FRANCISTOWN: Has sacked minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi played into the hands of her boss, President Mokgweetsi Masisi or has the boss overreacted?
This is a question asked by many as they come to terms with the unfolding saga that saw Masisi sacking senior legislator Venson-Moitoi who was also a senior Cabinet minister in the Masisi-led Cabinet.
The sacking of Venson-Moitoi, affectionately known as Mma-V, is apparently the culmination of an impromptu meeting of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) politburo this week after which an announcement was made relieving her of her Cabinet responsibilities.
Her alleged offence is her recent declaration of her wish to break the party’s tradition and challenge President Mokgweetsi Masisi as the BDP president at next year’s party biennial elective congress.
Whilst challenging Masisi for the party presidency is provided for in the party constitution, it is perhaps the timing of her announcement that precipitated Masisi and the BDP top leadership to react in the manner that they did.
The President and the BDP Central Committee were still inundated with reports that a section of the party has set up a lobby group allegedly under the name of former president Ian Khama to ‘oust’ Masisi.
So, Venson-Moitoi’s declaration was spoiled by developments in the party leaving the President with no choice but to take control of the situation by clipping the wings of his challenger.
The reaction of the BDP head honchos here, was perhaps to send a very strong message to anyone who harbours similar ambitions that it was no time to play.
The timing was also wrong for the declaration in that Masisi’s administration is still dealing with issues raised by former president Khama whose feeling is that the man he has ‘made’ is unfairly dealing with him.
Masisi’s prompt move was perhaps driven by the desire to contain the alleged rising dissent against his administration.
In a nutshell, Mma-V could have simply played into the hands of her boss and party leadership.
On the other hand, Masisi and the BDP central committee could have taken the issue personally and overreacted instead of taking time to hear her side of the story.
First, she is a long-serving party loyalist and a few of the high performing women politicians in the BDP.
Given her pedigree, she would still add value to the party’s course, especially given her leadership and administrative prowess, although everything comes with responsibility.
The decision to sack Venson-Moitoi has triggered a national debate with some fearing that the Masisi administration appears gripped by paranoia, intolerance and there are those who feel Venson-Moitoi has gone too far.
Political analyst Anthony Morima commented on Masisi’s decision to fire Venson-Moitoi from Cabinet “because she has openly told him that she harbours ambitions of contesting for the position of the BDP’s presidency”.
“It is preposterous because when Masisi ascended to the presidency, he boldly stated that he is tolerant of other peoples’ views and was and is still a democrat”.
He said that as member of the ruling party, Masisi should appreciate that one of the tenets of democracy is competition, which is also enshrined in the constitution of the BDP.
While it is clear that Masisi’s move to expel Venson-Moitoi from Cabinet was to consolidate his position ahead of the party’s elective congress next year, Morima says that Masisi should show that he is a true BDP member by not purging those who want to challenge him for the leadership of the party.
“Is it wrong for a democrat to challenge another for any party position? The answer is no.
Venson-Moitoi did something respectful and honourable by officially informing Masisi of her ambition to contest for the BDP presidency.
Now, if Masisi has removed her from Cabinet on account of that, this would further marginalise him from some people in the BDP who are against his presidency,” Morima said.
He further said that
He added: “Currently, there is a case before court that is challenging Masisi’s legitimacy as the president of the BDP.
“Also, a lot of people who lost in the BDP’s primary elections are not happy about how the party leadership handled their protests.
“Bangwato also feel that Masisi is fighting them by removing Venson-Moitoi from Cabinet after he recently transferred Khama to a new ministry.”
“All these things create a groundswell of opinion that Masisi is purging some people within the BDP who are not aligned to his faction.
“All in all, this has the potential to limit Masisi’s chances of consolidating his power within the BDP should the party’s elective congress take place next year,” said Morima, advising Masisi to stop showing any signs of paroxysm, if any, when some within the BDP want to challenge him for the leadership of the party.
Morima is also of the view that Masisi should allow congress to elect the party’s leadership as its ethos and values dictate.
“With general elections fast approaching, the BDP supporters should be given a choice of who they want to take them to the elections.
“Right now, one of the problems afflicting the UDC is that some within it feel that Duma Boko is not the legitimate president of the UDC because he was not elected by the UDC congress to lead the party.
“Masisi should learn from that and allow the BDP congress to choose its leaders who will take it to the next general elections,” Morima said.
He stated that should the BDP decide not to hold its elective congress, Masisi’s authority within the party may diminish, adding that this may affect how the BDP will perform during next year’s general election to a limited extent because the opposition is also besieged by a lot of problems.
University of Botswana (UB) political analyst, Dr Kebapetse Lotshwao believes that it was inevitable that Venson-Moitoi would be fired from Cabinet immediately after openly declaring that she wants to challenge Masisi.
“The President enjoys a wide latitude in Cabinet appointments. He has to appoint Cabinet members he trusts and those he believes are totally loyal to him.
“By challenging Masisi, Venson-Moitoi was showing that she does not have confidence in his qualities and abilities. It was not surprising for Masisi to boot, react by dropping her. It even happens in mature democracies,” he said.
“I think she (Venson-Moitoi) could have resigned before she made a pronouncement to challenge Masisi,” Lotshwao said, adding that by dropping Venson-Moitoi, Masisi was trying to assert himself in the party.
The UB political science lecturer does not believe that Venson-Moitoi will mount a strong challenge against Masisi in her bid to be declared the party’s presidential candidate for the 2019 general elections.
“She might have been in the party for a very long time, but she has not successfully challenged for any party leadership position in the past. That is why I do not think she will mount a strong challenge to Masisi. I guess she knows her limitations as well,” Lotshwao said.
He also weighed in on reports that Venson-Moitoi enjoys the backing of former president Ian Khama in her bid to oust Masisi.
“For now this is just pure speculation. However, if such reports turn out to be true, the impact of the association between Khama and Venson-Moitoi (in a bid to oust Masisi) will depend on the response from Masisi,” he said.