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A critical reflection on the Masisi presidency

FRANCISTOWN:  Since Botswana gained independence in 1966, no state president has ever served a single term of office, but there is a likelihood that the trend might be broken under President Mokgweetsi Masisi, observers have pointed out.

The first president, Sir Seretse Khama served from 1966 to 1980; Sir Ketumile Masire took over from 1980 to 1998, subsequently, Festus Mogae served  from 1998 to 2008. Ian Khama ruled from 2008 and  passed the baton to the incumbent, Masisi in 2018.

All the country’s former  presidents faced various challenges during their presidency, but they were able to ward them off and served at least two terms (five year each term) after an amendment in  the Constitution. However, there is now a swelling opinion that Masisi might struggle to deal with the challenges he is currently facing and as a result might likely serve a single term.

Under Masisi, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is in disarray and its government is on a decline due to its inability to deal with the socio-economic, administrative, and political challenges bedevilling the country, critics have opined.

Additionally, there are some doubts in terms of how Masisi has managed the country’s economy since the outbreak of COVID-19. For example, in the place of a comprehensive economic and social strategy to counter the effects of the  pandemic, the government has introduced a crippling tax regimes and levies, in the process worsening the lives of citizens.  

There is also a general feeling amongst pundits that the political leadership was slow in responding decisively in preventing, managing and vaccinating the nation against the COVID-19. Coupled with that, some members of the public also believe that the management of COVID-19 restrictive measures were done haphazardly without a proper strategy to help revitalise businesses and safeguard the welfare of the people.

The ruling party functionaries have also been accused of exploiting the system to their advantage as the fight against COVID-19 pandemic is centralised at the Office of the President (OP).

With the introduction of the State of Emergency (SoE), a direct appointment approach was introduced to award tenders to businesses and persons by the OP. As a result, some believe that corruption became the order of the day in government especially amongst those linked to the ruling party. Just recently, there were allegations of rampant corruption in the management of COVID-19 tenders and Masisi was cited in some of the tenders as either a beneficiary or benefactor through his relatives.

Amongst others, the President is accused of failing to engineer major legislation or economic reforms to address complicated problems faced by the country such as the fact that the economy is in the hands of non-indigenous Batswana while majority of citizens are poor and unemployed.

There is also festering discontentment and skepticism within the ruling party with widespread reports of lack of confidence in Masisi by members of his inner cycle (such as his Ministers and MPs). Some are even said to be on the verge of resigning from politics, while others are said to be planning or have attempted  to oust him (Masisi). This might inevitably be treated as enough evidence that Masisi has lost total control of the party in some quarters.

Additionally, the defection of key party members since the 2019 general elections, according to political pundits is another sign of how the BDP under Masisi has become a polarised entity.

Lately, the President has even been asserting an even more bizarre narrative that the civil servants are responsible for failures of his government because they are ‘grossly incompetent’. To some this is another sign that the President has become more desperate and despondent in running the affairs of the country. A series of

extraordinary outbursts of public criticism of Masisi’s leadership style and failure to aggressively pursue economic transformation sums the level of discontentment by ordinary citizens towards him and his government.

Given the above circumstances, many believe that Masisi might turn out to be a one-term President. His critics have posited that he might not be chosen as a presidential candidate for the BDP for the 2024 general election, a somewhat unlikely scenario given the history of the party or  be taken out through a motion of no confidence before his term ends, yet another unlikely situation. The other prediction is that there are chances that Masisi could lose the elections in 2024 (as a result of the challenges he is facing and growing bad perception towards his government), ultimately making him a one-term President.

Perhaps the major obstacle to removing Masisi from power at the general elections might be the pattern of history of the past general elections. The BDP has often won power at times when it was inevitable that a loss was on the horizon. Observers are also of the view that a not-so-united opposition might give Masisi an additional term in office.

A Public Policy analyst at the University of Botswana (UB) in the Department of Political Science and Public Administrative Studies, Adam Mfundisi stated that the current developments within the BDP and government are an indication of the failure of the President to attract public confidence and trust.

He said the President has somersaulted on most of the major reforms he promised towards the 2019 general elections. He emphasised that amongst others, constitutional reform is needed as a matter of urgency to transform the country in order for it to adapt to the ever-changing socio-economic and political challenges.

“If the President does not change drastically his leadership of the country, he will not win the hearts and minds of voters within his party and beyond to occupy the highest political office of the land beyond his first term,” warned Mfundisi. 

He added, “The bickering within the BDP is a sign of a President losing confidence and trust of the party and government and all things are possible (with reference to Masisi’s removal) before the 2024 general polls.”

Mfundisi further explained that the recent Cabinet reshuffles might be indicative of the instability within the government and are also highlights that certain high-ranking members of the party are on the verge of jumping ship.

He however said Masisi could still earn a second term.

 “Lessons learnt from the last polls will be important in ensuring a fair, free, and credible electoral process. If there are no constitutional and subsequent electoral reforms, the President, if nominated by the BDP will ascend to the Presidency (for his second term). The opposition should not participate in an election that will not be fair, free and credible,” Mfudndisi said.

The UB academic emphasised that in order to redeem his presidency, Masisi must deliver his key 2019 general election promises such as taking the running of the economy to the hands of indigenous Batswana. There has often been worry that the economy continues to be dominated by non-indigenous people particularly those of Asian origin who have over the years also dominated the politics of the ruling party and thereby capturing the party from indigenous citizenry.

“There exists tales of state capture in Botswana and the COVID-19 has provided further opportunities for Asian businessmen to extend their dominance of the economic landscape,” Mfundisi said.


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