Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi has bravely raised her hand to challenge her boss President Mokgweetsi Masisi for the position of Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) President next year at its special congress. I am saying she is brave for the simple reason that never in the history of the BDP and particularly in an election year has a party member challenged a sitting President. It has been the party’s tradition, so we are told, not to challenge the incumbent but tradition is not static but dynamic. And so is politics. I am personally not surprised by this development owing to the paper-thin thread that has been holding the BDP together particularly that Masisi’s legitimacy has of late been under intense scrutiny from within the party; party internal stability severely disturbed by the manner in which primary elections were conducted together with processes and procedures to resolve ensuing protests.
With this brief background, the BDP wouldn’t want something else to exacerbate the already fragile situation going into a general election. Venson-Moitoi’s entry into the presidential contest with Masisi I argue could possibly raise the already high political temperature in the BDP because contests thereat have become poisoned chalice. Past and immediate past Bulela Ditswe results amongst others have conclusively proved the poisoned chalice. Opposition parties and notwithstanding their own challenges, will add fuel to the BDP woes for some political crumbs.
But Venson-Moitoi is a seasoned BDP politician in good standing whose wish to seek the highest political office in the party should be welcomed as a way of nurturing internal participatory democracy. If the BDP honestly subscribes to the principles of democracy where every member has a party constitutional right to contest for any party position of their choice, Venson-Moitoi should not be intimidated or ridiculed for exercising that right. It would appear her detractors would conveniently mention the tradition aspect as they did a while ago when the possibility of challenging Masisi next year was mooted. It was suggested then that the special congress due next year could be cancelled presumably to avoid fellow democrats from challenging Masisi. The cancellation has since become mute after some serious challenge from some party bigwigs. Somebody criticised Venson-Moitoi for resuscitating her political career after announcing that she would retire at the end of her term next year. This person conveniently forgot that the Vice-President had also announced his desire to retire but has since made a U-turn. How does Venson-Moitoi throw a spanner in the BDP politics?
The BDP it seems, is in the political intensive care unit with very little to no sufficient oxygen to keep it breathing for any longer. There are reports for example from the party backbenchers and others that the President and his Vice are fuelling factionalism by creating conducive environment for those who presumably belong to Camp Dubai. It is also in the public domain that the two are actively and openly promoting their preferred parliamentary candidates by holding political rallies in their constituencies at the expense of those they do not prefer. It will be remembered that the President cast serious aspersions on candidates who defeated his ministers during the recent bulela ditswe elections at a Business Botswana function in Francistown. He openly stated to those who cared to listen that those who won were so poor that they wouldn’t even make it into his cabinet. This tells us that if you do not belong to Camp Dubai, you are a lesser BDP not worth the salt. Bulela ditswe losers who had lodged protests are still very bitter about the shabbiness with which their protests were handled. The lurking figure of former President Ian Khama and his issues with Masisi that he allegedly reneged on his deal to pass on the party chairmanship to Tshekedi Khama; the Guma Moyo allegations that some in the party presumably those connected to Camp Dubai are out to tarnish his name; allegations of the New Jerusalem faction do not help the frail image of the BDP. Consequently and as result of the foregoing, the BDP it would seem will continue to be trapped by its internal squabbles. Venson-Moitoi’s entry will not make the situation any better.
Given the polarised and frail image of the BDP, it could reasonably be argued that the current leadership is failing to provide strategic, responsible and responsive leadership to steady the ship that is traversing the waters with neither the compass nor the captain. It’s a free-for-all hence the prevailing circumstances. By challenging Masisi, Venson-Moitoi is simply saying: I can make a better President of the party and country. This is the painful nature of politics some of us do not want to sadly, come to terms with. For her to challenge and beat Masisi, she needs people who believe in her course. Does she have numbers to beat Masisi?
To answer this question, one should firstly interrogate whether Masisi himself has the numbers to beat Venson-Moitoi or anybody else for that matter. I have argued before that Masisi was propelled by Khama to where he is today when some of his colleagues wanted to see his back. In short, he was made by Khama politically speaking that is. I have also argued that he does not as of now have a solid constituency of his own that he can solely rely on to win. Now that he has broken ranks with Khama, he remains vulnerable support-wise to be challenged and possibly beaten. In terms of the geographical make-up of the BDP, it appears (and I stand corrected as always) the bulk of its regions and constituencies are located in the northern part of the country where both Venson-Moitoi and Khama may have considerable political influence. While it is not yet known whether Khama supports Venson-Moitoi’s bid to challenge Masisi which cannot not be discounted given their broken down relationship, it goes without saying that she stands a better chance to get sympathy votes from Khama’s followers. Results of the contest will conclusively prove me right or wrong.
Naturally, there are those who are against Venson-Moitoi standing against Masisi for their own obvious reasons. According to her, there are those who question her seriousness to challenge Masisi presumably in an endeavour to discourage her. A view has been made that Masisi himself encourages (and to his credit) internal party democracy where he encourages the democrats to embrace competition. If indeed this is the case, it therefore beats logic why some fault could be found in Venson-Moitoi raising her hand when a fellow competitor is least bothered. It will be interesting to see how the BDP Women’s Wing responds to one of their own challenging the party President given that it had already declared its support to Masisi. One would expect BDP women to fully support Venson-Moitoi firstly because women generally speaking, have been complaining that they are left in the periphery when it comes to them running for, and occupying the highest leadership positions. Secondly, it will be a confirmation that women are themselves gifted as do men to lead their organisations and the country.
But one is not oblivious to the fact that women themselves have always been their own worst enemies in that they have openly displayed the bring-her-down syndrome during elective processes. I will not be surprised if the BDP Women’s Wing does not endorse Venson-Moitoi. This structure has not as far as I can recall, openly criticised and called for the removal of Ministers Arone and Ngaka for their despicable behaviour towards women. Their members who are Members of Parliament including Venson-Moitoi herself vigorously and viciously opposed Hon Keorapetse’s proposal that a certain quota of judges of the Court of Appeal should be reserved for women during the debate on Court of Appeal Bill 2017. Women organisations generally speaking, have not come out very strongly to campaign for and highlight women issues with resultant impact.