FRANCISTOWN: Coming from a set up where the principal and his immediate lieutenant are like-minded, Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi has a huge task of turning things around in his impending Presidency.
He has to prove to all and sundry that he will not remain trapped in President Ian Khama’s political shoes, but rather that he shall be his own man. The picture emerging from the Office of the President (OP) is that Masisi bears striking similarities with his principal in his character. They lack variety.
In Masisi, Khama has replicated his character or himself. There is only a danger that the ascendance of Masisi to the highest office in the land could simply be akin to the proverbial old wine in a new bottle.
Masisi should turn things around if he wants to enhance the chances of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and its government to remain in power as the beleaguered party has been experiencing a downward spiral in its fortunes. The reality is that the BDP-led government during the tenure of Khama has been accused of arrogance and sheer disregard for processes and procedures. He should also come up with an explicit foreign and domestic policies rather than doing things haphazardly as it has been the norm.
Internationally, Khama is known for condemning other nations whilst he hardly addresses the nation on pertinent issues.
In an automatic succession set up, President Khama has already anointed Masisi as his successor come April 1, 2018.
Ever since he ascended to the powerful position of Vice President in November 2014 there has been striking similarities in the manner in which Khama, Masisi and the entire OP crew do things.
Literally in Masisi, Khama has found a Siamese twin. They loved and hated the same people and organisations together. The underlying factor is that the same challenges Khama encountered in his presidency could easily be passed on to his successor.
Khama and Masisi have a history of hating trade unions and its leadership, the private media and they also pass for leaders who simply hold grudges that easily metamorphose into hatred. Both leaders have a penchant of believing that they are always right no matter the circumstances.
There is fear that through Masisi, Khama will easily rule from the grave.
Take for instance, whilst Khama never hid his hatred for the local private media from his days as the commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), a leaked tape in 2014 from a BDP function would depict Masisi as a private media hater who even proposed to see it starved of advertising, a move that has since become a reality.
Both men even had incessant skirmishes with the public sector trade unions to the extent that they never entertained proposals by trade union leaders to meet them even when they (trade unionists) went on their knees wishing to meet their employers.
In an earlier interview, political commentator, Anthony Morima expressed a worry about Masisi’s tendency of strongly feeling that he is always right and picking unnecessary grudges or public spats with those who differ with him.
“It’s wrong for a person of his stature to engage in street fights with professionals like the media and trade unionists just because he can. Someone might be wrong and it can also be very wrong to address people about their wrongs the way Masisi does,” Morima had said.
The political commentator had also said that without Masisi’s onslaught on the media and trade unionists, his public demeanour, especially eloquence in Setswana could easily endear him to the public.
He even encouraged Masisi to do away with his street fighting spirit for him to become a straight winner.
There is general fear that incessant breakdown in communication between the State Presidency and public sector trade unions can be counter-productive in the long term. Khama and Masisi are known to be uncompromising when dealing with public sector
Now, as the party chairperson, Masisi’s invisible hand can be traced in a decision that his party adopted after decades of combats with the trade unions to start courting workers into a relationship last year.
This move is a step in the right direction and if sustained, it could calm tensions that existed between the public sector workers and the State Presidency.
Botswana Federation of Public, Private Parastatal Sectors Unions (BOFEPUSU), has previously issued a threat to punish some of the BDP politicians that they deem to be workers’ enemies like Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Eric Molale, amongst others.
The BDP secretariat headed by the party secretary general, Mpho Balopi late last year swallowed its pride and started flighting advertisements in the local newspapers wishing some trade unions well during their anniversary commemorations and congresses, something that was uncharacteristic of the ruling party. It’s very clear the motive is to mend fences ahead of the 2019 general elections, as workers are a large constituency that every political party looks up to.
University of Botswana (UB) political scientist, Dr Kebapetse Lotshwao says, “generally speaking, there are areas in the last 10 years that Khama ignored, which Masisi will have to pay attention to upon ascending to the highest office in the land.” He cites corruption as one area that has been ignored and that it will be good for Masisi to immediately focus on effectively combating corruption and its related ills.
The UB academic’s major concern is that many international agencies have noted a rise in corruption cases in Botswana.
He also challenged Masisi’s impending government to pay particular attention to inequality and that is a gap between the rich and the poor. Botswana ranks amongst the top three countries in inequality in the region alongside Namibia and South Africa.
Whilst in other countries inequality is a result of other factors, in Botswana it’s chiefly encouraged by government policies.
The new Republic will also have to battle with unemployment generally and especially youth unemployment, which is going to be a trump card for the opposition parties as they start their campaigns for the 2019 general elections.
Lotshwao is puzzled that although Masisi as the Vice President was entrusted with employment creation, he doesn’t seem to have done much to influence things in that regard.
“Masisi would do better by focusing more on the domestic policy than paying more attention on the foreign policy, which has proven to be haphazardly executed as Khama hardly addressed the nation on critical issues affecting the nation during his tenure as President,” notes Lotshwao.
The political scientist was worried that the Khama-led government has failed to ensure there was service delivery across the public sector with public funds going down the drain with a high failure rate of projects completion.
“A lot of institutions such as the Judiciary, which the Executive arm have been weakened in the last 10 years with Khama at the helm. He seems to have gained more control especially in the appointment of judges and other decisions,” he says, indicating Masisi will have to allow independence of the arms of government and avoid interference by the Executive.
He was further concerned that oversight institutions such as the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) ended up transferred to the OP, which seemingly diluted its sting and experienced many failures.
Lotshwao has listened to Masisi speak on official platforms and he doesn’t strike him like someone who is coherent at all.
“I don’t know much about his personality, but he should be aware of his limitations and should not surround himself with people who are weak and wanting to control him in a way,” declared Lotshwao.