Khama’s mooted BDP chairmanship will create two centres of power

SHARE   |   Tuesday, 30 May 2017   |   By Adam Phetlhe
Khama’s mooted BDP chairmanship will create two centres of power

Even before the ink had dried on my last article titled ‘Can or will Masisi retrieve the BDP from the deep end’, the answer has duly arrived. The Botswana Gazette newspaper dated 24-30 May 2017 provided the answer by stating that Masisi intends to bring President Khama to chair the BDP upon his end of term next year. I had asked in this article if His Honour the Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi will upon becoming president undo all that have caused the BDP to perform so poorly both as a party and government. From the newspaper, it is clear that more of the same will be with us for as long as we can imagine – thanks to the Masisi/Khama continued partnership. In this conversation, we look at the power play occasioned by co-option, intentions and consequences. Power comes in all forms and shapes interpreted in so many ways. Charles W. Freeman, a former US Ambassador to South Arabia says “Power is the capacity to direct the decisions of others….” Others describe power “As a measure of influence or control over outcomes….” By co-opting President Khama as the BDP chairman, he will be able to exercise it in the manner just described. The Botswana Gazette referred to above carried a story head lined “Masisi to co-opt Khama for BDP chairmanship if he becomes president”. In this story, the newspaper reports that an anonymous cabinet minister who supports Masisi for the BDP chairmanship position at the upcoming Tonota delegates’ congress informed his constituency councillors about Masisi’s plan to co-opt Khama. The same newspaper in its edition dated 17-23 May 2017 reported the MP for Bobirwa Hon Shaw Kgathi to have said that “When Masisi ascends the presidency, the chairman position that he will be vacating will be filled by someone from within his central committee and this will guarantee him peace of mind and allow him to focus on his new role”. It is further reported in this edition that “….Shaw Kgathi has warned the BDP against creating two centres of power whereby the president only controls government while the party is controlled by someone else who may not share the same vision….” Let us in passing first look at Kgathi’s flawed argument on two centres of power.

Because Kgathi is a staunch supporter of Masisi and Khama, two centres of power are created and undesirable when the chairman of the BDP is not one of their own – that is, should Hon Molefhi be elected to this position and on the basis of that he would have contested against Masisi, his chairmanship inevitably creates another centre of power. Molefhi has made it clear that he desires a situation where the chairman concentrates on organising and building the party through resuscitating branches while the president concentrates on government business. I find this a compelling argument because government is currently overwhelmed by political and socio-economic challenges to deal with and to which no tangible, sustainable solutions are available. Kgathi seems to be conveniently oblivious to the possible outcome that Masisi may lose the chairmanship whereupon by the time he ascends the presidency, someone other than him could be the chairman. The uncomfortable reality to Kgathi and company is that Molefhi as chairman may influence an approach where the party should begin to direct government headed by Masisi to take and implement orders from it. The current approach is that this process is implemented in the reverse. We have heard from Botsalo Ntuane for example that the EVM issue was decided and implemented by the executive at the exclusion of the party. This is the source of Kgathi’s flawed argument about two centres of power. Let us consider the co-option of Khama as chairman of the BDP in the event Masisi becomes the president. Masisi appears not sure that he will benefit from the succession dispensation to become president if The Botswana Gazette story of 24-30 May 2017 is anything to go by. This may very well suggest that he may be alive to the possibility of being recalled should Molefhi win. The BDP position for chairmanship is an elective one as confirmed by the massive campaigns for it from Masisi and Molefhi. One wonders how Masisi will accommodate Khama as suggested. By the time Masisi assumes the position of president next year (if he does owing to his own fears) the executive committee’s term of office that will have been elected into office at Tonota will still be running. Assuming he will have won at Tonota, this means he will be both president and chairman in which case there will be no vacancy to co-opt Khama to. The obvious way to create a vacancy for Khama will be for him to resign the chairmanship and hand it over to Khama. I am not sure whether this scenario is provided for in the BDP Constitution or whether the constitution will be circumvented to accommodate Khama. What we know is that after the elections of all elective positions is complete, the president of the party appoints additional members to the already elected committee (including the chairmanship). To be fair to Masisi, let’s wait and see how he goes around co-opting Khama. But why would Masisi be so desirous to co-opt Khama? The stakes are high.

Masisi was appointed Vice President by Khama allegedly after some more deserving MPs were ignored. It has been widely reported that after the 2014 General Election and before Khama made known his preferred candidate for his assistant, BDP MPs were given a piece of paper on which those MPs wrote their preferred Vice President. It came out from those reports that Molefhi was preferred well ahead of Masisi. We are reminded of Khama approaching courts to direct that election of his preferred Vice President be done through show of hands as opposed to secret ballot. So by co-opting Khama, Masisi is essentially returning the favour he would otherwise not to have got probably in his political lifetime. But there could be more to this co-option than meets the eye. The BDP has been in power for over 50 years. This is a long period through which so many undesirable happenings, collectively or singularly sanctioned or not, may have taken place. Let’s be honest – surely some people have or may have crossed the legal line in one way or the other where consequent management should have taken its course which it hasn’t. The current political flow indicates (barring some misfortune of biblical proportions) that this rule could potentially come to an end in 2019. In the event this happens, Duma Boko has repeatedly announced in some telling language that those who have acted in a manner bordering on some form of criminality have some cases to answer. To avoid a possible face-to-face encounter with Boko, some form of avoiding this encounter doesn’t become an option. In this respect, conventional or unorthodox means to avoid such fatal encounters become necessary and unavoidable. It may eventually be dawning as brightly as day light is that it’s now or never where everyone has to carry his/her own cross. It has been reported in the media that the President owns several business interests across the country which would naturally require political protection now that Khama will have left the presidency. The Business Weekly & Review has extensively covered such business interests in their previous publications. One of these interests include “The hijacking of Air Botswana” story published in the 12-18 May 2017 edition where it is reported that “President Khama-affiliated eco-tourism outfit Wilderness Holdings will get 75 per cent of Air Botswana free of charge…”, the same story covered again in an earlier edition dated 05-11 May 2017 head lined “Khama demands Air Botswana for Wilderness” where it is reported that “Khama orders cabinet to okay take-over by Wilderness Safaris”. This is a massive business interest and if these newspaper reports are true, then one has to protect them from within the State and party machineries as indicated above. Who wouldn’t when an opportunity to do so is availed on a silver platter? It makes perfect sense therefore that President Khama is co-opted as BDP chairman to principally influence protection of his interests.  

Some voices of dissent in the party have become so loud in recent times that Masisi’s overtures to Khama should surely raise the pitch and the tone even higher. Masisi, it must be said, may stand to regret this political blunder for the simple reason that for as long as Khama remains active in one form or the other in the party machinery, this influence will inevitably overflow into government. Khama will be as good as ruling from the grave. Like I argued in the Khama legacy: The debate published in this publication on 2 April 2017, Khama leaves the presidency with a much poorer and weaker Botswana than the one he inherited! I still hold this view. Under Khama, the BDP split with the birth of the equally troubled BMD; it has recorded the lowest popular vote of 47% in 2014 let alone the pathetic performance in the last eleven or so by-elections. The party is currently hanging in there with no prospects of doing well in the near future because of internal strife. I will argue that BDP members should be justifiably aggrieved by the mooted co-option of Khama to head their party on the basis that it has lost its former glory under his watch and that it needs a new broom which sweeps clean. Masisi and Khama may be sharing the same vision and mission for both the BDP and Botswana, but results from their partnership have with the greatest of respect, been disastrous. Botswana’s current political and socio-economic woes and the BDP’s internal instability are confirmations of this disaster.   One centre of power will be created by Khama where he will encourage and perpetuate the current status quo possibly in its entirety while the other will be created by those opposed to it. It goes without saying that there will be a serious purge in cabinet against those supporting Molefhi for chairmanship which will solidify the latter centre of power. There will also be some effort to eliminate them from the political mainstream of the party. This I am afraid, will make Masisi’s presidency a nightmare.  Judge for Yourself!