Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s tenure as the Number Two citizen has been a tumultuous emotional rollercoaster, which could totally change the tradition, culture and constitutional expectations in the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), if mismanaged. Despite it being a historical tradition and a legal expectation that the Vice president (VP) automatically ascends the presidency when the incumbent leaves office, Masisi’s situation remains that of lobby, campaign and trying his best to eventually land the top office.
In Masisi’s case, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) seems to be simply portraying a scenario that automatic succession is an instrument and process of the Government of Botswana and not that of the BDP and that Masisi will have to battle it out with other contestants for the position of President. The pro-Masisi camp, who is expected to take the hot seat and step into the big shoes of Khama-albeit temporarily, is said to be concerned about his lack of charisma and inability to command authority within the party. This scenario has seen Masisi reaching out to all age groups within the BDP.
The 2017 Central Committee elections
But what remains the crucial test for Masisi is to ensure that he prevails at the 2017 Central Committee elections to retain his seat as chairperson. In winning the chairperson seat this year, Masisi faced stiff contest from former minister and retired Ambassador Tebelelo Seretse. Though she lost Seretse protested the outcome and together with her aggrieved team and other challengers, she is expected to launch another bid in 2017 for the same seat.
The fact that a recent BDP Special Congress refused to adopt a motion from Francistown West, Ignatius Moswaane that called on the party to endorse Masisi as Presidential Candidate for 2019 – four years before the General Elections – pointed to the party’s indecisiveness about on the man that should lead them. And should Masisi lose the chairmanship seat in 2017, he will be extremely weakened and stands to inherit the Presidency in 2018 as a leader without the 100% backing of his party. His camp therefore has the work cut-out for it. It has to work hard to ensure that he doesn’t enter 2018 still fighting to be adored by his own party.
Some have also observed that the loss of Eric Molale at the Goodhope/Mabule by-election was a blessing in disguise for Masisi as it temporarily eliminated another potential challenger for the leadership of party and country. Besides Seretse others are likely to challenge Masisi include Jacob Nkate who is currently the Botswana’s Ambassador to Japan and Tshekedi Khama who is the younger brother to President Ian Khama. The school of thought surrounding these names is that any potential candidate to the presidency must closely align his or herself with Barata Phathi which is busy regrouping and gaining ground.
Coupled with the real and present danger of losing power to a united opposition at the 2019 polls, such developments are said to be giving the BDP leadership sleepless nights. The image conscious BDP is said to be worried about the public perception in view of 'an all-out disrespect' for Masisi and its effect on an already declining popular vote as shown by the 2014 general elections and the subsequent by-elections. What has rubbed salt to the gaping wound has been the dismal loss of the BDP at all by-elections since the 2014 General Elections.
Masisi's meteoric rise within the BDP and government is not a source of comfort for some who feel he has been favoured when there were more deserving candidates who fought to build the party over many years. A previously unknown Masisi only entered Parliament six years ago (October 2009) and was immediately appointed Assistant Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, later promoted to full minister in January 2011. He spearheaded Khama's pet project, the Poverty Eradication Programme, which cost millions of Pula in public funds.
Four years later Khama overlooked other contenders within the BDP and picked Masisi as his vice President, thus bolstering his power and influence within the party and paving the way for him to assume the party chairmanship later in 2015. In politics such a phenomenal ascension is rare if not outright ‘Lady Luck’ smiling on the candidate. It was perhaps out of fear that Masisi might be rejected that President Khama went to court to force the election of VP by Parliament be done through raising of hands than the usual secret ballot. Luckily after the courts – High Court and Court of Appeal – threw out the applications, Parliament voted as Khama wished for Masisi to become his Vice. There was no mutiny by the BDP MPs.
The Tshekedi Khama factor
The name of President Khama’s brother, Tshekedi is mentioned as one of the aspirants for the presidency. Tshekedi - who also wanted the BDP chairmanship despite being previously unknown in the party - dropped out of the race for BDP chairmanship after a deal was allegedly brokered with Masisi camp. To keep him close to leadership, Khama appointed his brother the minister of environment, wildlife and tourism - a strategic ministry for the economy and the family businesses. Informed sources within the party believe that he will not forgo his intentions for challenging the Party presidency, to extend the family’s tradition of producing leaders for the country.
Masisi’s charm offensive
In his campaign Masisi boosted his social media profile to engage more with the youth. He has kept this trend and appears to even enjoy shooting selfies with youngsters who like his easiness among them. Though recently the opposition took issue with the fact that he was busy shooting selfies with some of the Matsha students when they were mourning their departed colleagues, this has not deterred his trend. He also appears to relish putting on his hip hop caps and lowering himself to the youth. He has been hosting special events at his home to further open himself up and show his relaxed humane side.
This is part of Masisi's charm offensive to make him as sellable within and outside the BDP. He has also attempted to appease the Unions. Since the 2011 public sector strike - where over 2000 public servants were fired, when Masisi headed the public service, trade unions have made him enemy Number one. Recently he has met a number of union leaders and talks more in appeasing language about them. The BDP is also in open embrace with the unions as a way of healing the rift that culminated with the unions’ federation – BOFEPUSU – calling for regime change and blacklisting politicians, with Masisi at the top, to de-campaign.
BDP fights for survival
Although some reforms suggested by Ntuane have been rejected by the party leadership, the adoption of Economic Stimulus Package (ESP) that is to the Government drawing from Foreign Reserves to reinvigorate the economy is seen in some quarters as lifesaving move by the ruling party. The BDP is through this fighting with everything at its disposal to ensure that it wins the next election. After the shock of 1994 General Elections when opposition increased its seats in Parliament, the BDP engaged the services of researcher Lawrence Schlemmer who produced a blue print that determined that President Ketumile Masire retired, paving the way for his successor Festus Mogae with a clear recommendation to bring a much younger individual who had a national appeal. Ian Khama was retired from the army to assume the Vice Presidency to ensure that the party retained popularity and relevance.
At this key historical moment for the BDP, it is not clear who they will look to and how they will manoeuvre out of the current challenges. While Masisi is already staking his claim to being the Messiah, it is not clear at this stage that he will ultimately be the ordained one. He might win the hearts of minds of his party but face an even more serious challenge from the opposition. What is clear though is that he has one hand already on the throne, unlike his challengers.
PROFILE: Mokgweetsi Eric Masisi
• MP for Moshupa/Manyana constituency, and eighth Vice President of the Republic of Botswana
• He trained as a teacher majoring in English and History. In 1984 he taught at Mmanaana Secondary School in Moshupa
• In 1987, Masisi transferred to Curriculum Development and Evaluation and worked as Social Studies Curriculum Specialist
• In 1989 he studied at graduate level at Florida State University, USA, specialising in Social Studies Education and Instructional Systems Design.
• In 1990 re-joined Curriculum Development and oversaw Social Studies and other subjects
• Masisi joined UNICEF in 1995 as Education Project Officer
• In 2003 resigned to join politics, standing unsuccessfully for BDP primaries in Moshupa Constituency; Joined International Research NGO and focussed on HIV Prevention research; began studying for PhD in epidemiology.
• In 2008 Vice President Masisi won the BDP Primary Elections and thus became the party’s Parliamentary candidate for Moshupa, which he subsequently secured in the October 2009 general election.
• Also in October 2009, Assistant Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, later promoted to full minister in January 2011, •Spearheaded the Poverty Eradication Programme and •Oversaw the expansion of broadcasting capacity by Btv and Radio Botswana.
• In April 2014 acting Ministry of Education and Skills Development
• Won 24th October 2014, as Member of Parliament for Moshupa-Manyana.
• Minister of Education and Skills Development, October 28th 2014.
• 2015 Chairman of BDP