Tshekedi Khama's departure from the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) isn't a significant moment in isolation. It is one of a series of moments for Botswana, the Serowe consensus, his constituents in Serowe, the party he’s leaving and the party he's dumping the BDP for.
All in all, the Khama’s departure from a political party their father Sir Seretse Khama co-founded is a self-introspective moment for the country on legacy and establishment politics. It also casts Serowe into a spotlight that will force generations now and in future to rethink their politics.
The BDP name and brand has been associated with the Khama name for more than 50 years. Sir Seretse Khama’s exit from Bogosi into politics became a repetitive path when his sons Ian and TK followed the same path. The Khamas’ strong association with the BDP was a healthy one when Ian Khama was at the helm of politics and governance, serving as Vice President and subsequently President. Tshekedi Khama has also served as Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister.
Now, it seems, it has turned into a toxic love-hate relationship. What will the party look like without this association? Is it good riddance or does it spell the end of an era in the BDP’s sustained stay in power for over five decades? The answer may be both!
The Khama brothers’ legacy in both the BDP and government is a contentious one. Both weren’t grassroots political activists but landed in politics, I guess, by default. But from Ian Khama’s recent country-wide tour campaigning against the BDP, the former statesman seems to have learnt politik speak and freedom square language on the job.
Legacy and establishment politicians are rife in Botswana politics, both within the incumbent and opposition parties. Within the Botswana Democratic Party in particular, the Khama family has for decades benefitted from the institution of bogosi that catapulted them to some of the country’s most powerful political and business and positions.
Walking along their halls of power and privilege, a saviour complex has emerged as a result, chief amongst them, a ‘bogosi’ tag in political office awarded to them consistently by the ‘Serowe consensus’.
The BDP and its institutions, therefore, owe to themselves a hard-introspective exercise and a few difficult questions. Who do they want to be now? The country
On the surface, it didn’t make sense for TK to stay on in the BDP when the whole party’s machinery, conversations and tone had shifted to undo Ian Khama’s ‘legacy’ and targeted their energy towards his family. It is fair to argue that TK and his brother do not have a solid political identity characterised by any ideological leanings.
Although it must have been difficult to break away from a political party they have been tied to their whole lives, the absence of any political ideology relatively made it an easy jump to the BPF. But BPF aside, TK did not have a political image or identity of his own to hold onto, independent of his brother and his family name in the first place.
Although the Khama’s are currently battling for the soul of their political legitimacy, they do however have the resources to win the constituency. It may be a hard sell, if comparatively the BPF machinery and the Khama family name prove to be weaker than the already engraved BDP cluster institutions in Serowe West that have been campaigning for TK for months and years on end.
TK’s track record in Parliament isn’t anything to write home about either. His ministry commitments have rendered his performance in Parliament relatively below average. Politically speaking, the Khamas may have the influence, but the situation is too difficult to read and underestimating Moemedi Dijeng, his strong ties to the constituency coupled with the loud voices calling for the country to break free of the Khamas once and for all would be a risk.
First order of business and a lesson for the BDP and any political party must be to resist the urge to let the party be defined by individuals as opposed to deep-rooted values and policy ideologies.