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Botswana’s Ex-President Worries About Decline in Democracy, Rebuffs Corruption Claims

Botswana President Ian Khama arrives at the Botswana-South Africa Bi-National Commission (BNC) in Pretoria, South Africa, November 11, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Botswana’s former President Ian Khama is strongly denying allegations of corruption and voicing his concerns about the direction of the country.

In an interview with VOA’s Nightline Africa radio program, Khama said claims made by the administration of current President Mokgweetsi Masisi that he misappropriated billions in the local currency are “laughable.” He said he plans to take the matter to court.

Khama said the false accusation is payback by members of the ruling party for his decision to campaign against them in the recent presidential election. The party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), was founded by Khama’s father.

“The only reason that this was done was because a few months ago I resigned from the ruling party. Because they had abandoned our democratic credentials that we have had such a good reputation with up to this point in time,” he told VOA.

Botswana had an election in October where Khama campaigned against the ruling party.

“They swore that they would ‘get at me and fix me’ in their own words for having done that,” he said.

Earlier this month, Jako Hubona, of Botswana’s Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime, accused Khama and two other former high-ranking officials of transferring state funds to personal bank accounts in South Africa and Hong Kong. Only one official, senior intelligence officer Weleminah Maswabi, has been formally charged so far.

Botswana's president Mokgweetsi Masisi attends the World Economic Forum Africa meeting at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, Sept. 4, 2019, in Cape Town.

Trophy hunting licenses

Khama claims the current president, who previously served as his vice president, has become “drunk on power.” One policy difference between the two men is a decision by Masisi earlier this year to reverse a ban on trophy hunting of elephants. Conservation had been a major part of Khama’s administration.

But Khama said that although he disagrees with the decision, he did not seek to interfere.

“A new administration is at liberty to introduce its own policies. So when he did it I just said, ‘Well that’s fine,’” he said. “He’s the president today. If he wants to bring about those policy changes, he’s quite entitled to do so. I did the same thing. So who am I to try and challenge them?”

Decline in democracy

But Khama is gravely concerned about the state of democracy in his country and the ethics of the party he led for 10 years. He pointed to the fact that the BDP postponed primary elections three times this year and has incurred accusations of cheating.

“I would say it’s definitely in decline. If you’ve been following how our elections went, you would see that a number of petitions before the courts about allegations of rigging of the elections. Something certainly went wrong there that we’ve never, ever seen before,” he said.