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Khama, GammaNgwato tribal politics

As former president and Bangwato Kgosikgolo, Ian Khama and his tribe assembled at the Serowe showgrounds last Saturday, fear is setting that a harmful, divisive and tribalistic form of politics could take form. Khama is constructing a new political direction in an endeavour to oust the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) from the seat of power and should he get his way, the move could open such feared floodgates. Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE reports

SEROWE: The irony of it all is that former president Khama was introduced to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) politics in 1998 to stabilise the shaky BDP at a time bitter factionalism threatened to put the party asunder.

It was former president Festus Mogae who brought Khama on board as a desperate measure to stabilise his presidency, which was under threat as some senior Cabinet fellows had threatened to oust him as a result of acrimony building within the party ranks.

At that time, Khama was hurriedly retired from the army to join the leadership of the BDP and government.

In fact, it was the late South African political consultant, Professor Lawrence Schlemmer who had presented Khama as a man who was not tainted in the BDP factional politics and was presented as more popular than the BDP itself.

He was presented as a Messiah of some sort oblivious of the reality that a man’s effectiveness in politics also has its sell by date.  True to his character, Khama served Mogae with aplomb in cementing the trouble-prone BDP, but he seemed to have overstayed his effective time in the party.

Fear is gripping the nation that Khama is set to derail and mislead the Bangwato tribe into venturing into tribal politics, which has proven elsewhere that it is a bitter pill to swallow.  Khama has vowed to wield his influence as Bangwato Kgosikgolo to sway his tribe from voting for the ruling BDP.

About 21 years after his introduction to BDP active politics, things fall apart in the BDP at the hands of Khama.

Mogae’s plan to stabilise the BDP is now going terribly wrong.

As thousands of Khama tribal loyalists from across the vast territory of GammaNgwato last Saturday vowed to stand with their Kgosikgolo in his new political direction he promised to chart, it remains to be seen if that will be a sustainable move. And what happens if Khama fails his wish?

Khama and his tribesmen and women took turns to spew out diatribe and barbed wires aimed at the administration of President Mokgweetsi Masisi and the party executive leadership and in the process sowing seeds of tribal politics.

The grand plan is to exploit the reality that the colossal Central District Council (CDC) has from pre-independence to date, proven to be the BDP’s unshakeable stronghold. By his admission, Khama’s days at the ruling BDP have apparently come to an end after a tumultuous sojourn with the Masisi administration over this and that.

Mostly, Khama wanted the new administration to allow him do things his own way and to his chagrin, he was never granted his wishes.

Although Botswana is a country that does not thrive on tribal politics, Bangwato seemed to agree with their Kgosikgolo that it was time that the vast territory of GammaNgwato should stand on its own in the impending October general elections and join hands with new allies and oust the Masisi-led BDP.

Khama and Bangwato’s new hope is apparently a possible alliance with the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Alliance for Progressives and other political players wanting to join on board.

Whilst the weekend meeting was generally in agreement that Khama should quit the BDP and pursue his new political dream, what was not tested was a possible voting pattern as on polling day, it is the individual’s decision and not a group decision.

The vast CDC has about 19 constituencies in a country that has 57 of them. According to Khama, whilst he doesn’t want to see a party formed, amongst others, by his late father, Sir Seretse Khama dying, he would only want Bangwato to starve it of victory in October.

The 19 CDC constituencies are Nata/Gweta, Nkange, Shashe West, Tonota, Bobirwa, Mmadinare, Selebi-Phikwe East, Selebi-Phikwe West, Sefhare-Ramokgonami, Lerala-Maunatlala, Palapye, Mahalapye-East, Mahalapye-West, Shoshong, Serowe South, Serowe North, Serowe West, Boteti East and Boteti West.

Whilst it goes without saying that Bangwato from across the 19 constituencies are loyal to their Kgosikgolo, there are different dynamics in each constituency, which could vary voting patterns.

University of Botswana (UB) senior lecturer in politics, Kebapetse Lotshwao this week dismissed the Khama magic indicating that if Khama quits the BDP, “I don’t see that leading to the defeat of the BDP. Although some members may follow him, a majority is bound to remain with the party. They are loyal to the BDP as an institution, not Khama”. Lotshwao is steadfast that loyalty to the BDP emanates from the track record as a governing party. On the other side, he feels that Khama’s actions can also have the unintended effect of bolstering the BDP as people vote for it to send a strong message to Khama to stop

thinking that only his family can rule.

The political analyst holds a strong view that the BDP would also be helped by the fact that the UDC is not cohesive and principled as an opposition party.

“Currently, it is not clear what the UDC stands for as it keeps changing positions on some national issues such as corruption. The lack of cohesion may worsen if Khama joins the UDC and the BDP will be the main beneficiary.”

Adam Mfundisi, lecturer of political and administrative studies at UB witnessed a young man who tuned a song to the fact that “Re tsamaya le ene (we leave with him.)” And the whole crowd busted into jubilations and sang the song with zeal and vigour.

These to Mfundisi are some of the indications of the massive support the former president draws from his tribesmen and women in the greater CDC and beyond.  Furthermore, the former president, unlike his predecessor is Kgosikgolo of one of the greatest Tswana tribes.

“Bangwato are the Achille’s heel of the BDP in Botswana. Former president Khama is a well-accomplished leader having worked diligently and with greater commitment to the defence of this country,” he observes.

Khama is one of the pioneers of the national army; Botswana Defence Force (BDF) as together with the late former vice president Mompati Merafhe, transformed the military to being one of the best armies in Africa.

“I want also to posit that Khama is a charismatic leader whom in spite of his limited academic achievement has maximised on his military strengths to survive in the political landscape,” analyses Mfundisi further, describing Khama as an adaptive leader who has been able to adjust his agenda contingent on the prevailing socio-political climate.

“He caught the current regime off-guard and it is on panic mode,” Mfundisi further posits, indicating that Khama has avoided taking hard positions prematurely since he left office.

Last Saturday at the well attended meeting, Khama told his tribe that the existing situation prevents him from engaging meaningfully in the BDP and sought advice from his people on what to do.  

He, of course, alluded to leaving the party for various reasons he advanced.

He has strategically positioned himself as a democrat guided by the will of the people.

“He has manufactured stoically public support thereby altering the political playing field to his advantage. Bangwato, among other tribes have greater trust and confidence in their traditional leaders.”

 Khama, in addition to adaptive leadership, has a high level of citizen compassion unrivalled by no politician in Botswana. He is able to relate to people of different socio-economic and political formations. His ‘walk-abouts’ resonated with this assertion. He has been effective in transcending social and economic divide and associate with the ‘common people’.

He has to some extent communication skills in that he is able to express himself and disseminate information to his audience.

“Since Saturday May 4, 2019, BDP is in ICU. He has paralysed its operations. CDC is a no-go area for the BDP’s current leadership. But, in three weeks’ time, all hell will befallen the BDP when a final determination is made,” Mfundisi feared.

The CDC is a stronghold of the BDP where it garners more votes than any other region in Botswana.  In his analysis of the situation, he noted that when the final decision is made, the UDC must prepare for an exodus of supporters defecting to the opposition ranks. He warned that the BDP would be hit by a Tsunami of a magnitude higher than what Asian countries witnessed.

He strongly denies that Khama is not encouraging tribal politics by pleading with his subjects to rally behind them as their tribal leader.

“There is no tribal or regional politics in what Khama is pursuing. The CAVA faction of the BDP started this narcissistic politics toward the Kang congress. Tribalism and regional politics is the hallmark of this faction. It is getting its own medicine,” he insisted.

He added: “In effect, BDP has always invoked tribalistic politics when it is under threat. It’s new to political novice. The masses so far in the CDC have received his message emphatically. And he has promised to traverse this country to sell his vision of a future Botswana outside the BDP rule”.

The UB academic says the writing is on the wall and insists that, “the BDP is dead and buried in the northern part of the country. Some elders have warned Khama to make a determination sooner rather than later otherwise they will flock to the UDC”.

To him, Khama has always been a pillar in the BDP and the party persuaded Khama to relinquish the army leadership to salvage it from possible defeat by the opposition.

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