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Home » Columns » Khama, Benevolent Dictatorship Gone Wrong

Khama, Benevolent Dictatorship Gone Wrong

Publishing Date : 06 November, 2017

Kesitegile Gobotswang (PhD) 
BCP Deputy Leader



On Monday November 6th 2017 President Seretse Khama Ian Khama will deliver his last State of The Nation Address (SONA) paving way for the fifth president of the Republic of Botswana.  Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi who is the heir to the throne has already hinted what the President would say to the nation. According to media reports Masisi says that the President will deliver a speech full of good news.  


Contrary to Masisi jumping guns we don’t expect the President to dwell on the future. Instead he must focus on a comprehensive review of his past in terms of how far he thinks he has taken the country since assuming power in April 1st 2008.  This is the time for him to reflect on his term as President.  Of course there will be some carry overs from the past. There is absolutely nothing that the President can accomplish during the remaining five months which he failed to do in ten years as President and many more years as Vice President.


We understand and appreciate that the views of the Vice President are possibly clouded by his excitement over the prospects of being President.  The man deserves to be excited about his eminent elevation to occupy the highest office in the land even if the future looks uncertain. In his last SONA we specifically expect the President to remind the nation about his road map in terms of accomplishments and challenges.  He must fully account to the nation as he is about to exit government.


The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) is in the process of compiling a special issue of “Democracy Alert” focusing on the President’s legacy.  In this instalment we give some highlights on his Presidency. Khama’s rise to power was met with excitement and jubilation.  The nation was full of hope.  Clearly the man commanded respect and unprecedented goodwill. 


In the early days of Khama as President Olifant Mfa the former Member of Parliament for Nata-Gweta and Assistant Minister went as far as proposing the typical controversial amendment of the constitution to allow the President to enjoy a Third Term referring to him as the Messiah. His utterances raised eye brows since Mfa or “Kabila” as President affectionately called him had overnight become a confidante of the President.  Ten years earlier he had described the President as a dictator.


Another former Assistant Minister and Member of Parliament for Tswapong South, Oreeditse Sola Molebatsi  once prayed God to subtract some years from himself, his wife and children and add them to Khama’s aimed at prolonging his life. With all the goodwill, charisma and power the President could have transformed the economy of Botswana to greater heights. When interrogating his legacy former Minister and prominent businessman David Magang postulates that the President missed an excellent opportunity to be a benevolent dictator.


He gave the example of a leader such as Joseph Stalin who transformed the former Soviet Union into a military giant and an economic power house. In Africa Paul Kagame and Tanzania’s John Magufuli have emerged as transformative leaders although they possess autocratic tendencies. According to Magang China’s Deng Xiaoping and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew are typical benevolent dictators who have successfully modernized their countries’ economies under limited democratic space.   


Corruption resulting in lost billions of pula through failed projects such as the Palapye Glass Project and Morupule B was tolerated. The perpetrators were glorified and rewarded with hefty positions. His leadership style failed to be a deterrent as no government official was ever held accountable and made to pay the price. Under his administration no Minister was ever reprimanded or fired for failing to execute his responsibility yet there were obvious candidates.   


As indicated above we expect the President to say something about his road map of 5Ds. A brief evaluation of the road map shows that the President seriously underperformed deserving a paltry 4 out of 10 points.  In terms of Discipline for example, the President failed to leave by example. He is likely to go down in history as the only head of state that never set foot at the United Nations or the African Union yet he never missed attending meetings of Conservation International as a board member.

This was indiscipline of the highest order. The well acclaimed financial prudence or financial discipline became a thing of the past. He frequently moved with a huge entourage which cost millions to the tax payer.  His pet projects became national priorities resulting in excessive waste of national resources; not to forget the purchase of a luxurious caravan which he does not use.


Ministers who were close allies of the President became law unto themselves spending public finance without restraints as well as making policy pronouncements outside established policy formulation processes. The incoming administration will have a difficult task controlling Cabinet Ministers such as Tshekedi Khama and Thapelo Olopeng for example. The said gentlemen are used to operating as loose cannons.


When it comes to Delivery the Khama administration was a disaster. As stated above government delivered failed projects costing billions. Huge amount of money was lost due to cost over-runs on account of poor implementation. The over-centralization of power left District Councils with a significantly reduced mandate resulting in poor delivery of social services.  Government failed dismally to provide adequate portable water to rural and major villages.  Patients are made to purchase prescriptions from public health facilities across the country due to a failed drug procurement system.


With the abrupt, ill-advised and controversial closure of BCL and Tati Nickel Mines the President is exiting with a bang leaving the country seriously bleeding from sky rocketing unemployment levels. As if that was not enough the President leaves at a time when the country is experiencing the worst decline in ranking on the ease of doing business.  

The President is also leaving behind unanswered questions concerning the frequent earthquakes that have hit areas around Moiyabana.  There are growing suspicions that the frequent occurrence of such tremors are unusual and may be a result of fraking, a controversial technology used to extract gas.  The President must fully update the nation on this issue before he relocates to Mosu. 

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