Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his campaign team have only five months to convince democrats that his declaration of being ready to take over the presidency from Ian Khama is not a fluke. He has to navigate a tough terrain marked by a tight 2017 schedule for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), parry opposition from within and outside his party and win over the support of the masses while glued on the ultimate prize – The Presidency. Elected party chairman against widespread challenge from no less than five contenders in Mmadinare in 2015, Masisi will have to defend his position in July at the national congress in Tonota. It is only after stamping authority by crushing opposition that he will be assured of replacing Khama at State House in just over a year. Khama steps down in April 2018. Masisi is no stranger to dissent and rejection, having tasted it in Mmadinare. Although the Khama magic made life easier for Masisi then, political observers are in agreement that he has graduated from piggy-bagging on his master's goodwill. Hence his confidence to declare that "Unless I die or get incapacitated by ill-health, come 1st of April 2018 I will be sworn in as the 5th President of Botswana". The Moshupa/Manyana MP even boldly revealed his ambition to remain the Head of State if the BDP wins the 2019 General Elections, a loud and clear message to those who dismiss him as just holding fort for a preferred candidate.
To demonstrate independence and perhaps give a glimpse into his presidency, Masisi has of recent garnered support from the business community. Prominent business people appear to banking on him, hence are generously funding his campaign. Although Masisi – the eighth Vice President of Botswana – has exploited his incumbency to make a head-start against detractors and has covered a lot of ground, pockets of resistance remain inside the BDP. His opponents secretly believe that without overbearing support from Khama they have a real chance to tackle Masisi and win. It may be a wild shot, but it can spring a surprise on the floor of congress. Perhaps in recognition of this danger Masisi is exploiting the largesse extended to his office, not to perform official functions, but to consolidate power within the BDP. About crisscrossing the country, Masisi says: "I am worried about the health of the country and my party, not about any political challenge". Among those alleged to harbour ambitions to challenge Masisi for presidency are Khama's brother Tshekedi, Jacob Nkate, Boyce Sebetlela, Tebelelo Seretse and Nonofho Molefhi.
Masisi vs united opposition (UDC+)
Buoyed by tremendous performance at the 2014 General Elections, and the subsequent successful conclusion of unity talks – expected to be announced on January 23 – the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change plus (UDC+) is more than ever a real threat to the BDP. Masisi is alive to this. To stem the tide he is personally leading a massive recruitment drive targeting opposition political activists and the undecided, abandoning all his administrative duties at government enclave, save for sporadic official appearances here and there. His term as VP has been dedicated to an intensive recruitment drive targeting prominent opposition politicians and activists, which has produced some significant results. Masisi’s team is credited for recruiting former BCP youth leader Lotty Manyepetsa, BCP 2014 Nata/Gweta Parliamentary candidate Ditiro Majadibodu, Chobe MP Bagalatia Arone, and longtime Gaborone Bonnington North BCP candidate Annah Motlhagodi. The recruitment drive also involves luring the youth to a party often associated with the old and illiterate, with Masisi himself adopting their dress code and engaging them on social media platforms. The recent appointment of 29-year-old Bogolo Kenewendo, as specially elected MP, is seen as part of the grand plan to make the BDP fashionable and appealing to the young generation. Clearly Masisi's hand is busy at work, as Khama takes the back seat. Masisi's excitement at functions hosted to welcome new recruits to the BDP is always near palpable. He has, however, denied buying supporters from the opposition camp to defect, an accusation pursued by the UDC+ relentlessly.
At government enclave the score card for the former English and History teacher show mixed performance. As Presidential affairs minister Masisi spearheaded Nyeletso lehuma programme and was later whisked away to the Ministry of Education and Skills Development in 2014 before being voted in as Vice President in 2014 and tasked with overseeing the performance of government ministries and projects. The withdrawal from official duties has been strategic as Masisi needed to focus on entrenching himself as the party chairman ahead of July elective congress to retain his position. Masisi has gone out of his way to mend relations with different sections of society within and outside BDP. He has hosted functions for BDP veterans, who at some point openly criticised the current administration, blaming it for some failures in government. In an interview with Ventures Africa, shortly after the release of the Ibrahim Index on African Governance (IIAG) in October 2015, former President Sir Ketumile Masire blamed the decline in the progress of governance in the four categories of assessment on "the style of leadership". Asked what he thinks is the cause for the deterioration in governance Masire said "Primarily, I’ll say it’s the style of leadership. I think there was a general realisation in the country that we are coming from virtually nowhere, and we are in pursuit of an objective and everybody got geared to that. We were looking at the merits. In our leadership of meritocracy, there was not a question of my cousin or my friend; it was just a question of who can do the best". The criticism came shortly after another from former President Festus Mogae.
Masisi and the media
The Masisi camp has launched a massive campaign to spruce up his image as the next president. A break away from Khama's approach, Masisi avoids openly attacking the media and is always available to field questions even at odd hours. Khama has never entertained an impromptu interview, safe for a few choreographed interviews with selected media houses and is on record accusing the media of being unpatriotic, reporting untruths and trying to render the country ungovernable, despite confessing that he does not read local newspapers. Masisi's media strategy on the other hand, with regularly briefings, has worked wonders. He has put together a media team that has built a close relationship with the private press. The media strategy culminated in controversial cocktail party at an upmarket restaurant in CBD in December, where Masisi himself, his sponsors and supporters from the business community were in attendance.
Masisi vs trade unions
The decision by government to fire over 2000 employees during the 2011 public sector strike, when Masisi was head of the public service, has made him enemy number 1 for trade unions. Although Masisi has survived numerous attempts to decampaign him, he is alive to the unrelenting danger presented by Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) ahead of 2019 and is not leaving anything to chance. Trade union leaders warned that Masisi is going to be the worst president and have publicly campaigned against him in the BDP primary elections and general elections. But Masisi claims that the BDP is a pro-labour government and has done a lot for public servants. He says they respect trade unions as shown by government recognising BOFEPUSU and Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) and that he has hosted some union leaders at his official residence. He says ongoing fights between them are just a learning curve. In assuaging the relations with unions, Masisi is looking ahead to 2019 to ensure that they are on his side at the crucial time. However, unions have consistently sworn loyalty to the opposition conglomerate.
Bulela Ditswe in July 2017
The party is yet to confirm dates for vetting of aspiring candidates for Bulela Ditswe in opposition held constituencies expected by end of March or in April. Different regions will have their congresses when their two-year tenure elapse with most just before the national council in April.
BDP 2017 Timeline
10-11 February, Youth Congress Tsabong
04 March, 55 years celebrations, Serowe
17-19 March, Women's Wing Congress, Maun
24-25 March, National Council, Gaborone
April vetting for Bulela Ditswe
April-June Branch congresses
7-9 July National Congress, Tonota
July Bulela Ditswe for opposition held constituencies