The arrest that shook a nation

Justice Kavahematui - BG reporter
Tuesday, 22 January 2019
NABBED...Once a powerful and feared figure under the Ian Khama presidency, Isaac Kgosi was arrested and spent a night in a police cell, he is facing tax evasion charges. NABBED...Once a powerful and feared figure under the Ian Khama presidency, Isaac Kgosi was arrested and spent a night in a police cell, he is facing tax evasion charges.

Dressed in a stripe-golf T-shirt and a khaki pair of trousers, Isaac Kgosi -the once feared spy chief –suffered his most humiliating evening this week Tuesday when he was arrested at the airport. Kgosi walked out of the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport’s sliding doors straight into the arms of waiting security agents, who handed him a search warrant and then proceeded to arrest and handcuff him. 

With a wry smile on his face, Kgosi now had to follow the command of officers from the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS)—an organisation that he had led for 10 years. During that time the organisation turned into a rogue agency, notorious for extra-judicial killings, torture and other degrading treatments, unlawful and arbitrary arrests and detentions as well as wiretappings of electronic communications and invasion of privacy of citizens.

To the delight of many, Isaac Kgosi’s arrest was like tasting a dose of his own medicine. Many on social media were able to witness the arrest thanks to different newspapers that beamed the whole saga on their Facebook pages. As he was being handcuffed on Tuesday night at the airport under the watchful eye of Brigadier Peter Magosi; the new DISS Director General who was appointed last year following Kgosi’s sacking, the latter questioned why he was being handcuffed under the glare of the public eye. He concluded that the whole exercise was meant to embarrass him.

It sounds crazy, but as he was being led away the former DISS tough man made the most chilling statement, “You guys are driving me to do things I never thought I will do. I’m telling you. I am going to topple the government, I’m telling you.” By Wednesday authorities had swept through some of his homes in Gaborone (one in Phakalane another in Extension 11) and by late afternoon choppers borrowed by the DIS were expected to head to his farm in Maboane.  Magosi who was leading the search together with officers from the Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) was not forthcoming with information on what they were really looking for. 

He could also not state what Kgosi is being charged with, but Kgosi’s lawyers, Unoda Mack and Diba Diba told reporters that their client is being investigated on tax issues. Sunday Standard reported over the weekend that BURS is conducting a comprehensive lifestyle audit on Kgosi. As the head of the DISS until he was sacked last year by President Mokgweetsi Masisi, Kgosi was the embodiment of an entity that was ruthless, feared and unaccountable to anyone, including the president. Magosi is now fighting to shed this negative image of the DISS.

To some, Kgosi who retired from the army over two decades ago to join Ian Khama as his private secretary is a living embodiment of the mantra, ‘hard work pays’ as he rose through the ranks during his days with the Botswana Defence Force. For others, he was a heartless spy boss who trampled on people’s rights by unlawfully arresting and eavesdropping on citizens’ cellphone conversations.  DISS under Kgosi and Khama was the most powerful security organ in the country- big, well-funded and totally unaccountable.

An American scholarly analysis had estimated DISS’ spending at $25, 677, 600, placing it 86th in the world among such agencies. DISS was established amid controversy shortly after President Ian Khama assumed office in 2008. Funds from Disaster Fund were diverted to help establish the organisation amid strong resistance from opposition MPs and some of Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) backbenchers.

According to Kenneth Good—a former Professor of Political Studies, University of Botswana, 1990-2005, and now honorary fellow, RMIT, Melbourne -the architects of the DIS intended that the DIS was insulated from oversight.“A nominal parliamentary oversight body, had never met since December 2014, and DIS never submitted a report to parliament, as was mandated in the DISS Act,” he wrote last year. According to him DIS in 2017 possessed state-of-the-art electronic eavesdropping equipment enabling the agency to listen into any form of communication.

This represented ‘one of the most powerful technical capabilities in the region’ “This capacity supposedly stripped Botswana’s opposition parties ‘stark naked’, and it could be what was needed to save the BDP from losing the 2019 general elections,” he wrote. Last year, Kgosi told the Public Accounts Committee that the DISS does not answer to any one, not even the president! He said he did not answer to the president of the republic who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces nor his second in command the vice president, Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration or Permanent Secretary to the President on matters pertaining to security and intelligence in the country.

According to Kgosi the buck stopped with him at DISS as the Accounting Officer. The blue-eyed boy of the Khama administration, many argued that Kgosi was protected by Khama, who shielded him from both prosecution and accountability before democratic institutions.

“The spy unit under him was a huge liability to the fiscus,” argued President of the Botswana Congress Party Dumelang Saleshando last year following Kgosi’s axing. Saleshando expressed the hope that Kgosi’s axing would be followed by his immediate prosecution and the auditing of the directorate of intelligence and security services, which has not happened since its establishment in 2007. Saleshando also said, “We also recommend investigation into human rights abuses by the [directorate] under Kgosi and Khama, including but not limited to extra-judicial killings, torture and other degrading treatments, unlawful and arbitrary arrests and detentions and wiretappings of electronic communications and invasion of privacy of citizens.”

It is not yet clear whether Kgosi’s arrest and subsequent detention will open a can of worms or not, but his arrest comes at a time when there is a fierce fight within the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). Disagreements between President Masisi and his former boss Ian Khama led to deep divisions within the BDP with Kgosi’s arrest being linked to the party internal wars. Some argue that in arresting Kgosi, Masisi has captured Khama’s “queen” and that the end is nigh for the former president.

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