It would be impossible to speak about Mme Mma Venson-Moitoi’s contestation of the position of president of the ruling party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), without speaking of the positions of women in politics, in Botswana, acknowledging the history she made.
Last week, in a culmination of events that started with Mma Moitoi making history by amongst other things, contesting for the seat of presidency of the BDP, an urgent application was made before the High Court of Gaborone.
Questions of separation of powers between the Judiciary and the Executive arose ever so slightly, when presiding judges recused themselves from the matter on the basis that they were close to the President of the Republic.
These were not the main points. Mma Moitoi’s request was that the party congress be adjourned to allow for a few things to be brought to order. The concerns she had were that her sponsors were disqualified and that no ground rules had been publicly or at least openly provided for the elections at congress.
The High Court, in short, decided in favour of the ruling party, specifically holding that she does not qualify to contest for the position of presidency. As a result of this, and perhaps various other factors, Mma Moitoi withdrew her contestation.
Had Mma Moitoi proceeded to congress and successfully been elected, she would possibly have been the next president of the country, on the basis of automatic succession. She would have been the first woman president Botswana would have had. But she didn’t proceed to congress.
We do however, have to recognise and acknowledge the history that Mma Moitoi has made. It goes without saying that many are of the view that her race was not only supported by, but was also largely orchestrated by the previous president of Botswana. It is difficult to ignore this, when statements have been made and published to this effect.
On the other hand, there are many who criticise the incumbent president, for his various areas of priority, as well as for having been in the leadership of the country along with the previous, at the time as Vice President, silently allowing and agreeing to innumerable problematic decisions made. In fact, one might argue that both the incumbent and Mma Moitoi are products of the same mix. What is so different?
Women, as we know have been relegated to low level positions in politics. Many articles have been written about this. Historically women were merely kitchen staff who moved up to secretarial positions, where they have mainly stayed save for few, who have managed to work their ways to positions of actual leadership.
I have found myself wondering, as the biblical parable presents, if it is not easier for a camel to go through a needle hole than it is for a woman to actually lead, independent of men’s impositions. Women who have contested to lead, as we well know, are harshly judged for their decisions, making it so much easier to simply pull back.
In the same breath, however, I wonder how long women’s bodies will be the sites of violence? Particularly, I wonder how long women will be tools of patriarchy, allowing men to have out their battles on them?
I want it clear that this position I take very cautiously, knowing that I absolutely believe in the unquestionable support of women, for the mere reason that they have chosen a path less travelled.
I found myself torn, in this regard wondering at how, we, as a nation, are agenda-policing Mma Moitoi, playing into the grossly sexist hands of patriarchy, and allowing ourselves too, to be tools in this battle; but also acknowledging that in so many instances, the circumstances are more complex than, “but she is a woman”.
Disclaimer out of the way, let us explore what Mma Moitoi managed to do. For the first time since Botswana gained her independence, the position of BDP party presidency was contested and so publicly. This is what democracy should look like. We should have options and be in the know about things that may affect us.
It is not about whether or not she remained rational and level headed in the midst of the turmoil, but that she faced the storm. It is alarming that as a hailed democracy, Botswana views change in leadership to adversely. She rattled feathers, and showed that the impossible can be made possible, even where she did not succeed. And she used the tools of patriarchy while she was at it. Like it or not, we may say she was a puppet, but she was one that could certainly not be ignored. She made the last few months memorable, if nothing else comes of this.
Gingerly relieved that we will not be questioning whether we are going to go back to the 10years of semi-military rule, I accept that her contestation for the position which, right now is the most important position in the country was vital advising many of our political positions moving forward. Tool or beacon, she did what many lack the boldness to achieve or even conceive. That alone is admirable. But also, that alone!