Though they will publicly deny it, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is reeling from its worst crisis in years with two centres of power in serious contest for dominance.
Indications are that while former President Ian Khama has handed over the administrative Government duties to his former deputy and now President Mokgweetsi Masisi he has held tightly to the party and appears hell-bent on using that well to retain control and dominance.
A key moment of the fall-out played out on Monday when Khama addressed Babirwa at a ceremony where he denounced area MP while projecting his challenger in good light. At the same time he was doing this, Masisi and his central committee were locked in a crucial watershed meeting that ultimately decided to postpone the primary elections.
So serious is the fallout within the BDP that the party’s internal voters roll has been tainted with hackers having infiltrated the database of 22 of 40 constituencies that were due to hold primaries.
Genesis of fall-out
A number of significant developments took place ahead of the handing over of power and immediately thereafter. Those close to the two men have disclosed that even as former President Khama went around the country bidding farewell and raving about Masisi and his capabilities, tension was emerging. While it was not clear what was straining relations, it is possible that the two men’s expectations were at variance. Khama might have anticipated more graciousness from the man he was simply handing power to; self-appointing with no elections whatsoever as provided under the Automatic Succession provision in the Constitution. Masisi might have felt unduly pressured and as things would pan out – he was clearly not fully in agreement with how his previous master had ruled.
It did not take long after assuming power that Masisi started imposing his full authority; demonstrating that he was not in agreement with the way things have been done. He embraced local media and afforded them the first Presidential press conference in over 10 years. He talked freely about ‘facilitating’ investors’ interests than ‘frustrating’ them; more about consulting and engaging public about any policy formation than imposing such. Quiet clearly, he was far removed in approach from his previous master.
And when he dismissed the former spy chief – Director General of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) Isaac Kgosi – it was a move the cut the camel’s back. So close is Khama and Kgosi that a few days before stepping down he rewarded him not only with a new contract but with a Presidential Honour. In fact, part of the reason why Kgosi was shown the door had to do with his move to allow Khama to use his department’s aircraft when President Masisi had turned the request down. This act was seen as unpardonable insubordination and President Masisi seized the moment to show who was in charge. It is on this matter that Khama has chosen to call out the President’s bluff, proceeding to institute legal challenge against a further refusal by Government to re-employ Kgosi as his Private Secretary though he has not been accused of any wrong doing. To Khama, Kgosi remains innocent and qualified to be appointed to run his office.
While Masisi maintains that he is only finishing someone else term and pushing adopted policies to the end, there are clear areas where he has drawn the line and brought his own influence and preference to bear.
He has launched a review of various programmes to ensure that the public agrees fully with them. Among these are the Alcohol levy and the hunting ban – which have both received widespread opposition. Parliament was forced to adopt a motion calling on Government to lift the hunting ban, looking at the devastating impact of wildlife destruction of crops and livestock, particularly by elephants whose population has grown drastically. Masisi has blocked the planned purchase of military aircrafts and put to halt the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP), choosing instead to follow the National Development Plan (NDP).
He has tended to be more engaging; visiting neighbouring countries and also arranging meetings with leadership of opposition parties and labour unions. He has also promised a number of laws that will help fight corruption such as the Assets and Liabilities Law for leaders. As he rolled out these changes, Khama loyalists have been shattered – left feeling targeted and ignored.
Hacking, BDP primaries
The BDP appears divided between those who support President Masisi and those that have remained with the former President; hence resulting with increased hostilities among the two camps.
Khama, who is the King of Bamangwato who inhabit the biggest district in the country, appears to have taken the only route possible to fight back against Masisi – the political one. His district is known as the most loyal to the ruling BDP and hence critical in the party’s electoral fortunes. Khama as the King is well aware of this and can easily influence any outcome that helps preserve his power and position in the party. With clear differences with his successor having emerged, it is feared that Khama could strategically be marshalling his loyalists to ensure that they retain some measure of control in the party.
The battle for the control of the party has been underway through campaigns for primary elections where those who emerge the most dominant group is likely to shape the fortunes of the party going forward. So highly contested are these that reports of the voters roll having been tainted through hacking has been as shocking as expected possibility based on the desperation of some.
It has not been established why hackers raided the roll and who and why such individuals were involved. The party has launched investigations and indefinitely postponed the mini-poll; though there are no guarantees that the subsequent roll that will be produced will be protected enough against such infiltrators. Either of the factions in the party could have been involved or any third party or even any computer geek who simply wanted to demonstrate his/her prowess. More chilling, however, is what could have happened if this anomaly had not been picked. It sends a clear warning to the Independent Electoral Commission which intends to use Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) for next year’s General Elections that hackers are on the prowl and are looking to cause a major disaster that can ultimately rob this country of its historic peace.
Masisi: State House
Reports that Masisi has not moved into State House since assuming leadership in April because of security fears only point to the level of mistrust between the two leaders. Claims are that he suspects that the State House could be bugged and as such unsafe for him. This reflects the suspected polarisation of the security agencies with claims that there are rogue intelligence operatives who are still working with their former boss to frustrate the new administration.
Next year congress
Some have aptly cautioned against destabilising developments in election years; comparing that to a person nursing a new baby (Go baya botsetsi) and hence requiring necessary sensitivity. Aware of the growing animosity and tension in the party some regions have already started lobbying that next year’s congress be postponed to 2020 to allow the party to focus primarily on general elections and avoid further split. The party had an opportunity to adopt this at a national council when MP Ignatius Moswaane moved to have the party endorse its presidential candidate much earlier to avoid conflicts that might arise close to elections. As things stand, with factions becoming well defined, it is highly possible that they will insist on holding of the congress. It will be at this congress that the party will elect and confirm its presidential candidate. Those opposed to Masisi are fast lining up to try by all means to block his candidature. Aware of the grown animosity between Khama and Masisi, the party has now moved to withdraw its earlier position that Khama will be the face of the party in the run up to the general elections. It is suspected that Khama’s increased role party will undermine Masisi and hence the role has been shifted to the incumbent president.
Khama not used to powerlessness
The former president Ian Khama appears to be struggling to adjust to a life with no power; resulting with him moving to create a logjam of the government wheel. In all his life Khama has been privileged; as a child and eldest son of the founding president he gained and got almost all he ever desired. Now in retirement, things have shifted. The state media that he commanded and enjoyed at will for decades no more sees him newsworthy. He has now shifted to embrace a cadre of journalists he had ridiculed for years as peddlers of ‘fake news’. Luckily unlike him, they have not turned their backs on him. Most of his recent public events have been covered only by the private press with his own confirmation that Government has announced a news blackout on him. Surprisingly Khama has also found friends in the opposition ranks, with the leader of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko having taken a legal assignment from Khama in challenging some of the steps that Government has taken against him.