Rre Mokgweetsi Masisi is in his position largely because of the hand of the former President Rre Ian Khama. It is been reported by those who know that Masisi was after all, not the original heir apparent but that those who were, were bungled out of the race either by failing to pass the bulela ditswe (primary elections) hurdle or that of the 2014 general election. As a result so say these reports further, Masisi was anointed though there were still other individuals who could have been appointed ahead of him notably Rre Nonofo Molefhi. As Masisi is still settling in his new position with the ‘make or break’ general election around the corner coupled with the unstable composite of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), he would ‘naturally’ require all the support whatever it could be, from the man who catapulted him to where he is today.
It appears the backing Masisi has enjoyed and grew up under Khama may be slipping away from him. It will be interesting to see how he brands himself from Khama. I will be concentrating more on the party support than on the executive because executive authority is vested in Masisi as per Section 47 of the Constitution. He can therefore easily and effectively deal with Khama’s ‘wayward behaviour’ in the State than he can in the party. So I am debating this matter from a purely party political perspective because that is where Masisi, in my view, looks more vulnerable without the Khama backing or support.
But first things first. Politically speaking, Masisi as I have mentioned was made by Khama. In the current fallout however, the latter appears to be undoing the making of the former possibly to the detriment of the former. How sad one could exclaim! One underpinning factor in the Masisi/Khama fallout is that political allegiances have now spectacularly and dramatically shifted depending of course on who one speaks to. In the circumstances, who is right or wrong does not necessarily win the day as it is sometimes politically the case. It is how one outsmarts the other with whatever tactics. Either Masisi or Khama plays dirty because politics is a dirty game anyway! It is like stealing an election where you first steal and the truth comes after the fact if any. For us as human beings to achieve our objectives in certain circumstances, even your adversary’s help could become handy. Whether your adversary has a chequered past becomes temporarily immaterial for purposes of your convenience. I am arguing that Masisi unfortunately finds himself with a mentor consumed by such chequered past (some would justifiably disagree with my proposition) yet he holds almost all the aces to deliver him victory. But does Khama hold almost all the aces?
I would support this proposition. Khama has just left public office where I argue, he commanded massive influence in the BDP which is still vivid in the minds of its members let alone the public. Without going far behind in history, my reference point is the farewell kgotla meetings he addressed just before he left public office. The amount of gifts he received from members of the public were an indication that he is somewhat held in high esteem. It has been suggested that some of the gift givers were coerced to make the event a success. This could be defeated by the fact that the former President Rre Mogae also received a fair amount of gifts when he left public office. It is safe to conclude that most of those who gave such gifts were nevertheless members of the BDP given the historical contests between Khama and by extension the BDP and the opposition. Very few from the opposition if any would have given such gifts.
In the BDP Tonota elective congress, Khama openly endorsed Masisi (though he had initially opposed his candidature) for the party Chairmanship over his challenger Rre Nonofo Molefhi which he won overwhelmingly. Not only that, all those who were on Masisi’s slate also did very well. It goes without saying therefore that Khama’s influence in the BDP is still telling particularly that he continues to be visible in the public discourse notwithstanding that he holds no political office.
Another ace that Khama holds is the tribal card which I know will offend some yet it obtains albeit quietly. It is undesirable but exists in this country like it does in other African countries. I am raising this issue against the background of the unfolding stand-off between Khama and Masisi. It is in the open that the cosy relationship that was portrayed as having been made in heaven between them has reached rock bottom. Khama oversees a wide area tribally and politically. In the political context, about 17 or so BDP’s constituencies (I stand corrected) are located in Khama’s jurisdictional sphere of influence. These constituencies I dare say, would be loyal to him over and above the tribal ticket. To drive my point home, one needs not to go further than Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa where former President Jacob Zuma is using the tribal card to drum up support in his legal challenges. Much as Zuma allegedly has a chequered history of alleged corrupt and moral conduct, his tribesmen are still loyal to him regardless judging by the huge crowds he attracts at his court appearances. In the same vein, Khama is better placed to use it to the best of his ability notwithstanding his chequered history of bad governance amongst others and which Masisi is desperately trying to reverse. Can Masisi re-brand himself out of the shadows of Khama?
As matters stand, it will be difficult for now. Firstly and like I have stated above, Masisi has been in large measure, riding under Khama’s influence and shadows which appear to be drifting away from him given their unfolding stand-off. This is not helped by his own weak political constituency where his party owns about 12 constituencies (I also stand corrected) in the southern part of the country. Some of these constituencies are so marginal that they wouldn’t give him that much leverage on his own without Khama. This state of affairs has been obscured by Khama by virtue of his larger than life disposition.
Secondly, the BDP still has enormous internal challenges as it did during Khama’s rule. The bulela ditswe (primary elections) challenges whatever they are have arguably been the most source of unhappiness, disgruntlement and hopelessness in the BDP because its members say so. The narrative doing the rounds is that there is a concerted effort within the BDP to influence bulela ditswe processes such that a certain outcome is therefore achieved for political expediency. Predictably or inevitably, this brings in conflict which in itself breeds a divided or unstable party. Added to this is the suggestion that the BDP is contemplating to call-off next year’s congress to elect the face of BDP in the 2019 general election (See Weekend Post newspaper dated 28 July-03 August 2018).
Thirdly, there is fear in the BDP that the above congress could further polarise the BDP if Khama threw a spanner in the works. Khama could strategically identify and sponsor a candidate to challenge Masisi if he so wished. He is after all still a BDP member who could exercise his right to influence party direction. Alive to the possibility of this eventuality, the party was quick to come up with the tradition issue where it was suggested that it is not traditional for a former BDP president to get involved in party activities which could result in the creation of instability. While this is a justifiable argument, the point is that the goal posts have significantly shifted somewhat post Khama’s departure. This argument in itself and by itself is a pointed sign of vulnerability on Masisi. Tradition is not static but dynamic and the BDP is not immune to it. So many traditional practices by the party have taken place-the very bulela ditswe is a result of the evolution from the Committee of 18 which used to identify candidates for political office.
Given the above, particularly that the relationship between Khama and Masisi is on the rocks, it will be difficult for the latter to entrench his influence in the party in the immediate. It would be easier if the relationship was cordial because like in the past, Khama would be available and willing to propel Masisi to greater heights. I am not by any stretch of the imagination suggesting that Masisi cannot be his own man outside Khama but that conditions are not at the moment conducive to significantly do so. The Khama factor which is now anti Masisi is seen as the elephant in the room which has arguably amongst others, necessitated this weekend Palapye meeting. The party is also in a panic mode given its failure to successfully and overtime manage the bulela ditswe process and the possibility of calling off next year’s congress. If the party was reasonably stable with all members buying-in on its internal processes and procedures, the Khama factor would largely be inconsequential. The voice that seeks to lay bare partisan and selective justice conduct of the leadership for one set of members while maligning others makes it difficult for Masisi on his own and without Khama to be convincingly in charge of the party. This voice still existed during Khama’s rule but was somehow relatively contained and if you like, suppressed. It is somehow becoming more louder which could further make Masisi more vulnerable.
While Khama is not holding any influential position in the BDP, he commands the same acquired over his twenty year old period in its politics. His influence, manipulative or otherwise, still looms large and anybody who dismisses him is doing so at his/her own peril. Politics and regrettably so, has shown us that even people who have done irreparable harm to their people still command huge following from such people. Mugabe and Zuma are my reference points. At the time of writing this piece, it was reported that Masisi has invited Khama to accompany him to Zimbabwe for Mnangagwa’s inauguration if it will take place given the MDC challenge. How I wished to be the fly on the walls of the presidential jet to witness the sitting arrangement therein and how they relate to each other during the flight. At the end of it all, I argue that Masisi could politically be vulnerable without Khama backing. The ball in his court to show us if he has the wherewithal to dispel my view that he is politically vulnerable without Khama. Judge for Yourself!
First published on 12 August 2018