisi.
The former Local Government Minister pulled out of the leadership contest, leaving
Masisi to stand unopposed.
After she made a failed bid in the High Court to delay the contest, she said she stood
down because she was treated unfairly and her supporters were intimidated.
Khama described this as a situation in this ruling party that has never happened before.
“The measures and the extent they’ve gone to, the irregularities that we have seen
creeping in, the cheating, the intolerance and the intimidation of opponents and the
opponent’s supporters is unprecedented,” he was quoted in other media.
A University of Botswana political scientist, Leonard Sesa, believes that a split is likely
in the BDP ahead of the October elections.
He believes that Venson-Moitoi could lead a breakaway faction to form a new party.
While former president, Khama believes, if such a split occurs, BDP will need to be in a
coalition with other parties lead Botswana, for the first time since independence, Sesa
believes the opposition parties in the country are very weak to mount any challenge on
the ruling party.
The BDP chairperson of Communications and International Relations, Kagelelo Kentse,
is, however confident that his party would ride the storm and, with time, sail to dry soil.
“The BDP has been able to resolve its internal issues from time to time,” he said. “It’s
been rigorous with that and that is why those who leave the party are able to come back
because it is the most stable party in the country. We expect this to pass very soon, and
we will use party structures to resolve the matter without hurting the party and the
Kentse admits that the transition from Khama to Masisi has not been smooth at all.
“As a party, we do not see what is unfolding between the current and the former as a
rift,” he said. “We do think it’s a challenge because we would have hoped for a much
smoother transition and had hoped that the former will work closely with his successor
for the benefit of the party and the country.”
There have been numerous efforts to bring the two strongmen of Botswana politics
together, but these have failed.
It has been reported that Khama’s cousin, who is a former Cabinet minister,
Ramadeluka Seretse, last year made efforts to bring the two together but failed.
The BDP party elders that include former president, Festus Mogae, former vice
president Ponatshego Kedikilwe, former Cabinet ministers David Magang and Patrick
Balopi also tried to reconcile the two leaders.
The Namibian online publication New Era Live, reported that Namibian president, who is
also the chairperson of Southern African Development Community (SADC), the regional
body, Hage Geingob, met Khama in Botswana to try and resolve the stand-off.
Ian Khama confirmed that Geingob, who was paying a familiarisation tour at the SADC
headquarters in Gaborone, invited him to attend a meeting at the SADC headquarters.
“He asked to see me so I can give my side of the story,” Khama told the Namibian
newspaper. “He expressed concern as a neighbour, as the chairperson 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 expected of Botswana”.
Another University of Botswana analyst, Dr. Kebapetse Lotshwao, a senior lecturer in
politics, has observed that the feud will not end easily as long as Masisi pushes ahead
with his reforms that could threaten the Khama family’s hold on the economy.
“I think the main factor behind their differences is the control of the State,” he said. “In
Africa, as in some other developing countries where the private sector is weak, the
State is the source of power.”
Lotshwao said the control of the State allowed one to keep political and business
opponents at bay.
“For over 10 years, if not more, Khama controlled the Botswana State,” he said “Him,
his family and their associates accumulated wealth through the control of the State.
When Masisi took over, he introduced some reforms, for instance, the President wants
to open the tourism industry to locals. These reforms are threatening Khama’s interests
and those of his family and associates.
“Since his interests are under threat, it’s natural for him to try and fight back, hoping to
defeat Masisi, impose a more compliant leader in his place and thus preserve his
Meanwhile the Khama and Mosisi fight has threatened to suck in South Africa after
Botswana accused businesswoman Bridgette Motsepe-Radebe, who is the wife of
Energy Minister Jeff Radebe and President Cyril Ramaphosa’s sister-in-law, of funding
Venson-Moitoi’s campaign against Masisi.
It has become tense such that Botswana has slapped Bridgette Motsepe-Radebe with a
International Relations and Cooperation Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu told media in South
Africa that she has met Botswana president Masisi, when she visited the country on a
special envoy at her president Ramaphosa’s request to go and dispel romours that
there were links between the South African government and Motsepe-Radebe’s alleged
meddling into Botswana’s politics.
Sisulu said the message conveyed to Masisi reiterated the long-standing and excellent
relations between the two countries and distanced the South African government from
Motsepe-Radebe’s alleged dealings in Botswana.
“The matter that was in the newspaper has nothing to do with the government of South
Africa,” she told media in South Africa. “The message assured the people of Botswana
despite the recent media reports, the relations between the two countries remained
Motsepe-Radebe, who is a sister to business mogul Patrice Motsepe, has launched a
legal battle. MA