Mmegi Online :: A cabinet of friends
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Friday 20 July 2018, 14:06 pm.
A cabinet of friends

As President Ian Khama sets in motion a journey to vacate office next year April 1, and hands over the baton of power to Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi, Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE and Correspondent SIKI MOTSHWARI JOHANNESS look at Part VII 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 16 Jun 2017, 17:51 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: A cabinet of friends

Since its first election victory, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has never faced the prospect of suffering an electoral defeat like in recent times  Now it appears a dark cloud is hovering over the BDP head and President Ian Khama-led party is, rightly so, panicking.

To prevent a possible loss of power, Khama is doing everything possible to change the party's fortunes for the better. Khama is fully alive to the fact that the youth will be a key factor in the next general elections. The key issue keeping the President on his toes is youth unemployment. 

Not least of his worries is the underachievement of schools, right from the foundation to tertiary  level. The transition rate from junior secondary to senior secondary schools is at 60% while that of senior secondary school to tertiary stands at around 30%.

This means that a sizeable number of students aspiring for senior secondary and university education are prematurely dumped into the streets with little hope of ever securing decent jobs. The country is also grappling with the challenge of skills mismatch ,where a university qualification does not guarantee employment in the labour market. 

The situation is compounded by the fact that efforts to prop up young people with state funded empowerment schemes are frustrated by lack of entrepreneurial skills, passion and natural survival instincts. 

Despite hiccups hitherto experienced, the show goes on. Youth empowerment remains top of government’s agenda. The President is on a mission to unleash youth potential and this is a battle that must be fought and won simply because the future of the party and country rests here.

In the wake of the 2014 general elections, in which the BDP escaped with a whisker after garnering about 46.46% popular vote, Khama carefully constructed and reorganised his second term cabinet to lure the young voter.

The new cabinet proved to be a good blend of young blood and experience intended to have the best of both worlds (attract young people without necessarily losing touch with the old guards). This was clearly a mark of political gamesmanship on the part of the President.

With eyes fixated on attracting young people, as noted in the previous article, Khama moved youthful Mokgweetsi Masisi from the then Ministry of Education and Skills Development to the second highest post in the land, of Vice President. As Khama’s lieutenant and right hand man, Masisi was strategically placed to match the Leader of Opposition Duma Boko’s youthful exuberance and to check and tame his intellectual pomposity.

Having worked closely on issues concerning youth during his poverty eradication crusade, and his past life as a curriculum developer and later Minister of Education and Skills Development, Masisi is no stranger to youth issues. Like a skilled professional actor, in so far as the assignment of galvanising and appealing to the youth is concerned, Masisi is playing the part exceptionally well.

Since assuming the Vice Presidency, he worked on his wardrobe to carve a new identity aimed at attracting the attention of young people. At political rallies he wears boyish and stylish flat caps associated with hip-hop - an image which young people regard as ‘cool’.

Besides this, he is an excellent speaker with a good command of both Setswana and English.  Khama’s strategy of using Masisi to attract young people into the BDP appears to be working. Mesmerised by Masisi, some young people returned the favour by composing a song of praise extolling his leadership credentials.

The song is played with monotonous regularity to bolster Masisi’s chairmanship campaign. A young voter in most cases is an informed one whose decisions are mostly influenced by the environment they live in. It seems the BDP-led government is doing everything within its power to win the hearts and minds


of these young people.

However, they are fully cognisant of the reality that it is not a given that the youth will easily be influenced by what the BDP-led government is providing.  The painful thing is that after empowerment there are no guarantees that the young people will stand with the BDP in the hour of need.

It seems Masisi is taking the gamble and is investing in the young people who are the future of any institution including institutions that are political. Khama deployed at the helm of the trouble-prone Ministry of Basic Education, a renowned human right activist and former High Court judge Unity Dow. 

The latter had lost her bid to enter Parliament via an election in 2014, but Khama could not allow her talent and experience to go to waste. He brought her into Parliament through a Special Election to add value, variety and flair to his team. The revered judge was assigned to use her charm and negotiating skills to normalise relations with teacher labour unions and turn around the fortunes of public schools. She hit the ground running.

Guided by the newly launched   Education and Training Sector Strategic Plan designed to transform Botswana from a mineral resource driven economy into a knowledge-based society, Dow initiated Target 20,000. This was more of a back to school programme where young people were equipped with skills making them job ready.

Coupled with this, an Ideas Expo was quickly arranged at her instigation to afford young people a platform to exchange ideas on issues of education and entrepreneurship. The success of the programme is yet to be determined. However, even with the good doctor in charge, achieving academic excellence remains a moving target. Dow is running the affairs of the ministry with a former banker, Master Goya, whose erstwhile job thrived on strict delivery targets. 

Goya is proving to be a hands-on leader well-versed with issues on the ground and enjoys face-to-face contact with schools. Eyes are on them to shape the future and turn the fortunes of this country into the targeted knowledge-based economy. Relatively unknown politician, yet better positioned, Thapelo Olopeng had emerged victorious over veteran politician Pono Moatlhodi in the tussle for Tonota constituency in 2014.

Surprisingly, Olopeng, longtime friend and confidante of President Khama, was catapulted to the role of Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture (now Youth Empowerment Sport and Culture Development). Although this now appeared more like a Cabinet of friends, Olopeng fit like a glove into the ministry.

He is a good catch and Khama should be credited for identifying talent. He has proved to be a darling of young people and he is arguably the best minister of the youth the country has ever produced. Olopeng, a regular face at the country’s major culture and sporting events continues to create time for the issues of the young people. 

His ministry has a weekly television programme called Letlhabile, which is run by young people for young people and it is this programme that has set him (Olopeng) far apart from his peers. Besides selling himself as a politician, the youth programme is seemingly the right platform for youth issues and entrepreneurship debate.

Letlhabile has now become a popular TV programme that targets issues of youth empowerment and more often young people are engaged on issues pertaining to their future and entrepreneurship. The programme continues to touch on the core of the youth issues such as unemployment and it preaches alternative government schemes that the youth can benefit from more so that the programme highlights young people’s success stories and their challenges.

Olopeng and his assistant Kefentse Mzwinila are all over the country appreciating and feeling the pulse of the country’s youth and providing direction.

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