With almost 60 days into his five-year second term at the helm, after October 2014 general elections, Mmegi Staffer RYDER GABATHUSE asks if President Ian Khama and Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi are really a good combination to produce the desired results at both party and government level
FRANCISTOWN: There is no doubt that President Khama has ‘replicated’ himself or his character in choosing Masisi as his Vice President and perhaps as the heir to the presidency when his term comes to an end in 2018.
Khama and Masisi thrive on populism with a tendency of pleasing the masses at the expense of the public resources, which can be fatal to the country’s economy.
They also hold grudges easily and don’t forgive and forget easily. It’s disappointing that the Khama/Masisi team tends to pick unnecessary altercations with the local private press and trade unions, which often times metamorphoses into pure hatred.
During his tenure as the commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), Khama declared that he did not read the local newspapers. Even as the President, he is yet to address a press conference like his predecessors to discuss national issues, a development that does not help his relationship with the press, the private media in particular.
In a leaked tape, which was circulated widely, Masisi is alleged to have uttered a shocking statement that some sections of the private media should be starved of their lifeblood-advertising because its coverage of the BDP was negative.
The team Khama/Masisi also sends a chill down the spine with its tendency of believing that they are always right to the extent that even when they are in the wrong, it’s hard for them to simply say I am sorry.
Gaborone-based political analyst and practising attorney Anthony Morima renders an advice: “Khama needed a deputy who is a strategist and not someone of his very character as otherwise he will be replicating himself or his character which can thwart his plans as the set-up will lack variety.”
The political analyst fears that if Masisi does not change the way he does things then their combination at the highest office in the land will have a tough term of office.
One of the major challenges that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is facing is its dwindling fortunes, which were not helped by the party’s poor performance at the October 2014 General Elections.
The party recorded a popular vote of 46, 46 percent in the general elections for the first time in its history since independence in 1966.
In his first term at the helm, Khama witnessed the establishment of a breakaway party formed by disillusioned former BDP operatives, who accused their leader of dictatorial tendencies, charges that he denied.
Morima worriedly declares that whilst Masisi is destined to take over as the fifth state president in 2018, he fears for the BDP as Masisi does not have the charisma of a leader. In some quarters however, Masisi is presented as an energetic, hardworking, eloquent and combative politician who has the wherewithal to tackle even the marauding opposition in parliament. Former BDP MP Botsalo Ntuane, recently described Masisi as “a Leader of the House, who will be more than a match for the opposition bench, many of whom are new to parliament debate, which is very different from Freedom Square politics.
“The other positive is that he is relatively youthful and this will resonate with a large portion of the young populace.”
“Imagine Khama is no longer the BDP leader and the party is to go through elections without him. They will lose, especially if the opposition parties could seriously unite,” warns Morima. Morima is certainly worried by Khama’s appointments especially of people that he has surrounded himself with at the Office of the President (OP), indicating that these are the people who will not assist him (Khama) at all as they would want to agree with him all the time.
He cited the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Carter Morupisi and Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Eric Molale for instance, as men who will not want to be seen to be differing with their principal.
“If you are surrounded with characters that agree with you all the time and can’t differ with you on principle where necessary, it can be disastrous,” he warned.
Morima notes that it was not the case with Khama’s predecessors, former president Sir Ketumile Masire and his then deputy Festus Mogae. “They complemented each other very well during their tenure of office because we understand for Mogae, a reputable economist and a shrewd administrator, he was able to guide his principal and close the gaps as they debated issues instead of agreeing with him simply because he was the boss.”
In the area of personality, especially in their firm stance against social ills like alcohol abuse and others, Morima rates the Khama/Masisi team as a good combination and very compatible. “They seem to be interested in bombarding the poor people with short
Morima is also worried by Masisi’s tendencies of strongly feeling that he is always right and picking unnecessary grudges or public spats with those who differ with him.
“It’s wrong for a person of his stature to engage in street fights with professionals like the media and trade unionists just because he can. “Someone might be wrong, and it can also be very wrong to address people about their wrongs the way Masisi always does,” observes Morima, who adds that once he (Masisi) differs with people he should not engage in street fights.
Morima says without Masisi’s onslaught on the media and trade unionists, his public demeanour, especially eloquence in Setswana can easily endear him to the public.
“Among the ordinary people, he has fared well and will continue to fare well. His eloquence in Setswana combines very well with his principal who struggles in the vernacular.”
Otherwise, Morima is convinced that Masisi’s eloquence in rich Setswana and his physical demeanour are of a statesman.
He encourages him to do away with his street fighting spirit and become a straight winner.
“We hear during his tenure as a school teacher and during his sojourn at the UNICEF, he was a good man. He should not be too combative but leave the fights in the trenches to those who belong there.”
Generally, Khama and Masisi have mutual understanding and they always read from the same page. Besides Khama’s pet project of poverty eradication, which apparently brought the two together at the OP when Masisi was the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, the duo have a history.
They reportedly met at the Kalahari Conservation Society (KCS), which Khama was a patron of at the time but it’s the poverty eradication project coordinated at the OP that seemingly bonded the two.
University of Botswana (UB), Professor Emmanuel Botlhale finds the question on whether the Khama/Masisi combination can deliver at both the BDP and government level, a very good one, albeit difficult to answer off the cuff. The academic however, observes that Khama has picked as his deputy somebody whom he is comfortable to work with and Parliament was able to endorse his choice.
Prof. Botlhale finds it is difficult to make an informed analysis whether the Khama/Masisi team has so far delivered on its mandate or not because normally 100 days in office is the period that is looked at to make a determination or informed analysis.
”I find it difficult to talk about the direction that the duo is taking,” he notes and observes that for the good of the country and democracy, the duo’s combination has to be a winning one so as to deliver positives.”
His position is that now that party politics is over and will only be met in 2019, “the whole thing now is about the government and governance.” He insists at looking at the 100 days of the Khama/Masisi team.
“Generally, there is an uneasiness that the two (Khama/Masisi) are going to be anti-trade unions. A trust deficit between the labour movement and the presidency can be counter-productive as it instills fear on both sides,” observes Botlhale. He stresses that at least the impressions of the labour movement are that Khama and Masisi were uncompromising during the 2011 public sector employees’ strike.
“We don’t know, going forward, there could be a change of heart and the trust issue could be a non-starter.”
Meanwhile, there are rumours that Khama, like Mogae did in 2003 in Selebi-Phikwe at the Women’s Wing congress, ahead of the main party congress held in Ghanzi, is likely to shock the BDP by endorsing his deputy for the party chairmanship against other contestants.
Khama reportedly wants his deputy to learn the party ropes quickly so that he can get entrenched in the party system.
The rumour has it that even for the race of the party chairmanship at the impending party national congress slated for July, names touted, those of former cabinet ministers Tebelelo Seretse and Ramadeluka Seretse including MP Biggie Butale, are simply part of the democratic formalities.
At best Khama will reportedly call for a compromise to avoid creating two centres of power with his deputy watching from outside or holding a junior position in the party.
“Anyone else other than the Vice President will create two centres of power. It may not be now, but Khama requires to cede power and give it to his number two,” says a BDP insider who prefers anonymity.
He stresses that the BDP requires a compromise because it is currently concentrating on raising the profile of Masisi as the inheritor of power.