Back in 2008, when I interviewed the former president Ian Khama, not for the first time but in a long one which took a period of weeks of following him around his early Kgotla meetings, before a sit-down at the Office of the President, he uttered the words that were to be cornerstone of his political life.
He was then experiencing defiance from some Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) power houses, including the longest serving secretary general (SG), Daniel ‘DK’ Kwelagobe, Gomolemo Motswaledi, Botsalo Ntuane, Kabo Morwaeng amongst others.
He told me that he never dreamt of going into politics let alone be the president. That is when he uttered the words, for the first time to later repeat in different platforms; “I hate politics. Politics is a dirty game…”
The interview, in a non-political tabloid, The Voice, attracted much attention from politicians, activists and academics alike. The reaction of the Barata-Phathi faction in the BDP (Khama was with the Jacob Nkate/Mompati Merafhe led faction of the A-Team) was extreme. Ntuane had a long call to my boss, the late Beata Kasale, who, bless her, refused to sensor me for alleged transgressions, against Barata-Phathi. Sidney Pilane, who already had his draft of the constitution of a still to be birthed break-away party, the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), stormed The Voice offices, demanding I be reprimanded for “pushing Khama’s agenda”.
Pilane, Ntuane and company felt by giving the president the platform to speak about the problems bedevilling the ruling party, interestingly in only three paragraphs of a four-page interview, we were attacking their faction. Under normal circumstances, Mma Kasale explained to them, they (even though they were not mentioned by name) would have been given right of reply. But that was a one-on-one, with the first citizen. Interview about him, his work and his position.
A little over a year later the BMD was born, and Pilane’s constitution, became the founding document of the new party. Minus DK, Khama’s nemesis formed and assumed leadership positions in the new party. A few years down the line, having lost the presidency to Motswaledi at the Kgale Hill congress, Pilane left the party. Speculation was that it was for a promise of a seat in the High Court. The veteran lawyer and former special advisor to Khama’s predecessor, president Festus Mogae, was never appointed the High Court Judge.
Ntuane, then the deputy president, and Leader of Opposition in Parliament retraced his steps back to the BDP and was then, around 2012, now declaring undying love to Khama.
The ‘returnees’ who included the BMD financier, Samson Moyo Guma and Morwaeng, were now singing a different song: of Khama the great, not necessarily the former president’s great grandfather, Khama III.
The last 10 years has seen the party, which Khama was dragged back in to lead from the army by Mogae on the advice that he would stabilise, has been through turbulences. Apart from having experienced the first ever breakaway, the BMD in 2010, the BDP which has ruled from independence in 1966, has to still find peace. As politics are by nature, alliances have shifted. Those who at
Infact the two are seen as the fingers on the trigger for the new leader, against the former. It is politics. Those who know it well, opportunistically, move accordingly. They know where to stand, and when. If it’s about protecting personal political interests, then the statement that Balopi once made, that, “It is our time to eat” makes all the sense.
The “eating” business however, is risky, very. And when one plays what the late statesman, Sir Ketumile Masire warned against; “polotiki ga se koi…” they may find themselves on the slippery ground when the terrain changes. While a few can easily turn, play behind the new power, majority will fall with their fallen leader. It is happening in the battle of power in the BDP today, and few are surviving in the shifting allegiances.
Not only in the BDP. The opposition camp has also, in the past year especially seen shifting positions, in the parties, and leadership that has many of us lesser mortals confused.
We have seen the Umbrella for Democratic Change’s (UDC) key founding member not only break up, with the returned Pilane forcing the then president, Ndaba Gaolathe out, to form a new party, Alliance for Progressives.
Just as Pilane and company were thinking they had the ear of the UDC leader, who is also the president of the leading opposition member, Botswana National Front, Duma Boko, they found themselves in the cold and now out of the coalition.
In is the party that was in the cold in 2014, the Botswana Congress Party. Playing along the sides, in the opposition upheavals, is the one of the oldest but small northern-based opposition entity, the Botswana People’s Party.
In the battle of the hearts and minds of the voters as the country heads to the 2019 general elections, the political games have become trickery, for the politically uneducated majority of us. What is clear though is that this is not a game for the faint-hearted. Indeed, politics is dirty!