Former cabinet minister and Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) veteran, Bahiti Temane has not done much talking since he left politics in 2004.
However, those who have worked with him say he often wears his emotions on his sleeve, and is always terrible at masking them. Thus rather than keeping things to himself he will always speak his mind. After years keeping to himself the former cabinet minister decided to open up in an interview with the Botswana Guardian. “I am concerned about politics in general…about the current political situation,” Temane says as he settles into a white sofa at his home in Maun.
This was the beginning of a wide-ranging interview in which he poured out his heart about why he left active politics. The former Minister of Home Affairs and Member of Parliament for Maun/Chobe quit politics in 2004, just four years before Vice President Ian Khama took oath of allegiance as President of the country. “I was worried about the looming change of guard in our political leadership between President Festus Mogae and Vice President Ian Khama,” Temane reveals the reason he left politics, adding, “I did not want to be in harm’s way.” He made up his mind about leaving active politics after carefully studying Khama while he was the Commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and also as colleagues in Mogae’s cabinet- Temane as Minister of Home Affairs and Khama vice president.
While Khama was BDF commander, Temane was Chairman of the Inter-State Commission on Intelligence and Security, and the two men had to work together on a number of issues. And according to the former minister this is where he noticed early indicators of arrogance in Khama. “I had personal misgivings about Khama’s approach to issues,” he remembers. Despite this, Temane says he is one of the BDP members who led calls for Khama to leave the civil service to join politics. A move he now regrets. Before Khama left the BDF to join politics there were strong divisions within the ruling party about the whole idea. There were those who felt that Khama as a Paramount Chief of BaNgwato should not join politics. Temane was among some BDP leaders who felt that there was nothing wrong with Khama joining politics. “We had hoped that he (Khama) would continue his father’s legacy,” he argued, backing his line of thinking at the time.
However, according to him things have now changed dramatically since Khama took over. But when Khama finally joined politics things changed. “Him as vice president I was worried about his personal ways of doing things, wanting to champion the plight of the underdog-promising people that he is sort of a Messiah.” Temane says that Khama’s first week as Vice President, there were queues of people going to his office with all sorts of grievances. “He was sort of conducting a small court.” Temane was not amused by this approach. Initially he kept quiet thinking it was not his business, but later approached President Mogae and said, “talk to your number 2” the government machinery is so strong and well established that you cannot set another machinery (Khama) to run parallel to the existing one.Mogae said he’d talk to him, but I doubt if he did.”
He says at the time he felt “We did not need a situation in Botswana where we have a strongman we just needed to improve the existing institutions.” Temane’s worries were compounded by the fact that there were early indications of radical changes characterised by Khama’s strong personal authority where everything must be done in a form of a directive. Temane gives examples of policy decisions which came in the form of directives such as the alcohol levy. “This was a situation we were not used to.” Now the retired politician regrets having supported the idea of bringing Khama into politics.
“Somehow we made a mistake by bringing Khama in,” he adds as if an afterthought, “We all as the BDP have to blame ourselves for having created a monster out of this man, which we will have to live with for the rest of our lives. We were acting in good faith not knowing we are unnecessarily creating a strongman who is above institutional arrangements such as Parliament.” The ruling party performed dismally in the October 24 2014 election and Temane blames the party leadership for this. For the first time the BDP registered less than 50% of the popular vote under the watchful eye of President Ian Khama. The party garnered only 47%, down from 52% in the last elections in 2009 but because of the first-past-the-post system, the BDP was able to get 65% of the seats in Parliament which is 37 seats out of 57 seats directly elected by the populace. “The current BDP has left all its powers to one man.
The first BDP split happened under his leadership and also for the first time we witnessed a record number of Independent Candidates both at parliament and council level.” He notes that this is a big mistake by the BDP because democracy cannot be left in the hands of one person irrespective of how popular or sincere this person is.
The former MP joins a list of disgruntled BDP elders who have expressed misgivings about the current regime. It is on record that former presidents, Sir Ketumile Masire, Festus Mogae and the past immediate Speaker of the National Assembly Dr. Margaret Nasha have also expressed their views about the current BDP leadership. Temane who between 1994 and 2000 appeared in the Who’s Who of Southern Africa list- the leading guide to everyone who’s anyone in Southern Africa-says he is planning to pen a book about his political and civil service journey. He says there was marginalisation of other arms of government with particular reference to Parliament on the part of Khama while Vice President.
“Khama had little regard for Parliament charecterised by the fact that he was not attending its proceedings,” he says as he points to a hanging portrait showing a batch of the 1999 to 2004 MPs. Only Khama is missing in the picture. Temane who was Deputy Speaker after the 1999 general election deputising Ray Molomo says they came up with an initiative meant to espouse the independence of Parliament, but first, they thought they needed to get the people to understand the role of Parliament. And thus they came up with the programme, ‘Taking Parliament to the people.’ “Because I thought people were losing confidence in Parliament, but the VP (Khama) was not happy with this initiative because he felt it was a waste of money,” some cabinet ministers, who included Dr. Margaret Nasha also felt it was a waste of money. “People like Nasha who are now viewed as champions of independence of Parliament were feeling that it was a waste of money.”
The former cabinet minister also says there is a dire need to review the constitution. “The constitution has served us well, there is no argument about that, but there is need to review it.” Temane feels that the review has to take into account review of the Electoral Act, adding that automatic succession to the Presidency should also be looked at. He blames the BDP for not making proper research when they adopted this practice. “Automatic succession is not good for democracy. We did not do any indepth research. We were shortsighted because we were only looking at smooth transition.” Temane says the reason he kept quiet for over ten years was because he hoped someone would prove him wrong. This week the BDP was reluctant to respond to Temane’s accusations.
The party’s secretary general Mpho Balopi said Temane, as a BDP member in good standing has the right to comment on issues in whatever way he wants, however he (Temane) knows that there are proper channels within the party through which he can communicate his grievances for the benefit of the party. “I am not saying he is wrong to air his views, but he could actually also raise those concerns through proper party channels so that the party can benefit from him,” said Balopi. He named structures such as the National Council where Temane can raise his views. But according to Temane the current regime views BDP veterans as are spent forces. He expressed surprise at the recent events just after the elections when Parliament Standing Orders were challenged in court. “I could not believe that either the President or the Attorney General could take Parliament to court. That was not a case to pursue because it would fall on its face on all the stages.”