President Mokgweetsi Masisi, aboard a Presidential Jet enroute to the US-Africa summit in Maputo, Mozambique was on Tuesday forced to make a U-turn mid-air upon receiving news that 65 councillors had just resigned from his party in the Central District Council to join the opposition Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF).
Curiously, Vice President Slumber Tsogwane continued as Acting President for the rest of the week despite that Masisi has been back in the country since Tuesday. To some observers the disappearing act by the Head of State marks the level of crisis he is facing, which threatens his political survival at party level and at government enclave. Masisi's ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is taking a beating from a multi-pronged onslaught from the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and other smaller opposition parties BPF and the Alliance for Progressives (AP), and for the first time in history face the possibility of losing power in the October 2019 general elections.
Masisi was due to attend the 12th US-Africa Business Summit at the invitation of President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique. The Business Summit, attended by other African Heads of State and Government from the region and the continent, ran from 18th to 21st June 2019 under the theme “Advancing a Resilient and Sustainable US-Africa Partnership”. Hosted by the Government of Mozambique in partnership with the United States of America, Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), the summit provided a platform for the private sector and government representatives from the United States of America and Africa to engage on key sectors such as agribusiness, energy, health, infrastructure and trade facilitation, ICT and finance. The Summit also provided the prospect for the private sector and government leaders to network; explore new business opportunities; and meet potential business partners with a view to shape effective US-Africa trade and investment policies.
Masisi was on Thursday (20th June 2019) also scheduled to attend the Tripartite Summit on the Techobanine Project with Nyusi and President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe to review progress on this regional rail project and chart the way forward.
Masisi's delegation, which included the Minister of International Affairs and Cooperation Dr. Unity Dow; the Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security, Eric Molale; the Minister of Transport and Communications, Dorcas Makgato; the Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Bogolo Kenewendo; and Senior Government Officials had to attend the summit without him.
"Yes, President Masisi is back in the country after he had to make an emergency return because he had another engagement to attend to," Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Carter Morupisi confirmed the aborted trip on Thursday, ever curious how The Patriot on Sunday became aware of the developments. He, however, declined to divulge reasons behind Masisi abandoning the trip to Maputo in such haste safe to say that he had other urgent matters to attend to back home.
Coincidentally, on that eventful Tuesday about 65 Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) councillors in the Central District submitted resignation letters enmasse during a full council meeting in Serowe. Although they did not state reasons for resignation all indications are that they are heading to the newly formed BPF – a BDP breakaway party that has joined the opposition ranks, sponsored by Bangwato paramount chief Kgosikgolo Ian Khama.
Masisi and Khama are not seeing eye-to-eye, with the latter repeatedly telling whoever cares to listen that he will never rest until the former is removed from the presidency. A standoff and a heated exchange ensued between Masisi and his predecessor soon after the presidential succession on April 01, 2018.
Elsewhere in Gaborone, on the same Tuesday, the president of University of Botswana Student Representative Council (UB SRC) and its Secretary General, both members of Moono wa Baithuti – a cell under the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) – were arrested after locking up premises of Department of Tertiary Education Financing (DTEF) protesting over unpaid allowances for students. The widely publicised arrest of the duo, which threatened to degenerate into widespread protests from similarly circumstanced students in other tertiary institutions, caused a public backlash over ill-treatment of students by government.
The Patriot on Sunday has it on good authority that upon arrival back in the country Masisi convened an impromptu meeting of BDP leadership on Tuesday evening to strategise on how to counter BPF inroads. A group of BDP young Turks who have been sidelined in the party campaigns, among them former NYEC chairman Bontsi Monare, Lawrence Ookeditse, Lesang Magang and others were assembled to form a BDP War Room to counter the BPF damage full force. Monare, however, denied knowledge of any BDP meeting to rally young Turks to join the fight against the marauding BPF. "I have no clue whatsoever about what you are asking me. I’m not in any BDP structure and I don’t have any knowledge of the goings on. I’m just a couch commentator from miles away," he said.
This is not the first time that Masisi has had to pull out of an official trip to quell a revolt within his party. The same happened early this year when he was forced to delegate his deputy to a meeting of SADC on Polisario Front in Johannesburg, South Africa. At the time it was feared that he was to face a second Motion of No Confidence in Parliament and as things panned out – he preferred to personally keep guard in Parliament to safeguard his Presidency. With Parliament resuming in a few weeks’ time, it is feared that he faces even increased danger since his party has since lost three Members of Parliament (MPs) which has added more ammunition to his rivals.