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As speculation continues to swirl about whether or not former president Ian Khama will launch the candidacy of the Botswana National Front’s candidate in Boteti West, Sam Digwa, a senior party official in the constituency has come out to make the most definitive statement yet.
“There is no way that Khama can launch our candidate,” says Isaac Bonang, who is the Secretary of the Boteti West Constituency Committee. “The party’s leadership in the constituency is yet to meet and set dates of the launch as well as decide on who will launch the candidacy of the party’s candidate. It is neither the region nor party’s position that Khama should launch our candidate.”
That notwithstanding, Bonang admits that there are “mixed feelings” on the issue. Boteti West is in the Central District which at independence in 1966, was tribal territory that was known as GaMmangwato – or “Khama’s country” as a former University of Botswana lecturer (Dr. Neil Parsons) calls it in one of his works. For over a century, GaMmangwato was ruled by the Khama royal family and in modern times, that privilege falls to Khama. It is precisely because of his royal pedigree that Khama is popular in Boteti West. Exactly how popular Khama is no one knows but there is calculation that he is popular enough to give Digwa an edge over the incumbent, Vice President Slumber Tsogwane.
On the other hand, there is realisation that Khama is part of an establishment that the BNF has long complained of and that associating an establishment figure with the party is not a good idea. Whatever his appeal as a kgosi (supreme traditional leader), Khama is also the same person who turned Botswana into a hellhole between 2008 and 2018. He is the same man under whom corruption and unemployment reached epidemic levels, he is the man who unleashed a newly-created terror squad called the Directorate of Intelligence Services on the nation and his preference of ad-hocracy over public policy processes resulted in a slew of disastrous initiatives. For some voters, the 2019 general election is a referendum on the past 10 years and giving him a prominent role in opposition politics doesn’t sit well with them.
Bonang makes a distinction between having Khama launch Digwa’s candidacy and have him merely express public support for such candidacy. Taking a pragmatic view, Bonang says that it would be in the party’s interest to welcome support from “anyone” (regardless of what acrimony might have characterised his relationship with the party in the past) who would bolster its chances of winning. He adds that a candidate “can’t refuse” endorsement that could bolster his chances of winning. With all of that said however, he circles back to his earlier statement that there is still no way that Khama can launch Digwa.
This is why: while Digwa is the parliamentary candidate, it is the party (through its local structures) that is in charge of his campaign. If Khama is to launch Digwa, as the grapevine speculates, he needs the explicit permission of the constituency committee but as Bonang explains, that is not about to happen.
Digwa will be running under the auspices of the Umbrella for Democratic Change, an opposition collective that BNF is the main partner in. Rumours about Khama launching Digwa’s candidacy began swirling before was made before the former quit the ruling Botswana Democratic Party to form his own party - the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF). However, even after BPF’s formation, the former president’s name is still being mentioned as the main speaker at a political rally in Rakops where Digwa’s candidacy for parliament will be launched at a future yet undetermined date.
From what Sunday Standard gathers, some BNF Central Committee (CC) members are also opposed to Khama’s role in Digwa’s launch and have communicated such opposition to the Boteti West constituency committee through unofficial channels. Says a CC member in referring to the BPF: “We don’t know who these people are, we don’t have a working relationship with them and don’t understand how they can participate in the launch of a campaign from our party.”
Khama is himself determined to launch Digwa’s candidacy as part of a plan to settle scores with Vice President Tsogwane. The former president is unhappy with the treatment that he has received from Tsogwane – whose boss, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, no longer sees eye to eye with Khama. Where discretion would have been more ideal for a person of his stature, Khama has publicly stated that wants to ensure that Tsogwane loses in the upcoming general election.
A situation a lot similar to that of Boteti West might well occur in two other constituencies where Khama also has scores to settle: Sefhare-Ramokgonami and Bobonong, both of which are in the Central District. Khama has publicly vowed to ensure that the Sefhare-Ramokgonami MP, Dorcas Makgatho, loses in the general election. To that end, Khama has endorsed her main opponent, Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang of the Botswana Congress Party, which also a UDC partner. Mmegi quotes Khama as having described Gobotswang as “caring” and “charitable”, which attributes he only discovered after falling out with Makgatho and after knowing the BCP man for more than two decades. In Bobonong, Khama is believed to have helped Francis Kgoboko defeat incumbent MP, Shaw Kgathi, in the BDP primary elections. Khama now wants to punish Kgoboko for siding with Masisi.
With his vendetta plan, Khama is confirming what some have long suspected – that he is transactional and vindictive in nature. Kgoboko’s particular case pretty much sums up what sort of relationship Khama expects to have with a UDC that benefits from his support. In the past, UDC president and Leader of the Opposition, Duma Boko as well as the Selebi Phikwe West, Dithapelo Keorapetse, have stated that a UDC government would imprison Khama for corruption. If a future UDC government wants to turn on a man who used his royal status to help it win elections, he will definitely seek to destroy it in the same way he wants to destroy Tsogwane, Makgatho and Kgoboko.