JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Former Botswana President Ian Khama said Friday his predecessor President Mokgweetsi Masisi was undoing his legacy on human rights and protection of the environment, warning that “we just can’t allow that to happen, by any means.”
Khama, who stepped down last year after serving two five-year terms, said he did not recognise Masisi, his vice president for four years, in Masisi, the fifth President of Botswana.
“He (as vice president) had a nature, a character which I just felt very close to and part of. What I’m seeing now is a totally different person than the one I knew. I think he has it in him, even if it was an act, please could he bring back that act again so that the country can move forward and enjoy the reputation it has always had,” Khama said in a typically candid interview with the SABC on Friday.
The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) holds its special congress on April 5, and Masisi will be challenged by Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, whom he sacked from his cabinet.
Khama said Venson-Moitoi’s sacking after she announced her intention to challenge the president showed Masisi as “immature” and “intolerant”, adding: “He’s going to be the first president who will be challenged (in the BDP), and the reason is because it’s felt he’s not doing a good enough job.”
Botswana has historically been the most politically stable country in the region, with orderly transitions between BDP leaders since Khama’s father, Seretse Khama, became the first president after colonial rule in 1966.
Masisi’s assumption of the presidency in April last year, with Khama’s blessings, has unexpectedly upset the applecart. Masisi has shown a streak of independence from his predecessor, who feels excluded and complains that his supporters have been targeted by the new administration.
The arrest at the airport of Isaac Kgosi, the former head of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services, particularly concerned Khama.
“This is now a kind of situation we are going through in the country, which we have never seen before. I’m not really concerned about myself and family, but the country. The 10 years as president and 10 years as vice president before that was for me an investment in ensuring that I move the country up the ladder, and to see that now starting to come apart we just can’t allow that to happen, by any means,” Khama told the SABC, without explaining how he hopes to push back against the president.
So strained is the relationship with the new administration Khama said he was now going to court to force them to honour terms of his pension. The former president, who spoke to the SABC on his way to India for a ceremony marking the Dalai Lama’s 60 years in exile, said the government of Botswana was not paying for his travel and had withdrawn his security guards for the trip.
“I’ve had to put up with deliberate attempts to isolate me by the government for national events. On this trip to go to India, the government said they weren’t going to facilitate the trip in any way yet they are supposed to give me funding, that’s a provision for one of my benefits so that’s something that I’m taking up legally, unfortunately I’ve to do that,” Khama fumed.
“They have instructed our embassies to the countries I would be passing through not to provide me any protocol assistance, I’m very grateful that here in South Africa they have provided that assistance. The security team who are charged with my protection were instructed not to accompany me on this trip as well, that’s what we are having to put up with.”
Khama considers part of his legacy the protection of the environment, particularly wildlife. He championed efforts to ban ivory trade, which the new President is now reviewing. Khama says he has been “hurt” by the rollback, which he says includes instructing the state media not to cover his conservationist activities.
Said the former president: “When I was in office, I used to fashion and consider myself a humanist and a conservationist and I care very much about the welfare of people, the environment and all forms of wildlife and I said I want to continue in that role even afterwards…
“It’s just a bit strange that someone who worked with you, who supported you and agreed with you on the things that you were doing would do this about face. He’s the president now, he can introduce whatever policies he likes, but one feels a bit hurt and put out that what we spent many years building and the successes we have had… and as a democracy, to see that starting to go into reverse, that is something one just can’t sit by and let it happen.”