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 III of Khama’s men and women in Cabinet and how the President exercised his prerogative in appointing his team
President Festus Mogae brought Margaret ‘Nnananyana’ Nasha into Parliament under the Specially Elected dispensation in 1999. She acquitted herself well as Cabinet minister and earned the respect of the male-dominated Cabinet and that of the general public. As state Minister, Nasha like her namesake Margaret Thatcher, was to prove to be Botswana’s own Iron Lady.
One of the casualties of President Ian Khama’s maiden cabinet reshuffle in 2008 was Moggie Mbaakanyi, one of the few women who served in Mogae’s Cabinet. This dealt a blow to women representation in the Cabinet. However, Nasha was spared. She first served in Khama’s Cabinet as Minister of Local Government and this was followed by an appointment to the more clout carrying Ministry of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration.
Until 2009, everything seemed to be going well for Nasha. She had every reason to hope for better things to come. In addition to Cabinet duties, she discharged her functions well as chairperson of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Political Education and Elections Committee (PEEC). With the changing political landscape caused by the rising voice of dissent, which threatened the very survival of the BDP, she devoted her energies on matters of political education to keep her party relevant and afloat.
It was through her relentless efforts that the BDP produced and launched ‘Kgomo ya Motswana’, the party’s campaign blueprint. Finally, it seemed in Nasha, the BDP had found a new ‘Daniel Kwelagobe’. She had become not only the new BDP kingpin but also Khama’s trusted ally and confidante. She made it her duty to defend Khama whenever she felt that the President was unjustly and unduly criticised.
From time immemorial, it fell on the shoulders of men to shape the political fortunes of the BDP and other political organisations. For instance, in the formative years the BDP relied heavily on the charisma of its founding father - the late Sir Seretse Khama. When Seretse died in July 1980, Daniel Kwelagobe rose to the occasion to become the party’s leading political ideologue. ‘Dan’ or ‘DK’ as he is affectionately called, earned himself the title ‘BDP strongman’. Kwelagobe’s ‘partner-in-crime’ was to be retired Kebatlamang Morake. Whenever the party or its president was under siege (facing opposition onslaught), it was the responsibility of the duo to rescue the party.
At the time, Kwelagobe appeared to have gone on the quieter side of things (in terms of politicking). That being the case Nasha, a woman, seemingly filled Kwelagobe’s boots and with a distinct performance. Nasha’s role as the BDP kingpin became apparent at an event to launch a leadership training manual held in Palapye years ago.
Nasha was at the helm of the party’s PEEC. This role is not an ordinary one by any measure. To assume a role that appears to be very critical to the fortunes of the party, Nasha, as a woman, surely rewrote the history and traditions of the BDP.
PEEC is charged with, among other things, the daunting task of preparing the party for the general elections.
As the new BDP kingpin, Nasha’s political prowess was to be put to the test at the official launch of the Leadership Training Manual, otherwise known as Domkrag Kgomo ya Motswana a few years ago. True to character, she proved equal to the task. Delivering the keynote address at the launch she did not only content herself with unveiling the leadership manual but delved into serious politicking.
She was thorough on every subject she chose to deal with. As she delivered her speech it was evident that her rise to the position of head of the PEEC was no accident. Her charisma, fearlessness, robustness, knowledge of the subject matter and not forgetting her humorous side, said it all. There was a woman poised to ‘revolutionise’ the BDP campaign strategy.
Nasha raised a concern about the quality of campaign itself. Candidates were urged to run a campaign based on issues. Trivialities such as “mmago o kile a lowa (your mother was once a sorcerer) will no longer be entertained, she advised the members. In what appeared a rarity in politics she openly confessed that the BDP is an “ailing party.”
“Like any other party the BDP has its fair share of problems,” she thundered like a preacher on the pulpit. The grey areas were cited as growing incidences of ill-discipline, collapse of party structures as well as tiffs emanating from Bulela Ditswe primaries as symptoms of an ailing party. “Banna wee, a re berekeng!” Loosely translated, this could mean,
In defence of President Khama, Nasha put on a sterling performance. She appealed to members to feel duty bound to defend the President. “We must all defend our President as the party cannot afford the luxury of allowing the opposition to reduce our President to a punching bag.” Her performance on the podium could have left a lot of her male-dominated top table green with envy, considering her performance. Certainly, this was not a once off performance.
It is usually not what Nasha said that sets her far apart from the ordinary Motswana woman politician. It is how she conducts her political business that makes her the darling of her followers. She is never shy to take men head on when the need arises, nor does she ever run short of political jokes that keep her listeners riveted throughout.
In her quest to become the BDP secretary general, at the height of the BDP factional wars, she challenged Kwelagobe at an elective congress in Serowe years ago when very few dared it. Kwelagobe then was almost ‘untouchable’.
But then disaster struck in 2009 and Nasha’s otherwise glittering political career began to take a nosedive. In the 2009 general elections, her bid to return to Parliament as a representative for Gaborone Central constituency was thwarted by young Dumelang Shaleshando, leader of the fledgling Botswana Congress Party (BCP). Her electoral defeat literally shattered her dreams of ever ascending to the high office in the land, at least under the BDP ticket. It would take nothing less than magic to resuscitate her shattered dreams.
Despite Nasha’s exit from Parliament, Khama’s faith in her abilities was not in doubt and he felt that she deserved another chance to serve the nation. A window of opportunity presented itself right there in Parliament. The position of the Speaker of the National Assembly had fallen vacant following the retirement of veteran politician Patrick Balopi. This was a position that had been the exclusive preserve of men since independence in 1966. Khama made history by appointing Nasha to become the first woman Speaker of the National Assembly.
In the early days of her service as Speaker of the National Assembly, legislators struggled to make the transition from the traditional ‘Mr Speaker’ to ‘Madam Speaker.’
Again proving her leadership mettle, Nasha is reported to have discharged her functions diligently as Speaker.
After spending the good political years together, a moment of separation finally hit the former political allies, Nasha and Khama.
During her period of Speakership, Nasha remained firm to strengthen Botswana’s separation of powers, ignoring several orders from the Executive in order to assert the independence of Parliament.
Some of Nasha’s actions rubbed President Khama the wrong way as did a portion of her autobiography, Madam Speaker Sir! which criticised his (Khama’s) leadership style. In April 2014, Khama considered attempting to have Nasha removed from office through a motion of no confidence, but was discouraged by his handlers, who feared that the motion might not even see the light of day.
After the 2014 general elections, the BDP refused to re-nominate Nasha as Speaker and instead Gladys Kokorwe formerly Botswana’s envoy to Zimbabwe emerged as Khama’s choice candidate. Nasha would become the opposition number one choice for Speaker but was defeated by Kokorwe who had garnered 41 votes to Nasha’s 21 votes.
Nasha had fallen out with President Khama. Before the Speakership election, there had been a dispute over whether the vote should be taken by a show of hands or by secret ballot as Nasha preferred. The Attorney General, on behalf of the Government, argued that Nasha had ceased to become the Speaker on the day of the election and thus no longer had a say over parliamentary procedure, but the Court rejected this argument.
At a press conference she addressed post her exit, Nasha articulated her reasons for the break-up with Khama as the urge to fight to keep Parliament free from intimidation by the Executive. Nasha held a strong view that it was the duty of Parliament to hold the Executive to account.
At one of the party functions, Khama had to be blunt when he suggested that, “when we wanted Kokorwe for the Speaker of the National Assembly, Nasha went berserk”.