Botswana's former president Ian Khama has vowed to vigorously campaign to dethrone his handpicked successor Mokgweetsi Masisi, now a bitter rival whom he accuses of being a threat to democracy, in next year's elections.
The 70-year-old Khama, governed one of Africa's most stable democracies and its top diamond producing nation for a decade until 2018, before handing the reigns to Masisi, then his deputy.
South Africa-based Khama now accuses Masisi, 60, of authoritarianism and has said he regrets having appointed him as his successor.
Khama landed in South Africa in November 2021 to meet Nigerian ex-leader and respected continental mediator, Olusegun Obasanjo who was trying to intervene to bridge the rift between both men.
He never returned home.
The row between the pair started immediately after Khama resigned in 2018 at the end of his constitutional limit of two five-year terms when Masisi started reversing some key policies adopted during Khama's tenure.
Months later, and in the run up to the last elections, Khama dramatically quit the long-ruling Botswana Democratic Party, which had been co-founded by his father Seretse Khama, Botswana's first president.
With elections due next year Khama is preparing to return home to bolster the opposition into a coalition to remove Masisi through the ballot box.
"I have to fix the mistake I made in appointing Masisi to be my successor," Khama told AFP in Johannesburg, adding he plans to "join with other parties to ensure that he (Masisi) and his party lose the elections".
"It was a huge mistake, one that we are regretting as a country because he's totally undermined democracy, human rights, the rule of law, interfered with the judiciary."
Khama drew parallels between Masisi and ex-American president Donald Trump.
"Botswana has been a democracy, right from independence, we had a very good reputation for democracy, we were a shining light on the African continent, we were renowned worldwide for our adherence to democracy and then you get this one man who comes in one day and just overturns everything," said Khama.
"And this is the Botswana version of Donald Trump in Masisi."
Both Masisi and the government's spokesmen did not respond to AFP's request for a comment on Khama's claims.
In happier times: Ian Khama (L) handpicked Mokgweetsi Masisi (R) to be his successor as Botswana president in 2018. By MONIRUL BHUIYAN (AFP)
"We thought we had built enough foundation that could not be rocked when it came to our democracy, but we have found out that it just takes one man in that position to reverse all the gains that we have made and sweated for many years," he said.
Khama, who is standing for presidency of his party next month, said he had intelligence information on plans to arrest and poison him if he returned home.
When he retired from power, the former senior military officer said he had intended to pursue conservation charity work and farming. By Wikus de Wet (AFP)
"They fear I have still got a lot of influence on the people of Botswana to be able to sway them, not that they need swaying, they pretty much made up their mind now that regime change should take place," he said.
On December 29 last year Botswana issued an arrest warrant for Khama, alleging unlawful possession of firearms.
In preparation for his return, he says he has undergone a full medical check and updated his will because he is almost certain that within days of arriving he will be locked up.
When he retired from power, the former senior military officer said he had intended to pursue conservation charity work, farming and that politics was not on his radar.
"When I left office I intended to completely leave politics but here I'm now more involved in politics than even when I was president because I'm determined to make sure this man (Masisi) goes," he said.
In an address to a ruling BDP rally in Khama's home district late January, Masisi struck a reconciliatory note.
"I pray to God for us to meet at some point... to ask for each other's forgiveness," the president said speaking in Tswana.