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By Temperance Ketshabile
It is good for it to have taken the courage and labour of a woman to help us realise the lie we have had to live for over half a century. Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi’s audacious move to run for the presidency of Africa’s longest ruling Party-the Botswana Democratic Party has produced the unintended effect of awakening us from a deep slumber. The accolades from the international community showered on Botswana so lavishly as a true shining example of democracy, appear to have been misplaced. Now we have come to know that we have lived a lie told and retold, without scrutiny, over a period of over five decades. Our democracy has been a subject of manipulation by self-appointed kingmakers who allocated themselves the power to determine who shall or shall not rule. This calls for a national introspection with a view to restoring power to ordinary citizens. I am afraid if the status quo is left unchecked, it could provide a fertile ground for state capture let alone a dictatorship. And this scenario must be avoided at all costs.
Mma Venson-Moitoi has now made headlines for deciding to enter the lion’s den by announcing her presidential bid, a move that has left the country in some unprecedented cultural shock. Her bid clearly challenges deep-seated traditions and practices that are inimical to our democracy. Her legitimate and constitutional right to run for a political office of her choice has earned her the wrath and non-complimentary comments from all quarters not least from the BDP council of the elders and other apparatchiks.
What is this hullabaloo all about? I am unable to find an answer to the question. What is intriguing is the demeanour and conduct of the BDP elders. Why are they tripping over one another to disparage and denigrate Venson-Moitoi in her bid to subject herself to a democratic process consistent with Article 29.1 of the BDP constitution which stipulates that “when the Party is in power, the President of the party shall be elected by secret ballot at a national congress of the party called by the central committee during every General Election”. As the elders take turns to assault Venson- Moito’s right to run for the presidency not a single one of them makes any reference to the constitution, leaving one unclear what really informs their objection to Venson- Moitoi’s bid. They have come with guns blazing to rally behind President Masisi who has not declared his intention to run .The supremacy of the BDP constitution does not seem to matter so much to them.
The party elders and those who subscribe to the idea of giving Masisi a safe and free passage to the presidency have no regard for democracy and are so keen to perpetuate archaic traditions which seriously undermine the very principles of democracy for which we have always claimed made us distinct from the rest of Africa. Why do people think Masisi wants to contest the position? It would appear that above the party constitution lies an unwritten rule to the effect that people have to wait for whoever is President to announce that he/she will not contest the position for anyone interested to then declare their interest. If that is so , then the environment is fertile ground for a dictatorship
From its inception, the BDP nurtured a culture of fear of the leader such that no one ever contested the position of party president. Prof Thomas Tlou in one of his books says that Moutlakgola Nwako had always wanted to contest the position during Sir Seretse Khama’s tenure and even after his death. People in the party did not support any competition for the position. As a result, there has never been any contest notwithstanding constitutional provision for it. How this was supposed to nurture and grow democracy in the party beats all logic.
Listening with shock and disbelief to the BDP veterans’ open and public support of Masisi who has not yet declared his interest, a friend of mine had this to say “ Hee banna ! A mme gone has there ever been democracy in this country? When last was the presidency of the BDP contested by more than one candidate?” Never, I replied. On reflection, then it dawned on me that ours has been a false and flawed democracy. There is a void that must be taken care of Is this the future that we desire for our children? is this the brand of democracy we want to bequeath to them? For how long are we going to live with a system that creates sacred cows, claiming monopoly of wisdom, which sacred cows continue to force into the throats of the people their preferred presidential candidates and the views of everybody else do not mean anything .What is even more worrisome is the fact that the leader so appointed is unwittingly encouraged to be totalitarian. People are now saying that Ian Khama was a totalitarian but they are not telling us why such a bad leader was kept in power through constitutional means for ten uninterrupted years. The party could have removed him from his position through constitutional means. The party chose to retain him. Am I the only one who remembers that there were a lot of dissenting voices when Ian Khama took over? Am I still the only one who heard the party defend him with all its might?
Mokgweetsi Masisi will be better advised that my call to observe the rule of law has nothing to do with what anyone thinks of him as a leader but as a caution to all who care to listen that the law is supreme and meant for a purpose. Dictatorships are born of people countenancing the undermining of the rule of law. Convenience to the people affected should not be pursued at the expense of the law. This issue is not about a particular individual but about what the law dictates and what it is intended to achieve. It may well be that Ian Khama was the “worst” leader because the party never bothered to call him to order but cheered him on.
The one thing that must be stated as a matter of fact is that, as things stand, there is for now only one known presidential bid for the BDP coveted top position. There is no one else as yet. Masisi is yet to declare his interest, if ever he will. Assuming that incumbency automatically means he will stage his bid is a dangerous assumption. All we know is that he is free to either contest or not. Alas, before anyone else could declare his/her bid, the BDP elders and other senior party activists are taking turns to undermine the only presidential bid there is at the moment. That is the biggest folly of our time. People are free to criticise the candidate on the merits and not on the basis that there is a practice that reserves the position for the incumbent or that this is a bad time for any competition for the position..