The process of nominating President Ian Khama’s Vice President (VP) in 2014 was in fact bigger than the incumbent, Mokgweetsi Masisi. The Moshupa-born politician truly happened to have been at the right place at the right time. Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE reports that Masisi was unlikely to become the VP if it were not for the process of elimination that Khama found himself grappling with in an attempt to settle for a suitable deputy
FRANCISTOWN: Mokgweetsi Masisi apparently benefitted from a seemingly political elimination process undertaken by President Ian Khama as he screened people who were tipped to be in the race for the VP position.
Even Masisi did not fancy his chances of being the future state President so early in his political career which started in earnest when he tried his luck for the first time against then Moshupa MP, Maitlhoko Mooka in the party’s parliamentary primary elections and lost.
Masisi would return even stronger in the 2009 general elections when he won a parliamentary seat for the first time. It did not take Masisi long to rise to the front bench. He would easily become one of Khama’s favourites and loyalists.
One thing for certain, it was his sojourn at the Office of the President that endeared him to his principal. First as assistant minister and later as the substantive minister for Presidential Affairs, Masisi impressed the most especially when driving Khama’s pet projects; the Poverty Eradication and the Presidential Housing Appeal. He was able to cement his relationship with Khama.
There is a school of thought that Khama possibly settled for Masisi after running out of options as there were indications that Masisi was not his real first choice.
Fellow party operatives did not show any respect for Masisi the VP as about three challenged him for the coveted chairperson position. At the Mmadinare elective congress, three senior party officials; Ramadeluka Seretse, Tebelelo Seretse and Biggie Butale dared the VP whilst at the Tonota elective congress it was Nonofo Molefhi who challenged Masisi single-handedly and lost. For both challenges, Masisi would prove his mettle.
As for Khama, during his tenure as the state VP and party chairperson, he was never challenged as he defended the position.
A majority of senior politicians who qualified to succeed Khama were unfortunately from GammaNgwato in the northern part of Botswana. But, Khama wanted someone from the southern part of the country at a time when the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) fortunes were dwindling in the south when compared to the north where the party has always exhibited stability and good performance.
People who were in the running for the VP position included Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, current minister for International Affairs and Cooperation, Nonofo Molefhi, minister for Infrastructure and Housing Development, Kitso Mokaila, Transport and Communications minister and Eric Molale, Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration minister. Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism minister, Tshekedi Khama was touted to be in the race as well.
Perhaps, as a cautionary note, Khama could not opt for the latter, as he is his biological brother and on the grounds that it would have been untidy for him to be deputised by him, so did not opt for him.
If he had appointed him his VP he would reverse the democratic gains of the country and leave it as a Banana Republic of some sort. It would at worst create a Khama dynasty - a deadly recipe for dictatorship.
It is apparent that Khama’s finger was probably on the retired military officer Mokaila whom Khama trusted so much. Perhaps, Khama was impressed by Mokaila’s good performance across all the ministries that he presided over.
His star had been on the rise and had caught the eye of his principal. Mokaila is vocal, articulate, loyal and a hard worker. Unfortunately, after losing his constituency to the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) in Goodhope-Mabule, there was nothing that Khama could do after appointing him as a Specially Elected MP and his ultimate appointment to Cabinet.
Former president Festus Mogae had served
Since the highest office in the land and its number two were previously manned by northerners, there has been a strong feeling that the southern region was worried that the presidency was sidelining it, hence its strong consideration for opposition. On that note, Khama had to strike the requisite balance of the regions.
Odds apparently connived against Molale in 2014, eliminating him from the race for VP. First, he was a Specially Elected MP who did not have a constituency. His later attempt at grabbing a vacant Goodhope-Mabule constituency in a by-election necessitated by the resignation of the former area MP, James Mathokgwane, left him a bad loser.
His political problems were exacerbated by his skirmishes with the public sector trade unions, which had launched bitter anti-Molale campaigns in his own backyard. He was therefore, thrown out of the race although he would otherwise make a good VP as a respectable administrator as demonstrated by his illustrious civil service career.
For various reasons, the GammaNgwato crew of Molefhi, Venson-Moitoi and Tshekedi Khama failed to make it in Khama’s quest to create a regional balance of the country’s north and south regions.
It must also be remembered that there were compromise appointments in between, especially that of the late Mompati Merafhe in 2009 to protect the presidency of Khama that was shaken by the BDP’s traditional warring factions. Merafhe performed with aplomb in his role of quelling factional battles during turbulent times in the history of the ruling BDP.
Whilst Khama rewarded Merafhe, a known leader of the A-Team faction with the VP position, a member of the opposite axis Barata-Phathi was rewarded with the BDP chairpersonship.
Upon Merafhe’s retirement from politics due to ill-health, Khama appointed the then Cabinet minister and MP for Mmadinare, Ponatshego Kedikilwe - a well-rounded politician to complete Merafhe’s term. PHK, as Kedikilwe is affectionately known,was found to be both intellectually and administratively solid.
Masisi became the VP after former Mmadinare MP, Kedikilwe retired from active politics after taking over from the late Merafhe.
University of Botswana (UB) political scientist, Leonard Sesa acknowledges that Masisi’s appointment to the VP came as a surprise to Masisi and his colleagues in the BDP.
“Masisi was new in the party and there were people before him in terms of their seniority. What was obvious to everyone was not followed as Khama chose to appoint Masisi as a big surprise,” Sesa analyses.
It is pubic knowledge that during his tenure, former president Mogae retired Khama from the army where he was the commander and chose him as his deputy, something that was outside the traditions of the party. It was a big surprise.
“Masisi is also still new in the BDP, but Khama chose him as his deputy against the expectations of many people in the party,” Sesa notes.
The political scientist observes that one of the achievements of Khama by bringing Masisi as his deputy was to certainly strike a regional balance to try and appease the people.
“By Masisi’s appointment, he seemed to be saying, ‘I am from Serowe and my deputy has to come from the south,’” he says, indicating that Khama gave Masisi a lot of assignments, which Masisi performed with aplomb before his appointment.
“He simply trained him (Masisi) through various portfolio assignments to his satisfaction,” says the UB don.