Mmegi Online :: Masisi: The Jonah in the BDP storm
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Tuesday 11 December 2018, 17:43 pm.
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Masisi: The Jonah in the BDP storm

As President Ian Khama sets in motion his exit out of office next April, he will hand over the baton of power to Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi. Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE and Correspondent SIKI MOTSHWARI JOHANNESS look at Part VI of Khama’s men and women in Cabinet and how the President exercised his prerogative in appointing his team
By Ryder Gabathuse Siki Motshwari Johannes Fri 09 Jun 2017, 16:45 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Masisi: The Jonah in the BDP storm








When President Ian Khama named Mokgweetsi Masisi as his Vice President above his more accomplished and experienced competitors in both the country and the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), apparatchiks were stunned.  

On November 12, 2014, Khama submitted his nominee to Parliament to afford it an opportunity to endorse or reject Masisi. Of the 57 member-strong Parliament, 38 legislators from the ruling party endorsed Khama’s choice of Vice President while 19 members from the opposition abstained. Only a single vote was spoilt.  Clearly this was an emphatic victory for Masisi.

The outcome of the election gave the impression of an overwhelming support for Masisi, a ruling party at peace with itself. There were clearly no indications of any voice of dissent within its ranks.  Case closed. Masisi, just like his predecessors, seemed to command the respect of everyone and had universal acceptability.

History is the best teacher. It will be remembered that Botswana Parliament has no history of rejecting a presidential nominee. So it is not easy to determine accurately if the votes cast in favour of Masisi translated into actual or genuine support for the man. Like in previous exercises of endorsement of the Vice President, the unity of the ruling party was at stake. To vote otherwise would have sent a wrong signal to the detractors of the BDP. A precedent had been set and Masisi’s endorsement had to be consistent with BDP traditions. 

But in the course of time, it became clear that Sisi boy (as Masisi is affectionately called by loyal disciples) is not as popular as initially presented. A sign of opposition to Masisi’s authority emerged early enough and continues to gather momentum to date. Recent reports claim that even some fellow Cabinet colleagues are beginning to cast aspersions on Masisi’s leadership credentials. With voices of protest growing against Masisi’s eminent assumption of presidential office, it is an open secret that unlike Khama or Mogae, his road to the presidency would not be a smooth affair.

While settling in the position of VP, Masisi’s political strength was put to a crucial test at the Mmadinare BDP elective congress of 2015. Central party positions were up for grabs. The position of party chairman being the most prestigious on offer pitted the strengths of the VP himself with highly respected former Cabinet ministers Tebelelo Seretse, Ramadeluka Seretse and the then Parliament debutant, Biggie Butale. 

Of the three ‘rivals’ Tebelelo Seretse posed the biggest threat as she had previously attempted to oust the once invincible BDP strongman, Daniel Kwelagobe at the Kanye elective congress in 2009.To his credit Masisi had canvassed enough support and resources to prevail over his better known and accomplished rivals. The losers cried foul claiming that the playing field was not level. As for the winner, the chairmanship position now gave him enough room and leverage to manoeuvre and consolidate his power. However, it is interesting to note in accordance with the unwritten BDP tradition, by virtue of his position as VP Masisi was supposed to have enjoyed a free ride to the chairmanship. Members were expected to yield but this did not happen. This was early indication of the existence of Masisi’s Doubting Thomases who lack faith in and doubt his suitability to ascend to the highest office in the land. 

The mere fact that the race for the chairmanship proved to be a crowded affair, attracting several contestants was a clear expression of no confidence in Masisi. It was an outward expression of a deep-seated feeling that Khama had erred in anointing the wrong man, weaker candidate at the expense of better talented candidates. Those who wanted to save the country from the possibility of Masisi’s presidency continue to make efforts to stage a palace coup. Unseating Masisi from the position of chairperson would bring them a step closer to achieving this end. Straight from Mmadinare congress, Masisi set out to stamp his authority in the party and perhaps diminish the influence of his closest rivals. First the party itself and Masisi did not show magnanimity to the

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losers at Mmadinare. There was a window of opportunity to rope in rivals into the central committee as additional members. Even the hard working and articulate Tebelelo Seretse was left in the cold.  This was a bad start for  chairperson Masisi in particular and his party in general. They say keep friends close and enemies closer, and Masisi and his party do not seem to understand this language. Alienating capable Mmadinare losers was the worst political blunder the party and Masisi ever committed.

As the new party chairperson, Masisi was charged with the responsibilities of unifying the party, reviving defunct party structures, raising membership and restoring public confidence. However, of these key duties Masisi spent vast energies on a robust recruitment spree mainly targeting opposition activists. BDP activists saw malice in this approach. 

Since his election as the party  chairperson, Masisi’s leadership prowess was put to the test many times.  The BDP contested in a number of by-elections including two parliamentary by-elections at Goodhope/Mabule and recently in Tlokweng, which were both retained by the opposition, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). Council ward by-elections were also held at Phillip Matante-East, Sekoma, Kalakamati, Rasesa and Boikago/Madiba and the BDP won three out of the five with the opposition represented by the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) disentangling the most important ward from the ruling party since Independence in 1966 at Boikago/Madiba in Palapye. Under Masisi’s chairmanship, peace continues to elude the BDP family, as turmoil tends to characterise relations across the regions with Francistown leading the pack. It was in the Francistown region recently that party operatives literally fought during an elective regional congress. Factionalism that used to be a permanent feature on the BDP political menu has come back full force with two major factions led by Masisi himself and his main challenger and Cabinet colleague, Nonofo Molefhi at each other’s throats week in and week out.

Rivalry between BDP’s main factions continues to play out even at the councils and party structures across the country and this continues to dilute the mandate of the civic leaders as they continue to solidify their factional interests at the expense of the public they serve.

As Masisi is destined to take over as the fifth state President in 2018, there are fears for the BDP, as the current VP does not have the charisma of a leader. He has also surrounded himself with people who will not assist him at all as they would want to agree with him all the time. The BDP is seemingly concentrating on raising the profile of Masisi as the inheritor of power without correcting wrongs associated with his faction at this stage, which could be disastrous in the long term if it goes on unchecked.

After former Botswana’s envoy to Japan, Jacob Nkate fell out with Masisi after he announced his interest in the state presidency, Masisi recently went to Ngamiland to appeal to the Ngamiland constituents to help him convince Nkate not to contest the BDP secretary general position in July.

Masisi should not be too combative, but leave the fights in the trenches to those who belong there.  His main challenge is that he will be inheriting a party whose fortunes have been taking a downward spiral. In the 2014 general elections, the BDP garnered 46.46% popular vote, the lowest in its history since independence in 1966.

Masisi knows very well that 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. 

As the party  chairperson, Masisi was charged with the responsibilities of unifying the party, reviving defunct party structures, raising membership and restoring public confidence. Now in the BDP political storm, Masisi is akin to the Biblical Jonah who was sent on a mission to Nineveh, but chose to abandon the mission by going the opposite way to Tarshish. There is fear that the current tension between the BDP factions could sink the party ship if it is not dextrously handled.

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