After months of tension and almost open revolt against new administration’s policy focus on Tourism and Conservation, Tshekedi Khama has been thrown out of the ministry. The question however is what made President Mokgweetsi Masisi pull the trigger after months of extreme patience over the untenable situation – where his minister opposed the review of the hunting ban and attacked him over concocted story of elephants’ decimation by alleged poachers and allegedly being part of a party faction – New Jerusalem – hellbent on deposing him. Whichever way one looks at it – Masisi has moved in to take full charge of the party and sent strong warning to his critics that he will act swiftly against them.
In a dramatic move, President Mokgweetsi Masisi has whittled down the powers of Tshekedi Khama by removing him from the economically-important Ministry of Environment, National Resources Conservation and Tourism and assigned him a less significant Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Culture Development.
Kitso Mokaila was returned to the Ministry which he served for years before the former President Ian Khama decided to appoint his brother to head the ministry.
Other ministers that were moved around are Thapelo Olopeng who has replaced Ngaka Ngaka as Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology after leaving ministry of Sports; Ngaka has taken over as Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs with Dorcas Makgato taking over as Minister of Transport and Communications.
Tension with Khamas
It is the Tshekedi Khama’s re-assignment that has attracted most attention, following months of clear hostility and tension with the Khama family – with counter claims and accusations being traded across.
The question at this stage is what prompted Masisi to pull the trigger and shift Tshekedi from the ministry that he has controlled tightly and by extension protected his family’s vast interest in the tourism sector. It was this ministry that handed Masisi his first litmus test when the dominant white interests in the sector accused him of relaxing rules and policies against anti-poaching when they sent out a global appeal that close to 100 elephants had been poached since Masisi took office. They blamed this on him, saying he had relaxed and disarmed the anti-poaching unit.
Former President Ian Khama who sits on the Board of Conservation International also joined the fray to attack Masisi for a shift in policy that allowed poachers to do as they wish – dubbing it ‘Bulela Ditswe’.
This stand has not helped the tension that escalated between President Masisi and his predecessor – who recently claimed that a deal was cut for Tshekedi to be appointed Vice President and that he had been more facvoured than Masisi to take over as Chairman of the party and ultimately be his successor.
Masisi has said though it was suggested in various ways that he appoint Tshekedi his vice he never took that seriously. He chose to come clean during his State of the Nation address by confirming that the transition from Khama to him has not been as smooth as he had expected.
At first he was concerned when Khama incessantly asked to use the presidential aircraft even when he found it excessive. The key fall-out emerged when Khama used the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) aircraft after he had been denied presidential jet. This led to the sacking of Isaac Kgosi – Khama’s long time ally who was the DISS Director General. Even before this, Kgosi had bruised Masisi’s ego by claiming that he was not accountable to anyone as the DISS head.
Khama did not take this lying down and submitted a request for Kgosi to be appointed his Private Secretary. Masisi refused and Khama threatened legal action. It has been rare for the two men to appear together in one kgotla – with former president Khama conveniently attending to his other engagements during the Serowe agricultural show and the recent Kgotla meeting that Masisi addressed in Serowe. Khama did not attend his Masisi’s State of the Nation address ceremony at parliament.
Their conflict escalated when it was announced that the presidency has transferred some of Khama’s auxiliary staff without consulting him. Masisi later personally apologised to him for the incident. The ruling party elders have been involved to try and reconcile the two men and so far efforts have not borne any fruit.
In moving to demote Tshekedi, Masisi is clearly sending a message that he will not tolerate disrespect and insubordination and what some perceive as under performance and self-serving tendencies. Tshekedi’s wife had joined those who publicly attacked President Masisi when unproven allegations emerged that over 100 elephants had been killed by poachers.
While some see the current reshuffle as mere shifting of chairs, some see the appointment of Makgato to Transport and Communications as a major show of confidence the President has on her. She has often been hailed as work force who moves mountains to have the job done. She clearly articulated the new administration’s game plan when she confirmed that she has been mandated to move to facilitate ease of doing business for incoming investors instead of frustrating them. Just before she was redeployed she had announced that VISAs will be given on arrival in Botswana while abroad missions will expedite processing. This move has been hailed around the globe.
Even more enticing for Masisi in the unfolding political game, is Makgato’s public pronouncement of support for him that has worked. Makgato is the Chairperson of the BDP’s Women Wing, a strategic constituency for any party leader worth his salt. They recently -under Makgato's leadership- endorsed Masisi to serve the country for a whole 10 years; two-term period. She stands a chance of retaining her constituency and could work her charm into even bigger offices based on the way she is going.