In Africa, regionalism politics have always played a defining role in our politics. The North-South politics of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has been used as a trump-card to save the party on a downward spiral to opposition ranks post 2014 General Elections, it has been suggested. The BDP centre of power has been dominated by people from the northern part of Botswana; both within the party and government and people from the southern part of the country felt alienated.
Out of the four presidents that ruled Botswana, three of them came from Serowe and only one from Kanye being Sir Ketumile Masire while out of eight Vice Presidents only two came from the South of Dibete being Masire and Peter Mmusi while the rest were from the North. These are Lenyeletse Seretse, Festus Mogae, Ian Khama, Mompati Merafhe, who are interestingly from one village, Serowe except for Ponatshego Kedikilwe, who is from Sefhophe, which also in the Central District.
The recent appointment of Mokgweetsi Masisi, from Moshupa is seen in some quarters as a way of appeasing the southerners where the BDP has seen its performance in the last elections dropping significantly. In the 2014 general elections, BDP lost some of its traditional stronghold especially Molepolole constituencies and Borolong which they have been holding for the past 45 years.
Masisi’s appointment surprised some people as they had expected Khama to appoint either Pelonomi Venson Moitoi, Nonofho Molefhi and in the extreme situation, his younger brother Tshekedi.
Khama is said to have long eyed Masisi as his successor following in his father’s footsteps Sir Seretse Khama who appointed Sir Ketumile Masire as his deputy side-lining his first cousin and closest friend, Lenyeletse Seretse. “His two choices were Masisi and Kitso Mokaila, but after the loss of the latter in the General Elections, he chose the former,” said a source.
The founding president, Sir Seretse, was trying to balance power and avoid making the presidency a family affair. After Masire became president in 1980, he appointed Lenyeletse Seretse as his Vice President but would later succumb to death shortly after his appointment.
It is said that Khama also refused to succumb to family pressure to appoint his younger brother Tshekedi, noting that it was against the principle that their father subscribed to. The meeting, which was held at Ruretse Farm, is said to have polarised the relationship between the Bangwato royal family, as they felt Khama has betrayed them. Khama is also the paramount chief of Bangwato.
Masisi no stopover
While many people suggest that Masisi’s appointment is just a stopover for Tshekedi, those close to the BDP and the president said that Masisi is his ultimate choice. Khama is said to have refused to give in to requests that Masisi should hand over to Tshekedi Khama in 2016, saying that he cannot risk the future of the party by trying to please his siblings.
Some commentators argue that it is not necessarily true that the BDP lost constituencies in the south because members feel alienated from the party and government leadership. They posit that the party is not doing well in the south eastern corridor because the area is highly populated and therefore chronic youth unemployment rates are higher in this area. The area is also quite developed and therefore easier to be reached by the opposition who managed to spread their gospel to the unemployed youths and the rest of the South Easterners.
Custodian of Khama's pet projects
The poverty eradication program which was started by President Khama when he took over, was firstly under the office of the Vice President, an office occupied then by Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe is said to be catalyst that pushed Masisi’s popularity.
When Merafhe resigned as VP due to ill health, the poverty eradication program was transferred to the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and Public Affairs which was headed by Masisi. He picked the campaign gear for poverty eradication, organising workshops around the country which were aimed at empowering the disadvantaged communities. It was this program that many in the BDP said exposed his leadership skills and ability to connect with ordinary people.
One of his major weaknesses is said to be his arrogance and pushing people around. In April this year, Masisi was transferred to the Ministry of Education and Skills Development as acting minister after the dismal results of Junior Certificate Botswana Government Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE).
Upon assuming the duties at MOESD, Masisi travelled around the country visiting different schools to try to understand the challenges they were facing.
What Khama likes about Masisi
One of the attributes that Khama is said to like about him, is his ability to stick to his decision even if they are unpopular with the masses. In the 2011 industrial action he was one of the few BDP MPs who stuck with the President and castigated the workers for not being considerate by engaging on the strike. This led to BOFEPUSU waging a campaign against him and putting him at the top of their hit list. However, he survived it twice, first at the BDP primaries and at the general elections in which both he won by a huge margin. His convincing win in the general elections, though regarded as one of the most unpopular ministers in 2009-2014 cabinet, convinced Khama that he is the right man to win over southern constituencies. Masisi travelled around the country on what was known as poverty eradication dipitso; and some said that this was a way of introducing him to the masses who.
BOFEPUSU and Masisi
The federation said Masisi is the most dangerous human being to democracy and good governance in Botswana. In the run-up to the 2014 general elections, they said he has anointed himself chief propagandist of the current regime and therefore bringing him back to parliament would be bringing back disaster to the already bed ridden democracy.
Masisi has been labelled the number one enemy of workers after the 2011 public sector strike when he led an onslaught on the trade unions and workers in general. He was accused of being at the forefront of bashing and scolding workers during the 2011 Industrial action. Before his deployment to Ministry of Education, he has been at the helm of the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration that houses state media, an entity that has been used to promote state propaganda. "This is the self-confessed bootlicker, a character that is dangerous to moral ethos of the nation. The kind of morality that will not be good to kids aspiring to be leaders," they said.
BOFEPUSU deputy secretary general, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa last week said they do not expect any changes to be brought by Masisi's appointment as VP. In his view the leadership of the public service has remained the same. He however said they hope the new VP will appreciate the importance of building a good working relationship to address the plight of the workers.
What you didn’t know about Masisi
Unbeknown to a lot of people, Masisi is a die-hard conservationist who has worked tirelessly over decades to promote conservation. This is a passion that he shares with President Khama, an unapologetic passionate conservationist, who even sits in the board of Conservation International. Masisi is a former school teacher, who taught English and Social Studies. His star then went on a meteoric rise, as the highly intelligent Masisi attracted the attention of various employers. Prior to his joining politics he had worked for the United Nations.
With his sharp intelligence, some of his BDP colleagues are of the belief that Masisi will match the opposition, which also has very eloquent and intelligent MPs, pound for pound. As leader of the house, he is seen as the right man to quell any challenge that might be presented by the opposition.
“It would have been hard for Tshekedi to lead the BDP against this crop of opposition MPs. You need someone who is articulate and combative and Masisi fits that bill well. Even during the time of PHK (Kedikilwe), Masisi was a de facto leader of house. He tirelessly defended the party and government programmes. He is also youthful and I think this is an investment for the future of the party and government,” said a former BDP legislator.
His father, Edson Setlhomo Masisi, was in Khama’s father – Seretse – cabinet and at the time of retirement was deputy Speaker of Parliament. Masisi senior brother, the late Tshelang, served in Parliament as MP for Francistown West for years before passing midway his term. This demonstrates the strong family tradition at the helm of the ruling party – with political the Khama/Masisi dynasty now occupying the highest seat of power.