When he settled for his Vice President, President Ian Khama did not consider his exuberant brother, his trusted friends let alone some of the most experienced cabinet ministers. Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE finds out why
The loss by former Goodhope-Mabule legislator, Kitso Mokaila, in the general election to his UDC challenger, James Mathokgwane might have complicated President Ian Khama’s succession plan, pundits say.
Those in the know are adamant that Khama’s finger was on Mokaila, a former military senior officer who has performed with aplomb in all the cabinet assignments given by his principal.
Mokaila’s star had been on the rise and had particularly caught the eye of his principal during his tenure as the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism. He continued to impress in the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources portfolio that Khama handed to him upon his appointment as a Specially Elected Member of Parliament (MP). This in a big way depicted the trust Khama had in Mokaila as a politician. Khama was unfazed by his man’s poor performance in failing to defend the constituency against his Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) challenger.
“With Mokaila having lost his constituency, Khama’s hands were tied to the back and could not do anything about it, save to say he had to consider other options,” a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) young Turk, who preferred anonymity said in a telephone interview this week.
He described Mokaila as vocal, articulate, loyal and a hard worker whose appointment to the office of the vice presidency would have been universally acceptable across the political divide.
“But, without a constituency, there is nothing that Khama could have done, especially after his party had underperformed with a declined 46.7 percent popular vote,” said our source.
Our source added that Mokaila’s strongest points included the fact that he was the most senior minister before the elections, south of the Dibete cordon fence. “There is a common denominator between Mokaila and the appointed VP, Mokgweetsi Masisi that of regional balance in Khama’s preferred VP appointment,” he said, and observed that Khama could not run a country from one village, as was the case with his previous VP, Mompati Merafhe, and equally so with his predecessor Festus Mogae, who had Khama as his deputy. Khama’s last vice president, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, was a northerner, something that observers felt left the southern region worried that the presidency was sidelining it, hence its strong consideration for opposition.
“Mokaila is not an offensive person,” he noted and added: “He is very inclusive and appreciated others.” Mokaila is very close to Khama most importantly because his father was the private secretary to the late Sir Seretse Khama. His elder brother is now Khama’s private secretary. They have a ‘state house’ relationship, which has created a strong bond and trust between them.
Mokaila’s notable weakness is that he did not have a strong presence in Parliament and “he is not eloquent and combative to defend the party and government policies effectively against the current crop of opposition MPs”.
Although they were touted as strong contenders for the vice presidency, below Mmegi analyses the reasons why Khama could not pick his VP among ministers: Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Nonofo Molefhi, Tshekedi Khama and Thapelo Olopeng apart from Mokaila.
She has every trait that qualifies her as VP more so that Botswana is yet to have a woman politician appointed to the position.
In leaving Venson-Moitoi out of favour for VP, Khama was possibly humbled by the north/south regional balance. The President possibly wanted to kill the perception that opportunities are ever skewed towards the north. There also has been a worry that people from his hometown of Serowe in particular, have been dominating the presidency and the VP post. Venson-Moitoi is also from Serowe and the President had to come up with a balancing act. In his last term in office, Khama wants to rebrand himself as a man who is fair and would not simply appease his home girls and boys with positions of authority.
It raises suspicion that Khama’s decision was a reflection of some loss of confidence given the many problems that the MoESD grappled with and she (Venson-Moitoi) failed to find a breakthrough. She tried, but the MoESD performance is unfortunately measured by academic achievements.
He is seen as very calm and may be untainted by BDP factional bickering. Molefhi is too soft, quiet and generally a nice character.
The perception that Khama wants to keep the presidency north of Dibete is a strong factor that worked against Molefhi’s consideration for the position, though he was a strong contender. Khama decided to look down south and balance the country’s regions with this appointment, especially where his party has not performed well this time around.
Given his soft character, Molefhi became a doubtful starter to handle explosive party bickering. Can he be firm to deal with the party and national issues given the calibre of the current opposition MPs? A big no given that the opposition bloc is packed with young, robust and energetic politicians who are under pressure to prove their worth to the masses. He would not match the opposition in Parliament.
He is a doubtful starter to rise to the occasion when the government is under attack to parry opposition attacks in both Parliament and elsewhere. Molefhi is more of an administrator than a real politician. There has been a rise in opposition energy and Molefhi is not the type who can match the opposition pound-for-pound.
Another important factor that potentially worked against him is the fact that his constituency is also skating on thin ice. His future in politics in as far as constituency politics is concerned, has become doubtful.
It would have been ugly for the sitting President to be deputised by his biological brother. It would have made Botswana look like a Banana Republic of some sort or a monarchy.
To keep our integrity as a nation Khama avoided appointing his brother, as that would at worst create a Khama dynasty, something that would ultimately not augur well with the masses, as it would ultimately usher in dictatorship.
If Tshekedi were appointed, the decision would have divided the ruling BDP bitterly and potentially sink the ruling party’s chances of winning the next general elections in protest. The BDP support base would have shrunk even more. Such a move will not be politically expedient and even when he (Tshekedi) qualified, people will not see any merit in such an appointment. Imagine if the country were to experience problems of some sort with the two brothers at the helm, it would be the Khamas to blame. So, it was good to keep Tshekedi out of the picture. Botswana was going to be for the Khamas by the Khamas and thereby create an unnecessary family affair in national politics.
He is a personal friend of the President who in his first term was rewarded with a cabinet post at the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture. Being a minister is sufficient reward for him. In fact, it is too early for him to have been considered for the VP let alone to head a ministry.
Olopeng is a new MP who has to make good the promises he made to his constituents. Even his appointment as a substantive minister is premature as he was supposed to be given a chance to learn the ropes. The assignment might be too heavy for him so much that he may fail to serve the constituents efficiently, which may be detrimental to his political career, especially in these times where people force politicians to account for their decisions.