Theirs had been a mentor-protégé relationship. It was a close and cosy relationship akin to that of father and son. The bold and courageous colleagues openly expressed scepticism about the suitability of President Mokgweetsi Masisi‘s candidature for the high post in the land while the not-so-bold discussed the sensitive subject in hushed tones, writes Mmegi Correspondent DOLLY BYRONE THEBE
For Ian Khama, past immediate State president, there was no turning back. He had made his mind and had full confidence and faith in his anointed successor. Khama did not have the foggiest idea as to why naming Masisi as his successor could be a source of discomfort among some of his colleagues. And he fought tooth and nail to ensure that his preferred man got the baton. He did everything he could (including trampling upon the party’s order of precedence and seniority) to prepare Masisi for the responsibility of high office. Blind loyalty and love for his man clouded Khama’s judgment. It did not occur to Khama that he was rearing his future tormentor.
The two former allies have since drifted apart and have now become bitter opponents and sworn enemies. Like World War II armies, each one of them remains unflinchingly rooted in his trench and unwilling to make any concessions. And only God knows the ultimate outcome of this gruesome tussle. By the look of things, President Masisi will not have any respite until he has nailed his nemesis and former close associates.
It is a political war that must be fought and won.
And time is racing. For a period of 18 months, Botswana experienced a lull in political activity occasioned by the prosecution of the war effort against COVID-19 and the State of public Emergency (SoE). The SoE turned Botswana into a defacto one-man dictatorship as it concentrated all power in the hands of the President. Parliament of course met, but as usual could not go beyond rubber-stamping executive decisions. In declaring the SoE, Masisi had hoped to kill two birds with one stone. That is effective prosecution of the COVID-19 war effort and consolidation of political power. He achieved none. Under his watch, COVID-19 raged on, spiralled out of control and so many precious human lives were wasted in the process.
The COVID-19 monster laid bare the ineptitude and miscalculations of the Masisi regime. Corruption and abuse of power were widespread and rampant during the SoE. The BDP’s dismal failure to secure sufficient quantities of vaccines provoked public indignation. While COVID-19 cases skyrocketed, government refused to own up to its errors and instead switched to the blame game. All the blame was apportioned on the actions of irresponsible sections of the community who failed to observe COVID-19 protocols.
And now the SoE is in the background. The BDP is back on the campaign trail to regain lost ground. The race for the 2024 general election has begun in earnest. The President is aiming at giving his party an early advantage. The President has begun a series of vote harvesting kgotla meetings. Interestingly, the meetings have begun in opposition-controlled constituencies of Bobirwa and Selebi-Phikwe. It seemed the meetings are intended to fix what the BDP could not get right in 2019. The President is busy trying to deal with cattle rustling in the Bobirwa border villages. While his efforts are commendable, the motive of giving the BDP an early lead is clear. In Selebi-Phikwe the closure of the mine turned many voters away from the BDP in 2019. The mine was the hub and pride of the town. The people of Selebi-Phikwe had not forgotten that President Masisi had led a team of Cabinet ministers to Selebi-Phikwe in October 2016 to announce government’s decision to shut the mine.
The closure of the mine shattered dreams of so many people in the town and beyond. Over 7,000 employees lost their jobs and since then Selebi-Phikwe’s economy has been in the intensive care unit. And the President is conscious of the fact that Phikwe residents might be a hard nut to crack in 2024. It is against this background that Selebi-Phikwe has become his top priority. So his visit was intended to tell people what they had always wanted to hear. The full package of the good news included the mine reopening, plans, progress on the new Selebi-Phikwe citrus farm, SPEDU economic diversification efforts and how government’s continuing efforts to bail out ex-mine employees in the form of payment of housing rentals and other goodies.
In addition, the President together with his team of about six ministers, embarked on house-to-house visits to “meet and greet the people’. There is nothing wrong for the BDP to exploit the kgotla system to serve its political ends. What is worrying is the absence of the principle of fair play.
What is right is for the BDP government to accord the leaders of the opposition the same opportunity to address kgotla meetings. Just like the President of the ruling party, government should sponsor and facilitate the Leader of Opposition (LOO) in this regard. It will be recalled that past efforts by the LOO, Dumelang Saleshando, to address kgotla meetings were frustrated by the BDP. This clearly shows that the BDP is not committed to the principle of fair play. As things stand, the kgotla meetings appear to be BDP political rallies in disguise.
Political rallies can never be enough to ensure a return of the BDP to power. There is the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DIS), which continue to overstep its mandate with impunity. The DIS has joined the political fray, doing some bidding for the BDP. A reign of terror has arrived. Under the guise of driving the presidential anti-corruption crusade, the DIS is on the political offensive unleashing pre-emptive strikes to paralyse carefully selected opposition targets. Harassment of opposition elements is intended to instil panic and fear. This time around the BDP is leaving nothing to chance. On the BDP and DIS radar is Khama and his ally, Isaac Kgosi.
In military terms, the BDP has adopted a scorched earth policy intended to destroy anything that could be of possible use to the opposition.
The BDP has not forgotten and will seemingly not forgive Khama for his prominent and influential role in the 2019 general elections. The son of the founding president has become the biggest threat the BDP has ever faced.
It’s little wonder that Khama has become the prime target of the BDP dirty campaign. His associate, Kgosi, is simply collateral damage. In the latest fishing episode and certainly not the last, the DIS sought and obtained a search warrant to enter Khama and Kgosi’s premises for purposes of seizing illegal military weapons. While DIS operatives did not find the weapons they had listed in the search warrant, they harvested some military/police like regalia and guns, which they say, are unlicensed.
Kgosi was subsequently arrested and incarcerated. The whole affair, just like the 2019 Sir Seretse Khama International Airport Hollywood-like arrest of Kgosi, is intended to humiliate him.