14 August 2017

Botswana: Will the Real Tshekedi Stand Up?

opinion

Since entering Parliament in 2008, the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Tshekedi Khama has been the only cabinet minister who had his way and never shied away from criticising his own government.

He was a rebel of sorts who always fought hard to have his way, even taking on his elder brother President Ian Khama without any fear. But of late Tshekedi Khama comes out as a born again Christian who now conforms to power with little resistance - which brings forth the question of who or what has bought his silence.

Why the change

The turn of events, according to those close to government, came about after the Tonota Congress, when he realised that Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi was against all odds popular and will lead the country next year. Before the congress, Tshekedi Khama was one of the cabinet ministers who were against Masisi's elevation, a stand that resulted with President Khama reprimanding him - going to the extent of calling a family meeting to seek their support in dealing with him. Before the Tonota Congress, Tshekedi Khama took his fellow cabinet colleagues even the President and his Vice head on. As the brother to President Ian Khama, he seemed to have leeway of doing whatever he wanted, including firing and hiring staff at his ministry and parastatals. He differed with his fellow cabinet ministers openly in matters he strongly believed in including among others telling Transport minister that the international airport was ugly and suggesting he would do a better job of taking care of it. That was at the time when he had elevated his intentions of pushing government to moving Air Botswana to his ministry. He had in the short time of having assumed the Tourism ministry moved swiftly to build a strong intelligence unit and at one point even bragged that it was excelling when compared to intelligence arms of Government. Against simmering discomfort in some quarters, he had moved to acquire ammunitions of war for the intelligence unit though it required an act of Parliament for that to happen and required soldiers and intelligence operatives into it to fight the poaching scourge. The 'shoot-to-kill' mantra against poachers was popularised under his watch.

On Parliament floor, a visitor would at times dismiss him as an opposition member when he took on his colleagues. One example is when he stood against a request for additional funding for the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), insisting that the country appears to have its priorities wrong. "We have people who have their relatives killed by wild animals while others have their crops destroyed. We are failing to compensate them due to lack of funds, yet we can splash over P15 million into DISS coffers," he hit out. This represented the biggest fallout with DISS which had deteriorated into counter attacks with his Tourism Intelligence Officers arresting DISS operatives for suspected poaching activities. The stand-off escalated with DISS head Isaac Kgosi seeking to retaliate by even addressing a press conference of his own on developments but was blocked at the last minute. At his ministry, Tshekedi Khama was untouchable putting aside every governance guideline aside and fully running Botswana Tourism Organisation. When his then Permanent Secretary Elias Magosi felt he couldn't work well with him he asked for a transfer. Magosi said Minister Khama did not consult him on any decision that he takes though protocol dictates that. He said that he has even reported the issue to Permanent Secretary to the President Carter Morupisi but nothing has changed.

In one of the decision without the authority of the BTO board or CEO, he allowed the signing of a P17 million deal with GAFA Media to open an office in Dubai. The outspoken minister showed his power again when he allowed the withdrawal of P88 million from the Tourism Development Fund without following the normal protocol. Many within government and in politics regarded Tshekedi Khama as the most powerful minister who can do whatever he wants more so that he had taken advantage of leading the fight against poachers to ensure that his ministry acquired helicopters and aircrafts that he could use in his official duties. But recent developments show a changed man whose power is waning out at a very high speed. It is yet to be seen if Tshekedi Khama has really conformed or is simply bidding his time to gain something in the horizon.

Could he be eyeing something big?

Speculations has been circulating that Tshekedi Khama whom President Khama nominated into the BDP Central Committee could be eyeing something big within the BDP or government. He was previously interested in taking over the position of BDP chairman but always retreated, which some said was out of fear of losing the elections. With current chairman Vice President Masisi due to assume presidency in April, it is likely that Tshekedi Khama fancies his chances of being appointed to replace him. Those close to power say that Tshekedi Khama is trying to soften up Masisi with the hope that he will be given the position and retain his favourite ministry. Or better still, he might be promoted to Vice Presidency. Otherwise it could also mean that he has appreciated the wise counsel of some of his colleagues, family and brother that his outbursts were hurting the party which faces serve pressure of beating a resurging opposition in the 2019 General Elections.

Signs of change

In the winter session of parliament, Tshekedi Khama was a repentant politician to the extent of denying some of the things he had said, including the existence and might of his Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) intelligence unit. "There is no unit named Tourism Intelligence Services within my ministry. We have, however, developed and continue to develop capacity within the Department of Wildlife and National Parks law enforcement Division to detect, apprehend and investigate all types of wildlife crimes," he said. To the utter shock of MPs, the now repentant Tshekedi Khama even denied that they have once arrested members of DISS who were involved in poaching but passed the baton to Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security. This week he went to Parliament to request for emergency funding through Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to purchase three old helicopters and that was granted. When in the same week MPs blocked a bill he tried to table under a certificate of urgency he didn't storm out as he would do in the past. MPs protested that they had not been consulted on the bill including those in the wildlife and conservation committee of Parliament. The Tourism Amendment Bill seeks to introduce the Tourism Levy whose implementation was blocked early this year because the law had not been amended to allow it.

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