Last week Thursday, I found myself on the “wrong” side of the debate on GabzFM. Living in rural Botswana where the airwaves are the domain of government media, Radio Botswana, I had lost track of morning radio programming on private radio stations, a major disenfranchisement to a news obsessed newshound like myself.
So when GabzFM called the day before to ask me to participate in a debate, I assumed, wrongly, that it was the usual discussion on a subject matter. Little did I know that Gabriel, the presenter, was pitting me against one of the country’s articulate politicians, and former deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Rre Pono ‘PPP’ Moatlhodi, and that what I was on, was a debate in the true sense of the word.
And when I lost the toss, on a debate which needed me to be a proposer not opponent, I was thrown off balance. The subject matter, ‘With a woman contesting for the presidency of the ruling party, is Botswana ready for a female president?’ Yes of course, that was my answer. But the toss said I should oppose that view, and with PPP on the other side, I knew I was in for a rough ride. Though I don’t know what radio listeners voted for as the best debater, my friends, my crew, assured me I gave the veteran politician a run for his money. I just say I held my own.
Jokes aside, this is a crucial question we need to address today as a country. A historic moment, for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, but not a first in Botswana, is not only having a sitting President challenged, in an election year for that matter, but also by a woman. We will recall that in 2007, the then Botswana National Front deputy president, Dr Kathleen Letshabo challenged the then embattled party leader, Otsweletse Moupo at a special congress in Molepolole.
She lost, of course, not because the then University of Botswana lecturer was not capable, but because she was in a “wrong” faction, and even more critical, BNF members were not ready for a woman at the helm.
The same that could befall Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi as the BDP heads to a special congress in Kang in a week’s time. Challenging President Mokgweetsi Masisi has not just about thrown the party in disarray, but it could just be the beginning of the end of the party that has been in power for 53 years.
The opposition, the coalition of the Umbrella for Democratic Change especially, is smelling power. There is a general feeling that the embattled Domkrag cannot survive this turbulence which is, in many respects the creation of the former president Ian Khama who seems hell bent on destabilising the government of his chosen. Infact, no matter the denials from Khama’s led New Jerusalem faction, many Batswana refuse to believe that MmaMoitoi, in her year of retirement as a legislator, is the true challenger of Masisi. She has been called all sorts of unpalatable, including that she is a proxy for the Khamas. Like Letshabo then, MmaMoitoi is in the “wrong” faction, and even critical, of “wrong” gender.
So, the question, as to whether Botswana is ready for a woman president, needs attention. While we all agree that Batswana women have proven themselves to be as capable and at times, more so than their male counterparts in many other areas, in politics it’s a different story. Where the voters are deciders, women come out worst. In all others areas of the economy, in the public and the private sector, even globally, Batswana women have proven their worth. We have had many in high positions in government such as permanent secretaries, directors, ambassadors; we have had a woman Attorney General, Dr Athalia Molokomme who is now Botswana ambassador to Geneva, governor of Bank of Botswana, Linah Mohohlo, who now chairs the University of Botswana senate; and some such as Sanji Monageng, Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba, Professor Shiela Tlou and Dr Matshediso Moeti have done, and continue to do duty all over the world. Even in the entertainment and fashion world we have had the likes of Connie Masilo-Ferguson, Kaone Kario, Ineeleng Kavindama, and Mpule Kwelagobe amongst others.
But when it comes to politics, women are short-changed. It boggles the mind why Batswana women are trusted to head multi-million pula corporations and institutions, but not in politics. You need not look far, but the current Parliament, which has only five women, three elected, MmaMoitoi, Botlogile Tshireletso and Dorcus Makgatho, and specially elected, Dr Unity Dow and Bogolo Kenewendo.
Instead of improving, in the coming elections, the ruling party has fielded only three, of which two in not so easy constituencies. The opposition, zero. The statistics are just as bad in councils.
Unless in the coming parliament, the ruling party, the president really, fields only women in the six available SEMP positions, and the minister responsible practises positive discrimination in councils, we would be worse off, in a world where new democracies as South Africa and Rwanda have quota systems allowing for up to 50% of women representative in the lawmaking houses.
It is against this background that I am not convinced that BDP members will give MmaMoitoi the vote, to lead the party into the October elections. If they do the unexpected, and topple Masisi, will the nation, at the national elections, do likewise? I doubt. Our Botswana is still to see the value of a woman, in politics.