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Khama’s surprise appointment

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 (VP) Mokgweetsi Masisi, Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE and Correspondent SIKI MOTSHWARI JOHANNESS look at Part V of Khama’s men and women in cabinet and how the President exercised his prerogative in appointing his team

In politics everything is fluid. The system of permanent alliances or permanent adversaries has no place in the realm of politics. The relationship between President Ian Khama and Cabinet minister Pelonomi Venson-Motoi bears testimony to this.

Ever since assuming the presidency, Khama’s closest ally in Cabinet had been Venson-Moitoi. They spent too much time together. Now and then she would be in the company of the people’s President in his many community outreach ventures (the walkabouts and interactions with ordinary mortals and the elderly). They were even reported to be on first name basis and their political relationship was indeed rock solid.

It is on the basis of the excellent relationship, mutual trust and understanding between Khama and her that many would be excused for having thought that the President was preparing Mma-V, as she is affectionately known, to take charge of the affairs of the country.

Things looked good for Venson-Moitoi and she had every reason or legitimate expectation to be appointed Vice President. Besides the additional advantage brought about by her friendship with the President, she in her own right was (still remains) a worthy and serious contender for the coveted position of Vice President. Her political credentials and administrative abilities made her and (still make) her case for the number two spot strong and possible.

The positive political atmosphere that Khama and Venson-Motoi enjoyed did not stand the test of time. Signs of trouble in paradise started showing when unexpectedly, Khama released Venson-Moitoi from her ministerial duties as Minister of Education and Skills Development (MoESD) in April 2014 and offered her a less fancy and less prestigious job of overseer of an Education and Training Sector Strategic Plan, which was being developed. 

Despite several positive initiatives, public schools still struggled to perform as expected and this must have worked against Mma-V. Khama could stomach any longer the continuing culture of underachievement bedevilling the schools and this was enough justification to dismiss Venson-Moitoi.

She was redeployed. Her near downfall led to the rise of one Mokgweetsi Masisi, a rising’ Young Turk’ who had proved his leadership prowess while at the helm of the poverty eradication crusade - Khama’s flagship programme.

He had carried his assignment with aplomb, and Khama started to develop faith and confidence in this new and dashing rising star. Given the challenges in the education sector, Khama considered Masisi to be the right man to mop up the mess.

Masisi became the new Minister of Education albeit in an acting capacity. Two centres of power were created in the MoESD. Now working under the same roof, it was not clear who was the boss between Venson-Moitoi and Masisi. One can argue that Venson-Moitoi lost the race for the vice Presidency the day Masisi replaced her at the helm of MoESD.

All in all, Venson-Moitoi had and still has every trait that qualifies her as VP, more so that Botswana is yet to have a woman politician appointed to the position.

There is a school of thought that by leaving Venson-Moitoi out of favour for VP, Khama was possibly humbled by the north/south regional balance. There was a worry that people from Khama’s home town of Serowe have been dominating the Presidency and the VP posts.

Khama wanted to rebrand himself as fair person, and would not simply appease home girls and boys with positions of authority. Most importantly, it also appears that at the end of his first term, he did not seem pleased with Venson-Moitoi’s performance at the MoESD.

Now enter Masisi, the go-getter and Khama’s favourite amongst the equals, who cut his political teeth at the doting feet of his

late father, Edison Masisi. After winning the 2009 general elections, Khama appointed Masisi an Assistant Minister at Presidential Affairs and Public Administration.

He served under former minister, Lesego Motsumi who was a Specially Elected MP. When Khama redeployed Motsumi to serve in the Foreign Service in India for alleged unsatisfactory performance, Masisi took over as the substantive Minister. He continued to cement his relationship with Khama and became one of the most visible Ministers.

Khama’s pet project of poverty eradication catapulted him to greater heights in his career. The energetic and strategic Masisi performed his tasks with passion and commitment.

In Masisi, Khama knew what he was bringing into his administration as the two had a long history together outside politics.

Those who approved Masisi hailed him as an energetic and hardworking person, especially in Parliament. Besides eloquence, Masisi is credited as combative and could take the war to the opposition whenever he is on the floor of Parliament.

Khama’s choice brought hope to members of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) that as the Leader of the House, he became more than a match for the opposition bench, many of whom are in their first term in Parliament.

The other positive about Masisi was that he resonates with a large portion of the young populace, more so that he has courage, conviction and speaks his mind, ”unlike many politicians who take cover in chorus politics and refrain from saying what they think.”

However, the main undoing factor about Khama’s choice was that he tended to “replicate” his principal or his character as the VP. Instead, Khama needed a deputy who is a strategist and not someone of his very character as otherwise that thwarted his plans as the set up will lack variety.

True to the fears of the public Masisi would, like Khama, unleash an onslaught on the private media and labour organisations just like his principal.

Besides the worrying Masisi/Khama replication of character, analysts were however, convinced that Masisi’s public demeanour, especially his eloquence in Setswana could easily endear him to the public.

Cracks in the Khama/Venson-Moitoi relationship continued to show following her redeployment. Since then, the two are rarely seen together. For example she hardly features in Khama’s walkabouts. In 2014, Khama got another chance to manage the affairs of the country. Yet another opportunity presented itself for Khama to form a new Cabinet. All eyes were fixated on the position of Vice President.

Kitso Mokaila, another potential candidate had been knocked out of the race following his surprise electoral defeat at the hands of opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC)’s political novice, James Mathokgwane. With Mokaila out of the race, leading contenders were now reduced to four. These being Venson-Moitoi, Nonofo Molefhi, Tshekedi Khama, Thapelo Olopeng and Dorcas Makgato. Few people, if any, considered Masisi a serious contender.

In defiance of all logic and expectations, Khama appointed as Vice President the man who had an outside chance, Masisi. Venson-Moitoi, whose services were perhaps on the domestic front were no longer needed, was therefore banished to the airborne Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation.

The Presidential hopes vanished. With the Presidential race now beyond her reach, she announced she would not seek re-election in 2019. A decision she has since reneged on as she now stands a possibility of being roped in as the VP at least in Masisi’s transition era of 2018 ahead of the 2019 general elections. Ever eager to play on the big stage, she also diverted her energies to the affairs of the continent by joining the race for the chairmanship of the AU commission where she lost.




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