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It's game on

Pelonomi Venson Moitoi and Ian Khama PIC. THALEFANG CHARLES
FRANCISTOWN: It is now official: President Mokgweetsi Masisi will face a test of his character following a party veteran and recently dropped senior Cabinet fellow, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi’s declaration to challenge him come next year.

Venson-Moitoi, formerly Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, has bravely ended recent speculation of former president Ian Khama-led group wanting to challenge Masisi, which has been building up within the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) ranks.

By early afternoon Wednesday, things took a dramatic turn when Venson-Moitoi was suddenly relieved of her duties following revelations that she was challenging for the presidency of the BDP.

“Yes, I can confirm to you my declaration to challenge Masisi at the party’s elective congress next year,” she told Mmegi in a telephone interview this week, but was not ready to take any further questions on the matter.

“I will address the media at the right time about reasons why I have joined the presidential race and any other related information,” was all she could muster.

The group wanting to ‘unseat’ Masisi has been linked to Khama, and Venson-Moitoi’s move raises speculation that she could be ‘fronting’ for the former president who is regarded as her personal friend.

Khama has lately been at loggerheads with the sitting President over his administrative decisions.

Recently, a party insider who spoke to Mmegi on condition of anonymity said Khama’s support has been swelling across the party’s 14 regions, leaving the incumbent with only a few constituencies from some regions loyal to him.

The BDP Secretariat has however, dismissed such a development as figment of people’s imaginations as there is no proof to that effect.

Venson-Moitoi is retiring from representing Serowe South constituency in the 2019 general elections, to focus on her appetite to be Botswana’s first female presidential candidate in the BDP.

Venson-Moitoi vehemently denied in a previous interview that she was not aware of people who were looking up to her as a potential presidential candidate against the incumbent Masisi.

“I am very far from that and I will not entertain such. I am at peace where I am.” She insisted that she was going to run a consultancy as means of bringing food to her table as politics doesn’t have pension.

She even retorted: “I don’t want to be turned into news and there is enough of this nonsense about me”.

Venson-Moitoi was even worried about people who she said peddled what she termed lies on such issues, saying they were hell-bent on being liked and have a tendency of engaging in smear campaigns.

Quizzed on what could have precipitated the change of heart two months down the line, she was cagey and preferred not to take any further questions safe to confirm that she was ready to throw her hat in the ring in the party’s presidential race.

Perhaps, buoyed by her leadership and administrative prowess including the gender card, Venson-Moitoi this week declared her presidential desires.

There are suggestions she could be used as a pawn on the bigger chessboard to fight other people’s battles, a question that challenges her integrity as an individual. Khama and Masisi have been at loggerheads with each other recently with counter-accusations emerging from both sides.

As a known friend to Khama, speculation is rife that despite

her known political ambitions, Venson-Moitoi could be serving the interests of the bigger Khama lobby group.

There is a rumour that Venson-Moitoi’s political bitterness can be traced to the reality that when President Masisi ascended to his seat this year April 1, Venson-Moitoi was tipped to be top on the list of preferred people for the position of Vice President, but Masisi did what he deemed best for his preferred team by appointing Slumber Tsogwane. This could be the source of her latest interest.

University of Botswana (UB) lecturer, Adam Mfundisi said in a recent interview that it is possible that Khama with his cohorts could present a serious challenge to President Masisi.

He assumed that Khama’s purported supporters can present a candidate for the position of party president, “but they will face insurmountable obstacles in pursuance of their objectives”.

He holds a view that the alleged Khama group will fracture the BDP and further erode the support of the party in its traditional strongholds.

“Eventually, the group will fail to unseat the incumbent president of both the party and the country. But they will have done irreparable damage to the party, which wants to present itself as a united force in the political landscape of the country,” he warned.

In his opinion, the anti-Masisi group is not ready to pose any serious challenge to the President. They are not united in their quest to unseat him as of now, he observed. “They do not have a logical, coherent strategy to execute their actions as we speak.  They do not have a clear leader except former president Khama who has already completed his tenure as the President of Botswana,” Mfundisi analysed. Venson-Moitoi is however yet to declare whom her backers are, and has only promised that it was only a matter of time before the declaration is made. The incumbency factor, Mfundisi insisted, positions Masisi above any challenger from the other camp.

“As the president of the party and country, he has name recognition, reputation as well as connections within the party and beyond. He is in possession of State resources of different kinds, which he can unleash to propel his candidature.”

He noted that the President has the intelligence community and the State media, which he can use to position himself strategically versus his opponent.

There is also the issue of the President relying on experienced human resources within government and beyond to give him leg up as opposed to his opponent.

“Candidates who are standing for elections in 2019 would be very cautious of the power of President Masisi and would not dare to do anything that would put them in bad light in relation to him,” the don said.

He acknowledged that the chances of the BDP losing elections would be enhanced if the Khama faction breaks away from the ruling party by any means possible. “President Masisi is sitting on precarious grounds that may give way,” Mfundisi said in summation.




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