Tshekedi Khama’s decision to stand for the BDP chairman’s position has catapulted him to front runner status with a possible shot at the vice presidency of the country, Mmegi Staff Writer NTIBINYANE NTIBINYANE reports
Its is now official that President Ian Khama’s younger brother Tshekedi Khama has joined the ruling Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) chairmanship race.
Sources close to the younger Khama this week told Mmegi that the minister of Environment and Tourism has announced to his political handlers and inner circle that he has decided to throw his hat in the ring after much cajoling from his supporters. The BDP is going for a crucial elective congress in July this year.
The announcement means that Khama or TK as he is known within the political circles is a clear front-runner in a crowd of seven candidates.
The other contestants are Ramadeluka Seretse, Tebelelo Seretse, Biggie Butale, Dithapelo Tshotlego and Boikobo Dibe. Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi is expected to enter the race but he has not yet made an announcement. Khama’s entrance is expected to crowd out other candidates.
“Our man is standing. And he is in the race to win. He is not standing to undermine anyone but to exercise his democratic right as a BDP member and a citizen of Botswana,” said an excited supporter preferring anonymity because he was not sanctioned by Khama to speak on his behalf.
Information reaching Mmegi is that in the last few weeks BDP members including prominent cabinet ministers and the business community sympathetic to the BDP have lobbied Khama to stand for the position. The Tshekedi lobby group is led by some of his supporters who wanted President Ian Khama to appoint him deputy after the 2014 general elections.
According to sources, sometime early this year a delegation made up of BDP members from the party’s regional committee and symphathisers met with Tshekedi Khama and asked him to enter the race. According to sources initially he was reluctant citing hectic ministerial commitments but he finally agreed to stand. It is not clear whether President Khama is involved in the move to lobby his brother to stand, but his (Tshekedi) handlers this week told Mmegi that his older brother was not. Other sources are alleging that President Khama advised him against standing for the position. “This is the good thing about Tshekedi’s candidature. He is not pushed by his brother, but by us members of the party who feel that he can save it from demise in 2019,” said an MP closer to the Khama lobby group.
Other BDP members do not buy the idea that President Khama is not involved. It is possible that big brother is involved albeit behind the scenes.
“The Khamas are very close. It is possible that he consulted his family members including his brother before deciding to stand. The Khamas like any other family have their own differences but blood is thicker than water but they are united. It is possible they have endorsed Tshekedi and promised him support,” said another source.
What happens to Masisi?
Although he has not yet declared his interest, the associates of vice president Masisi have been hard at work lobbying for him to stand for the chairmanship. Masisi backers want him to consolidate his base within the party ahead of the crucial 2019 general elections.
The news that Khama has decided to enter the race has destabilised and disorientated Masisi’s lobby group, according to sources. His backers would now have to deal with the fact that they would be up against a formidable opponent in TK.
Other BDP members are alleging that President Khama may have asked Masisi not to stand against his brother and focus on his duties as vice president.
In an interview with a local newspaper immediately after the 2014 general elections President Khama said Masisi would be his successor. But is this enough to give Masisi an assurance that his destiny is certain? Masisi’s supporters say it will be extremely dangerous and suicidal for him to let someone take control of the party structures while he concentrates on the ultimate price – the presidency.
“Politics is a dirty game, and anything can happen before 2019 general elections. The party under the leadership of Tshekedi or any other person may decide to challenge Masisi and win. It will be humiliating because Masisi would not have any political base,” said a source in Masisi’s lobby group.
Others, however, do not see this happening. The BDP does not have a culture of leadership coup de tat. They say Masisi would be given respect as the party president.
But hypothetically can Masisi win against Khama? BDP members close to the two men agree that it will be difficult for Masisi to win against TK. Masisi, they say, is a weak vice president who doesn’t command the respect of many people within the party.
“The fact that more than 70% of the ministers are backing Tshekedi says a lot. What it means is that Masisi would lose to Tshekedi any time any day,” said a BDP MP. The MP continued, “No matter how you look at it Masisi is no match to Tshekedi. He has the name recognition, and the charisma. Unfortunately in the game of politics this is what matters the most”.
Will Ndelu run?
Khama’s cousin, Ramadeluka ‘Ndelu’ Seretse was the first person to announce that he wanted the party’s chairmanship position, immediately after the elections. Now that Khama has declared his interest, will he stand against his cousin? BDP members close to Seretse’s campaign say their man will have to make way for TK.
“They will have to strike a deal. And who knows they may have already talked about the issue. Remember that they are family. Whatever deal they come up with Ndelu will have to pave way for Tshekedi,” said a BDP councillor in Gaborone.
Seretse does not stand a chance against Khama and standing against him would lead to one thing, humiliation, a BDP MP told Mmegi. “The encounter will be nasty. The two men are family members and it wouldn’t look decent for them to fight for the same position within the party,” said the MP.
This week Seretse told Mmegi that he is not making way for anyone including Khama. (see; I am still in the race – Ndelu)
What about other candidates?
It will be an uphill battle to stand against Khama not only for Masisi and Seretse but also for all other candidates that have expressed interest in the chairmanship position. BDP MPs and operatives agree that other candidates should do the honourable thing and allow Khama to stand unopposed. But this may not happen. Former cabinet Minister and diplomat Tebelelo Seretse has made it clear that she is not going to pave way for anyone. She is determined to fight to the end, she told Mmegi this week.
In fact one of her supporter told Mmegi that BDP members who are against Khama’s candidature are likely to vote for (Tebelelo) Seretse. “They may not say it in public but BDP members are against the BDP dominance Khama family,” said the supporter. Other candidates do not stand any chance against Khama according to insiders.
According to political analyst Anthony Morima the decision by Khama to stand changes the dynamics of the BDP politics and cast doubt on President Khama’s succession plan. “President Khama recently told the country that Masisi will be his successor in 2018 when he retires from politics. What this now means is that Tshekedi may move to the center of BDP politics earlier than we thought and earlier than we were made to believe by the President,” said Morima.
According to Morima it is possible that Khama has made calculations and found out that Masisi is not the right person to take over when he leaves and now wants to prepare his brother to take over.
Morima also noted that it is also possible that Tshekedi may have defied Khama and stood for the position without his brother’s blessings. “Perhaps he feels that it is time to chart his own future without relying heavily on his brother,” he said. Efforts to talk to Tshekedi this week were unsuccessful.