Botswana Going Backwards, Former President Says

Former Botswana President Ian Khama has vowed not to rest until stability in his country is restored.

Speaking Friday night at the Intercontinental Hotel at OR Tambo International Airport, Khama told Johannesburg-based City Press that he would be seeking external interventions, if need be, to bring his country back to normality.

Khama was preparing to catch a flight to attend an event in India at Dharamshala, the residence of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, and the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile.

Under Khama’s presidency, Botswana had been hailed for being a stable democracy. However, the situation has recently destabilized under President Mokgweetsi Masisi ahead of the country’s general elections, set to take place in October.

At the center of this instability has been political bickering between Masisi and Khama, who has publicly pronounced his support for Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, the former foreign minister, to contest Masisi for the presidency of the governing Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).

The BDP will hold its elective congress in May, when, for the first time, the party’s presidency will be contested.

Khama said he was recently invited to attend a meeting at the headquarters of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Gaborone by chairman Hage Geingob, who is also the president of Namibia.

“He asked to see me so I can give my side of the story,” Khama said. “He expressed concern as a neighbor, as the chairman 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 expect of Botswana. I feel guilty because I am caught right in the middle of this ongoing problem, after having tried to move Botswana up the ladder in all areas.”

Khama said he would speak out in the same manner in which he had confronted former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe about the crisis in that country.

“I am not just going to lie idle and see us lose the ground that we have gained over the years,” he said.

Khama said Masisi’s administration was not supportive of his visit to India because of its cozy relations with China.

“Because of these new-struck relations [between] the current administration of Botswana and China, I think they feel they have to do China’s bidding and have succumbed to pressure from China to have no contact with people the Chinese do not like,” he said.

Khama said he had not supported the stance of communist China against Tibet during his presidency.

He has also been vocal about deals struck by African countries with the Chinese — which, he has warned, were brokered in China’s interests and not in the interests of African states.

“During my time as president, I felt that this was an affront to our sovereignty as a country and that we can’t be told who we can and cannot meet,” Khama said. “As I said earlier on, this was particularly the case given that China is not a democracy like we are. On the other hand, you have His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, somebody who is only putting [out] there issues of peace, compassion and unity. Surely you cannot fault that. It is something that I have tried to follow in my life, so I can certainly find a lot more in common with the Dalai Lama than I can with the People’s Republic of China.”

Khama said his relations with Masisi’s government have deteriorated to such an extent, he has to constantly fight to receive some of his privileges as the former president, even though these are prescribed in the country’s constitution.

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