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Can or will Masisi retrieve the BDP from the deep end?

SHARE   |   Monday, 22 May 2017   |   By Adam Phetlhe
Can or will Masisi retrieve the BDP from the deep end?

To suggest that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is at the deep end is an understatement. It is at the deep end but struggling to catch the last breath. A heavy load is attached to its body structure which disables it to at least swim to safety. If it had honestly and genuinely after the pathetic performance in the 2014 general election introspected to address and resolve issues which led to such performance, it could by now be moving pound for pound with the Umbrella for Democratic Change. As a sign of introspection, Botsalo Ntuane suggested a compelling set of reforms to redeem the party which in my view may have gone a long way in regaining the party’s attractiveness to the BDP members in particular and the electorate in general. At the very least and if these reforms were endorsed, the BDP could have won 50% of by-elections post 2014. Results of these by-elections indicate that the BDP has moved from bad to worse with its tagline ‘There is still no alternative’ directly opposite to what obtains on the political landscape. Election results this far indicates that there is still an alternative. Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi is eleven months away or so from assuming the highest office in the land hence this article headline question. Before going any further, I must state that Masisi has been part of processes and procedures that have led his party and the country to this point. For him to redeem both the party and the country, he will as a matter of urgency, have to completely and comprehensively undo all that has led to the current status quo. The immediate question is: what issues should be undone and will he do so? To answer this question, I look at Masisi’s role in both government and the party this far.


For Masisi to retrieve the BDP government from the deep end, he has to firstly retrieve himself from the yoke of sycophancy (bolope) which he has confirmed on more than one occasion with aplomb. Presidential aspirants and heir apparent like Masisi do not need this type of amoral posture for it brings into sharp focus their integrity and suitability for the highest office. Masisi will have to come to terms (whether he likes it or not) with the importance of workers as firstly citizens and secondly as a voting bloc. History tells us that Masisi is perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be anti-workers in view of the role he played in the 2011 public servants’ strike and thereafter as a minister responsible for public service. Remember that in politics, perception is reality where the truth is negotiated thereafter. The current public service minister has not fared any better to create a conducive environment for government/workers peaceful co-existence. He is in fact the weakest link and poisoned chalice which strengthen the animosity between the BDP government and public servants. Ever since this strike, Masisi’s party has unleashed an adversarial conduct towards workers with the numerous anti-workers laws. Just a week or so after sharing the podium with workers during this year’s May Day celebrations at Serowe and Selebi-Phikwe respectively, Masisi’s government in typical bad faith is reported to have moved with supersonic speed to amend the Public Service Act without workers’ input and involvement in which government will exercise unfettered authority and power over the Bargaining Council. This Council effectively becomes a government department with its autonomy well and permanently obliterated. Corruption, which government claims to be vigorously fighting and winning, is far from being the case in the public eye. This view is premised on the collapse of government multi-billion projects whose reasons for such is not convincingly explained. The rule of law has somewhat become a dodgy issue where it is conveniently applied when and if it suits government. A number of court decisions or orders have not being complied with for no reasonable cause where litigants have asked such courts to imprison those who are refusing to comply. 

During the Budget speech this year, Masisi’s government stated categorically that it is not responsible for job creation. However and whatever spin-doctoring is attached to this position, the message is clear: you are on your own to put bread on the table and don’t expect government to help you to do so. To emphatically demonstrate this position, government inflicted the final and fatal blow to workers by unilaterally shutting down BCL and Tati mines where over 5000 dependents directly or indirectly lost livelihoods. Against expert advice from numerous captains of the industry of the dire consequences of shutting these mines, he flew to Selebi-Phikwe to personally break the news to the miners. It was evident that Masisi was not prepared in the slightest imagination possible to reconsider this matter further and beyond what he had told the miners. It was a done deal where miners had to either swim or sink. The latter is the case. Masisi’s government is reported to be disposing of national assets like Morupule B power station, BCL, Air Botswana and others for a song and under controversial circumstances. The Business Weekly & Review dated 5 – 11 May 2017 reported that cabinet ministers were given a piece of paper during their weekly meeting on which to rubberstamp the sale of Air Botswana to Wilderness Safaris. If this is true, it tells us just how low this government has sunk. Coupled with these is the order of the day retrenchments in public enterprises occasioned in large measure by failure of good corporate governance by those tasked with leading them. Bear in mind that Masisi is officially charged with job creation yet BCL and Tati mines tell the opposite-job destruction. The only time you hear him talk about job creation is when he is a key note speaker at forums like the Job Summit. Nothing tangible shows that indeed job creation is government’s first priority because the budget speech referred to above says it all. The poor to non-performance of ministers and other senior civil servants were publicly laid bare at the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies late last year.

We came to learn how ministers un-procedurally went on tourism and aircraft shopping sprees at great and unauthorised cost; how a senior civil servant personally head hunted five senior executives on his own without authority. All these matters have been swept under the carpet and its business as usual at the government enclave. The P24 billion spending spree on military hardware against compelling and glaring socio-economic challenges plaguing this country indicates the highest levels of insensitivity of government to such challenges. Masisi, as leader of government business in parliament, has overseen various bills passed into law under very controversial circumstances. The Electoral (Amendment) Act 2016 which brought the controversial electronic voting machines perhaps stands out as the most contested law given its implications to the election process. Would you believe that people who passed this law are now disowning it? The validity and constitutionality of this law is challenged by opposition parties at the High Court. It was expected that a comprehensive national consultation would ensue before the bill was tabled in Parliament as was the case before when the preceding law was passed. Masisi has known for as long as one can remember that he was going to inherit an unpopular government – has he done enough to convince all and sundry that he has got what it takes to radically transform it?  History so far suggests otherwise. 

The Party

Even before he ascends to the highest office, Masisi is reportedly embroiled in what Dr Gobotswang refers to as ‘The Guptarization of the BDP’ (Weekend Post 13-19 May 2017) wherein powerful and highly influential business men and presumably women are funding his campaign for the chairmanship of the party. This on its own breeds cronyism, patronage the results of which are similar to what is taking place in South Africa – State of Capture. It is also reported that his opponent for the same position Hon Molefhi, is finding it extremely difficult to solicit the same funding from the same or other business people. Business people invest their money for equal or even more tangible returns. After all, that is the essence of business. Without any doubt, Masisi will have to be beholden (again whether he likes it or not) to these people whereupon they become highly influential in how government business is conducted. This conduct by Masisi goes without saying that it presupposes an unequal contest which inevitably divides the party as it appears to be the case.  What is even more puzzling are reports in the Sunday Standard newspaper dated May 7-13 2017 that the ‘party and government is to award council tenders to BDP members in a bid to strengthen the party war chest in the run up to the elections’ (2019 general election). It is reported in the same newspaper that ‘A number of BDP members also argued that elections should be cancelled at the July Congress, to protect Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi from being challenged for the position of Chairmanship’. This is not only undemocratic but suicidal for the party because it solidifies and promotes the already deep divisions which have led to the party’s poor performance in recent by-elections under Masisi’s watch. One other issue of significance is that Masisi has reportedly surrounded himself with new recruits from the opposition against the tried and tested old party members. This has created a simmering tension which has become an open secret. Will or can Masisi undo the above to retrieve the BDP from the deep end? 

Nothing suggests for now or may be for the foreseeable future that some form of cessation to hostilities is in the offing given the polluted and toxic atmosphere within the BDP under Masisi’s watch and probable endorsement. There is no likelihood that he may be prepared to fall on his sword by undoing all the above because he is part of their creation. Mmegi online edition dated 3 March 2017 describes Masisi as “politically a replica of President Ian Khama”. He is known to be a loyal and perhaps blindly so, a staunch supporter of the President and for him to reverse all the ills of both the party and government, he will be as good as stabbing the President in the back and by extension, denouncing his (President) administration’s policies and programmes. To be fair to Masisi, he will be his own man post Khama but for him to undo all that has brought the BDP untold suffering at the hands of the opposition, requires time and courage which I am afraid, he doesn’t have the benefit and luxury of. In the process, the party will remain at the deep end gasping for the final breath unless and until a life saviour promptly arrives. Masisi is neither presently nor in the foreseeable future one such saviour. The political temperature in the BDP ahead of the July congress suggests the party and government may emerge from it more bruised than is presently the case. The stakes are probably higher than ever before. Judge for Yourself!