Nepotism in President Ian Khama’s administration is a sensitive issue in Botswana, which, with Swaziland, is thought to have the highest unemployment rate in the world. Khama, who has been president for four years and was vice-president for 10 years before that, has concentrated enormous power in his hands. One of his close relatives, Ramadeluka Seretse, is the minister in charge of the defence force, police, intelligence services and the law enforcement machinery.
So far, the president’s cronyism has escaped the attention of international corruption watchers. In terms of corruption, Botswana is ranked 32 out of 182 countries by Transparency International, the highest-placed nation in Africa. South Africa is way down the list, at 64. Indeed, for four decades the former British possession has been Africa’s golden boy with its high annual economic growth rates – gross domestic product growth in 2012 is projected to be 5.1% – and a reputation for good governance and political stability.
But this week the leader of Botswana’s political opposition, Dumelang Saleshando, accused Khama of “wanting to reduce Botswana to a “private entity”. He added: “His general attitude is that his associates in the Cabinet are indispensable.”
A Mail & Guardian investigation reveals that:
- Khama has appointed many members of his family as well as friends to senior positions in the government and state agencies, sometimes to the detriment of good governance.
- The most recent case was the appointment of his younger brother, Tshekedi, as minister of wildlife, environment and tourism last month. Tshekedi is a low-profile MP who has not distinguished himself in Parliament and it is unclear what qualifications he has for the job.
- “He is a poor performer and has not brought a single motion to Parliament, although that was his role as a backbencher,” Saleshando said.
- There are suspicions that, in some cases, the advancement of members of his circle aims to protect Khama’s own interests, specifically in the tourism sector. Throughout his presidency and much of his deputy presidency, the tourism minister has been a member of his inner circle.
- Wilderness Holdings spokesperson Julia Swanepoel has confirmed that the president owns a 5% stake in Linyanti Investments, a subsidiary of JSE-listed Wilderness Holdings, which drew international flak for illegally occupying the ancestral land of the Bushmen in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
- Linyanti owns the Linyanti Concession, which covers 1250km2 of the northern Kalahari in the Chobe district. Wilderness said last year that Khama had bought the shares “at a market-related price” in October 2002, when he was vice-president.
- The M&G has also established that Khama’s nephew, Marcus Patrick Khama ter Haar, and his personal lawyer, Parks Baedzi Tafa, were both appointed directors of Wilderness Holdings in January last year.
- Parks said he was a Wilderness director and that he was invited to serve on the board in his personal capacity as an attorney. But neither he nor Marcus had shares in Wilderness Holdings. “It is quite a large board and my service there has nothing to do with Khama,” Tafa said.
- Marcus had not responded by the time of going to print.
- One of the sources of jobs for pals is the strategic diamond industry, particularly De Beers Botswana and Debswana, the 50-50 joint venture between De Beers and the government. CIC Energy, a major coal-mining venture in Mmamabula that was recently taken over by the Indian conglomerate Jindal Steel and Power, is also a source of top jobs.
- Many of Khama’s relatives and friends have benefited from government tenders and other business, particularly contracts handed out by the Botswana Defence Force and the Botswana Police Service.
- Reacting to complaints that his government regularly bypassed tender processes, he accused critics of being “frivolous”.
- Beneficiaries include his brothers, twins Tshekedi and Anthony, who are middlemen acting on behalf of the defence force.
- Former senior officers of the defence force, which Khama headed until 1998 and which remains an important prop of his power, are among the major beneficiaries of state appointments and contracts.
- Corruption charges have been investigated and laid against a number of Khama’s associates, but they have never resulted in a conviction.
Khama’s twin brothers came under close scrutiny this year over allegations that companies they own landed big contracts from the defence force when he was its commander. Former University of Botswana political scientist Kenneth Good claims in Diamonds, Dispossession and Democracy in Botswana, published in 2008, that the defence force bought equipment from Seleka Springs, a company of which Tshekedi and Anthony Khama were directors. Good was declared an undesirable immigrant and deported in 2005 after writing an academic paper that criticised Botswana’s system of “automatic succession” to the presidency.
The Botswana Guardian reported in April this year that Seleka Springs used its influence in 1998 to prevail on the defence force to buy 45 Austrian Pandur tanks. This was contrary to the recommendations in the confidential report of a team of defence experts, presented to then-president Festus Mogae by the former chairperson of the defence council, Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe, in 2001. The experts were concerned that the Pandurs were inferior to, but far more expensive than, Piranha tanks from Switzerland. As the unqualified agents of the defence force, Seleka Springs bought the Pandur tanks for 426-million pula (R469-million), P26-million more than the going price for the Piranhas.
It was alleged that the Pandurs were unable to traverse sand dunes and needed refuelling after shorter distances than their more robust Swiss counterparts. Tests also showed that the Austrian tank had an unreliable engine and was costlier to maintain. Khama was defence force commander when the deal was approved in 1998. It is believed that Seleka Springs, which has now been deregistered, was awarded 33 of 35 multimillion-pula defence force tenders from 1998. Good also alleged that in 1997 the defence force bought vehicles, especially Land-Rovers, from Lobatse Delta, also under the directorship of the Khama twins. Tshekedi refused to speak to the M&G and attempts to contact Anthony were unsuccessful.
Ramadeluka Seretse, Khama’s cousin, is Botswana’s minister of defence, justice and security, under which fall the police, the Directorate of Intelligence Services, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, the attorney general and the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crimes.
A former defence force brigadier general, Seretse was controversially acquitted on corruption charges relating to government contracts worth P1.1-million awarded to RFT Botswana, of which he was chairperson and his wife, Sandra Salome, and brother, Bathusi Seretse, were directors. During the trial, he resigned from the Cabinet, but was reappointed after being acquitted. Seretse was charged with failing to disclose his interests to the president when his company won tenders from the police to supply ammunition, firearms, surveillance cameras and electronic security equipment. He told Parliament there was no question of impropriety on his part and that he had taken steps to avoid corruption and minimise the risk of his personal business interests compromising his ability to carry out his ministerial duties independently. He said he had declared his business interests to the president and that tenders were handled by the ministerial tender committee, on which he did not have a seat.
The director of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crimes is Rose Seretse, Seretse’s cousin by marriage. Seretse’s ministry also oversees it.
The Botswana media also revealed this year that Hot Bread Shop/Cosy Care, a company owned by Seretse’s wife, Sandra, was awarded a tender to supply bread to all defence force camps in Botswana between 1990 and 2000. Ramadeluka Seretse told Parliament that Hot Bread was one of nine companies given defence force tenders during that period. In an interview, he accused the devil of trying to use people to bring him down, adding that he was strong enough not to blame “confused” people. He said he had not benefited from his relationship with Khama and had been the minister since 2004, before Khama became president. About his corruption case, he said: “I did nothing wrong and there was no absolute evidence, hence my acquittal.”
The Mokaila brothers
Kitso and Tefo Mokaila are the president’s childhood friends and army colleagues. Their father, Dingaan Mokaila, served as the first private secretary to president Seretse Khama, Ian’s father, in the 1970s. A former defence force captain, Kitso was environment and tourism minister in Khama’s Cabinet until Tshekedi Khama took over and is now minister of minerals, energy and water affairs. Seen as a member of Khama’s inner circle, he is tipped as future vice-president. Tefo, like his father, is a personal secretary at State House.
Attempts to contact Kitso were unsuccessful, but Tefo said that his younger brothers, including Kitso, grew up with Khama and had always been close to him. “Doing the same job as his father did at State House is a coincidence and has nothing to do with knowing Khama. I’ve never been Ian’s friend and my job here was never planned for,” he said. He said Khama was no more than his boss and that his duty was “to serve him as His Excellency”.
Isaac Kgosi, who heads the Directorate of Intelligence Services, was a close associate of Khama during the president’s years as defence force commander. Kgosi rose to the position of head of military intelligence and became Khama’s senior personal secretary when the latter was vice-president. The directorate, set up in 2008 by Khama to detect and investigate threats to national security, remains one of the president’s key power bases. Kgosi has served Khama in different capacities over time — once as his personal bodyguard. They remain close, both professionally and personally. He refused to speak to the M&G.
Sheila Khama is the president’s aunt by marriage. She divorced his uncle, Sekgoma Khama, but kept the Khama surname. She is the former chief executive officer of De Beers Botswana, the country’s largest mining company. She is a non-executive director of De Beers Botswana and a number of other companies, including Debswana, De Beers Prospecting Botswana, the government’s Botswana Diamond Valuing Company, salt and soda ash mine Botswana Ash and the Gope Exploration Company.
She is now based in Ghana, where she is the director of extractive resources services of the African Centre for Economic Transformation, an economic policy institute that supports the long-term growth and transformation of African economies. According to the company’s website, she holds a BA degree from the University of Botswana and an MBA from Edinburgh University’s business school. She could not be reached for comment.
Johan ter Haar
Khama’s friend, Johan ter Haar, was formerly married to Khama’s sister, Jacqueline. Until recently, he was chairperson of a parastatal, the Business and Economic Advisory Council, which was established in 2005 as an advisory body to assist the government in accelerating economic diversification and growth and reducing dependency on the mining sector. He is now retired and lives in Belgium, where he could not be reached.
Dale ter Haar
Dale ter Haar is Ian Khama’s nephew, the son of Johan and Jacqueline. He is the general manager of CIC Energy, which, with local company Moepong Resources, is in charge of the Pula Mmabalula Energy Project, a giant planned coal-mining operation about 120km northeast of Gaborone. The Sandton-based company was recently acquired by Jindal Steel & Power, one of India’s major steel producers, which has a significant presence in mining, power generation and infrastructure. With an annual revenue of more than $3.5-billion, Jindal is a part of a $15-billion diversified group.
Ter Haar, based in Gaborone, has been head of CIC Energy’s Botswana office since it was established in 2006. He was trained, like Khama, at the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy in Britain and served in the British army for 10 years, rising to the rank of major. Ter Haar graduated in business administration from the University of Cardiff. Approached for comment, he questioned the M&G’s “involvement” in Botswana’s affairs and said that being the president’s nephew did not benefit him because he had a good education and leadership skills.
Ter Haar said that he came back to Botswana in 2006 because CIC Energy was showing an interest in the coal-mining project. “I applied, went for an interview and got the job,” he said. “I am a capable man.”
Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, the minister of education and skills development, hails from Serowe, Ian Khama’s home town, and is a close friend of the president and a member of his inner circle. She previously served as the minister of trade, industry, wildlife and tourism and the minister of communication, science and technology. Although appointed tourism minister by Khama’s predecessor, Mogae, she allegedly landed the job on Khama’s recommendation. As communications minister, she was in charge of the flow of information to the public through Botswana Television, Radio Botswana, RB2, Daily News and Kutlwano.
It is believed that Venson-Moitoi has easy access to Khama and the two are close confidants. She refused to answer the M&G’s questions, saying that “she has no time for people who don’t understand her capabilities”.
Tsetsele Fantan, the daughter of Peto Sekgoma, the cousin of Sekgoma II, Seretse Khama’s father, is effectively Ian Khama’s cousin. She is an important member of the tribunal of the Directorate of Intelligence Services, an appeals body with which all complaints against the directorate must be lodged. Khama personally appointed her to the position. A former executive director of the African Comprehensive HIV/Aids Partnership, Fantan has worked for Debswana as a director of HIV/Aids management and as a personnel manager at Debswana’s Jwaneng mine.
She told the M&G that she did not need to defend herself because “many people know my capabilities. I have high-level jobs and, with time, have learned that silence is the best weapon because I’m a competent leader.” Suggestions that she landed her Debswana position because of her relationship with Khama were designed to discredit the president, she said. Fantan is on the board of the Botswana Building Society as an independent human resource consultant. The building society is part-owned by the Botswana government.
Thapelo Olopeng, a former defence force captain, maintained his friendship with Khama after both men left the army. They have travelled together on Khama’s official trips abroad. Now a businessperson, Olopeng’s latest venture is a newspaper called the Patriot, which he co-owns with defence force secretary general Mpho Balopi, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) MP Guma Moyo and the chief executive of the Choppies supermarket chain, Ramachandran Ottapath. Mogae is chairperson of the group.
It is widely expected that the paper, set to be launched next month, will provide positive coverage of the Botswana Democratic Party-controlled government, although Olopeng denied this in an interview. He also denied that the ruling party owned the paper and that he was Khama’s friend. In 2009, Olopeng reportedly addressed a BDP rally in Gumare, in northwest Botswana.
Brigadier George Tlhalerwa last month became the latest senior member of the defence force to quit the army to work in the office of the president — as Khama’s senior private secretary. The president’s a close ally, Khama appointed him commander of defence logistics in May this year. Tlhalerwa refused to grant an interview and questioned the M&G’s interest in the politics of Botswana.
Moyo, a ruling-party parliamentarian and co-owner of the Patriot, was cleared on corruption charges in 2009 while assistant minister of finance and development planning. Dropped from the executive after it emerged that he faced charges of corruption and a conflict of interest, he continued to serve as an MP. Through his company, the Interest Research Bureau (IRB), he won tenders from the ministry of lands to collect debts in 2003 and then allegedly collected inflated charges from thousands of residential, commercial and industrial plot owners.
Moyo also allegedly bought a stake in a firm being pursued by the IRB for interest on land in Kasane. It was said that he misled the company into selling the land for P1-million after claiming that the office of the president had issued a directive that all plots in arrears had to be repossessed. The spokesperson for the attorney general, Abigail Hlabano, later said the state had decided not to prosecute him because of insufficient evidence.
Moyo refused to be interviewed.
Duke Masilo, a former defence force colonel, joined the civil service when Khama retired from the defence force in 1998 to become vice-president. Masilo has been redeployed to the ministry of presidential affairs and public administration, where he is in charge of Khama’s flagship housing project. With Satar Dada and Paul Paledi, who are both in business, he is on the president’s housing appeal committee, which was set up to provide shelter for the needy.
Masilo told the M&G that the president had the right to choose with whom he wanted to work. Khama was always in the spotlight and under pressure and he needed the support of people he knew, he said. “The good thing about us as his defence force employees is that he knows our strengths and weaknesses,” he said.
Dada, the Botswana Democratic Party treasurer and at one time one of Khama’s appointed MPs, is widely seen as one of the president’s pillars of support and closest friends. But he denied this saying that they met only once a month at central committee meetings of the party. Dada confirmed that the Toyota Motor Centre, which he owns, sells cars under contract to the government. Former transport minister Frank Ramsden told Parliament last year that between 2006 and 2011 the government spent P188.9-million on vehicles supplied by Dada. Dada also supplied vehicles to the ruling party, enabling its candidates to campaign in the 2004 election.
Dada has a stake in the Associated Investment and Development Corporation, which, in turn, owns 40% of Ross Breeders, which dominates the day-old-chicken industry. The corporation partly owns Nutrifeed/Master Feeds, which is said to control up to 95% of the feed market, and Dada also has a stake in the broiler market through Tswana Pride and Dikoko Tsa Botswana. They own shares in Coldline, which dominates the import market and cold storage.
Dada said that government schools were among the clients of his chicken companies, but added: “We tender just like other companies — sometimes we succeed and sometimes we don’t.”
The official response
Approached for comment, government spokesperson Jeff Ramsay said Botswana was a very small country where “everybody knows everybody”.
He dismissed allegations of nepotism and cronyism made against President Ian Khama as “baseless and senseless” and said most governments employed officials who were related to their leaders. For example, Nelson Mandela had appointed his former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, as deputy arts minister and President Jacob Zuma’s ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, served in his Cabinet.
Referring to Tshekedi Khama’s appointment as tourism minister, Ramsay said that the president did not need a minister to protect his interests. “He has interests in tourism, but how will having a minister protect them? I find this whole issue sick,” he said. Ramsay said Khama’s relatives who held government positions and did business with the state declared their interests. “Working for government is not a problem because the president knows how these individuals perform,” he said.