Race for State House

SHARE   |   Monday, 01 February 2016   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane
Race for State House

Before he pops the champagne bottle and punches the air at Botswana's Number One address, Mokgweetsi Masisi will have to fend off fierce contest from within the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which will go down in the annals of history as a first. And Masisi's demeanour lately shows that he is feeling the heat. He uses every platform to affirm his readiness to ascend to the highest office in the land, as though someone is threatening to stop him. In a controversial development, media reports midweek quoted Masisi promising fellow democrats a better life and returning BDP to glory days with a landslide victory in 2019 after Khama leaves in 2018. He is alleged to have said he is going to ensure that Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) members return to the BDP after leaving in disgruntlement.

While it is an open secret that Jacob Nkate, Boyce Sebetlela and Tebelelo Seretse will challenge Masisi, others like Tshekedi Khama, Nonofo Molefhi and Robert Masitara are said to be harbouring the same ambition and their names have been bandied about as possible successors to Khama. Like never before, over a year before democrats go to a national congress in April 2017 – where regions will elect a party president from a group of contestants – campaigns have already started. Would-be suitors are coming out of the woods and have already gone to ground, holding clandestine meetings to lobby democrats and test the waters in preparation for a bruising battle with the man President Ian Khama has picked to succeed him when he vacates State House on 31 March 2018.

Already off the blocks are Nkate - currently Botswana's Ambassador to Japan and Sebetlela – a Debswana Executive, who have started courting members to canvass support. Enter Boyce Sebetlela The former MP for Palapye, Lephimotswe Boyce Sebetlela, who resigned from politics to take up a post in the corporate world at Debswana in 2007, is making a comeback. When he resigned his MP post, the vociferous politician was alleged to be unhappy with the Festus Mogae/Khama leadership, which set tongues wagging. Now that Khama is leaving the presidency it is all plausible that Sebetlela could have got his mojo back and is making a return. When Mogae clashed with Sebetlela (Chancellor and Council Chairman respectively) at BIUST last year (2015) sources said the latter had long wanted to take over the chairmanship at the university as it would elevate his profile.

He was then reported to be looking at making a comeback to politics. At the time Sebetlela denied ever having an interest in BIUST chairmanship, saying he actually intended to quit. This week Sebetlela opened up and declared "Yes, I am interested in contesting the presidency. I am still talking to people internally and discussing my candidacy. But it is too early (to campaign openly). The BDP is still in government after it was just recently returned to power, so we are currently focusing on implementing the 2014 manifesto". Sebetlela said he is not eyeing the 2017 congress "where there will be not much action" but is looking to launch his campaign soon thereafter. He said his target is the Special Congress in 2019. "I have ideas to take the BDP forward," he declares, quick to add that this should not be read to mean that he despises others who have their own ideas.

The former Minister of Communications, Science and Technology dismisses speculation that he resigned in frustration and is only returning because the Khama administration is on its way out. He said "there is no truth in that" as he has "the greatest respect and confidence in the current leadership", and will be contesting the presidency in good faith. To qualify his statement, Sebetlela argues that in politics people never agree and do not necessarily have to agree on everything as that would show lack of divergent views. He cited the example of democracies like the USA and UK where 12 democrats and seven Labour party candidates respectively, contest the presidency. "It shows a difference in ideas. The contest presents an opportunity to share ideas," he said.

Like a sequel to the Mmadinare Congress where vice president Masisi had to fight for party chairmanship against no less than five other candidates, he now has to deal with another set of challengers for the presidency. Opposers are lining up and already canvassing support to build base in different regions around the country. There is a growing cacophony of voices within the BDP in support of current Ambassador to Japan, Jacob Nkate's candidacy. It is an open secret within the BDP that the former BDP Secretary General is planning to return to local politics gunning for party presidency.

Jacob Dickie Nkate

Alive to the threat posed by Nkate-one of the kingpins of the A-team, which some point was known as the Nkate/Merafhe faction, Masisi has of late been camping in the former's backyard. In his several visits to Ngamiland Masisi has repeatedly touted Nkate, telling all who cared to listen that he is the next president come rain or sunshine. Observers say some of his statements could score an own goal after he was (mis)construed to have discredited Khama when he promised democrats better fortunes after the departure of the latter. Last year Nkate was conspicuous by his presence at former vice president Mompati Merafhe's funeral. Nkate, whose Ambassadorial term ends in April, was in the country two weeks ago traversing the country with his handlers to set the ball rolling.

He, however, is currently constrained to campaign openly because he is a public servant. Sources close to Nkate confirm that indeed he was in town to canvass support in some regions ahead of 2017. They are also alive to the fact that Khama will not endorse any challenger to his blue-eyed-boy, Masisi's ascendance to the presidency. A lawyer by training-Nkate, the man from Tsau in the Northwest District (Born June 16, 1961), is not a newcomer to BDP inner politics having led a faction, which neutralised the dominance previously enjoyed by Barata-phathi otherwise then known as the Kwelagobe/Kedikilwe faction.  Nkate is a highly ambitious. Some democrats say he will not rest until he gets a bite at the Number One spot. Nkate knows the wheeling and dealing required to amass power. Power mongering at BDP has started in earnest and it will crystallise in 2016, leaving a plethora of political corpses on the way.

Besides being Secretary General of the BDP between 2007-2009 after Daniel Kwelagobe and former president Ketumile Masire, Nkate has been a minister in a number on key ministries - Education and Trade and Industry. He later joined the corporate world before leaving BEDIA under a cloud. On 1st November 2012, Nkate was appointed Ambassador to Japan, in what was seen as a strategy by Khama to keep him out of politics. In 2009 following Nkate's shock defeat, Khama had the opportunity to bring him back to parliament through special nomination dispensation, but instead deployed him at BEDIA as CEO. When Nkate quit BEDIA in 2012, he made it clear that he was going to contest the party chairmanship at 2013 Maun Congress.

He was swiftly sent to Japan as an ambassador. Some still insist that Khama should have kept Nkate in the picture because he's not new to the party, knows the culture, the factional wars and everything. Khama's relationship with Nkate took a strain when Wikileaks published details of a meeting between Nkate and the then US ambassador Joseph Huggins. He is said to have told Huggins that unlike Festus Mogae, who is an economist, Khama lacked a grasp of economic and development related issues upon which a president must make important decisions. It was then claimed that Nkate also feared that Khama would surround himself with yes-men.


Political commentators and analysts are divided over the metarmorphosis in the culture and tradition of the BDP, where it had become a norm that positions at the highest offices were never openly contested. The successor was picked by the incumbent to take the baton. But no more! While some say openly challenging the status quo signals strong inner party democracy, where any member can contest any position, some point out that open contest undermines collective decisions and threatens the stability of the party as losers could disregard reconciliatory efforts after the process.

Already the BDP has suffered losses at the 2014 General Elections partly due to divisive after-effects of their primary elections - Bulela Ditswe - when losers stood as independent candidates. The opposition capitalised and managed to secure a historical 17 seats, as BDP’s popular vote dropped to an all-time low of just 47 per cent. Yet others argue that having many contestants demonstrates that there is no favourite candidate for the post, as the one eyeing the position does not appeal to all and sundry. The BDP has 12 regions. Candidates are required to have support of 10 regions to validate their nomination.