Cava underplaying its strong points in battle for BDP presidency

05 Mar 2019

We shouldn’t have to use a foreign Bantu language to describe an electoral contest between a Mokgatla and a Mongwato but the choice of a foreign Bantu name by the former’s faction necessarily forces us to: “iCava kayisebenzisi amathuba ayo.”

Indeed, Cava (President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s faction) is underplaying its strong points in the historic battle for the presidency of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party. “Cava” (Zulu for “know”) is pitted against an informal dissident group called New Jerusalem whose quasi-official leader is the Serowe South MP, Pelonomi Moitoi-Venson. It is no secret that former president Ian Khama is the mastermind behind both New Jerusalem and Venson-Moitoi’s candidacy and that his main objective is to reclaim the immense executive powers that have long shielded him from both investigation and prosecution.

After taking office, Masisi launched a historic anti-corruption crusade that even outperforms that of the man (Sir Ketumile Masire) who made Botswana the economic powerhouse it used to be and also tightened up the public finance management system when the diamond money started flowing in like a mighty stream. Masisi’s crusade has already ensnared Khama’s long-time confidante and former spy chief, Colonel Isaac Kgosi. The latter’s successor, Brigadier Peter Magosi, is in the throes of not only humanizing the Directorate of Intelligence Security and Security (which was more dagger and less cloak under Kgosi) but is also trying to reclaim billions of pula that were looted from public coffers.

While this crusade has endeared Masisi even to most people, including veteran opposition members, Cava is not milking the positivity of this crusade to its last drop. The unprecedented corruption that Botswana witnessed over the past decade diverted money from public institutions into private hands. It is all very well to livestream images of a former spy chief in handcuffs to demonstrate seriousness about fighting corruption but it is as important to demonstrate how such corruption affected the personal lives of the viewers. At government healthcare facilities across the country, equipment has broken down and recently, there was a report about the Nyangabgwe Referral Hospital in Francistown itself referring patients to the Mahalapye Primary Hospital. These facilities are also experiencing shortage of vital medication - Lipogen is just one example – forcing people to use their own money to buy such medication from private pharmacies. When the school year began, some people posted pictures of dilapidated schools on social media. There are also not enough textbooks to go around. On account of not having been awarded salary increase for a decade, civil servants are experiencing unprecedented hardship.

Not everybody is going to be able to connect corruption to their life’s circumstances, to their daily lives and that is where Cava should step in. The story that it should be telling the nation is: you can’t get medication because billions were stolen over the past 10 years and that not stashed in tax havens is hidden in safe houses across Gaborone - possibly across the country; your children don’t have enough textbooks and have to learn in classrooms with leaking roofs because there is no money to do maintenance work on public infrastructure; and your two-bedroomed house has been under construction for the past seven years because the money you could have used to complete it is now part of a literal mountain of cash somewhere in a Gaborone suburb. All these problems are the direct result of the looting spree that happened over the past 10 years. It is in your personal interest that the operation being currently undertaken by DISS, the Botswana Unified Revenue Services, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Corruption and the Financial Intelligence Agency should continue.

If that message sinks, people would understand what is at stake each time a pharmacist at a government clinic tells them that they have run out of Lipogen, or when their children pester them for money to buy textbooks. Currently, not enough people associate their adverse life circumstances with the corruption of the past decade.

Generally, New Jerusalem doesn’t ever talk about corruption and Cava is not doing enough to force this topic of conversation onto the agenda. Cava can score high, double-digit marks talking about Seleka Springs, the arms-dealing company owned by the Khama family that won lucrative tenders during General Khama’s command of the Botswana Defence Force. On the whole, going after New Jerusalem’s mastermind would yield better results than going after Moitoi-Venson because in addition to his many imperfections, Khama scores own points each time he makes public statements.

Khama wants to portray himself as patriotic and ever since he launched his clandestine campaign to reclaim power, has been talking about how long he worked for the country. The fact of the matter though is that there is an astounding amount of evidence that shows that Khama is anything but patriotic. At a meeting that New Jerusalem convened in Serowe a week ago to register its grievances about Venson-Moitoi’s loss in a Central Region vote, Khama revealed that he has spies in DISS. In other words, the former president and former army commander is spying on the state. What is most troubling is that someone who has historically put personal interest before national interest is spying on an institution responsible for national security. Patriots don’t do that. With specific regard to this example, the Gaborone mayor, Kagiso Thutlwe, had to ask: “Kante Khama o kgoreletsa Masisi ka eng?” meaning “How is Khama impeding Masisi’s presidency?” For one, Khama, who is supposed to have long retired has, by his own admission, not relinquished full control of the national intelligence service. The DISS Act places DISS squarely under the Office of the President – not the Office of the Former President II. Against this scenario, Khama has himself felt the need to ask: “What is Masisi afraid of?” We can’t speak for the president but someone in his position would be afraid of not being in full control of a para-military arm of force that by law, he is supposed to have full control of.

A true patriot would want to preserve the tribal harmony that made Botswana Africa’s most politically stable African country and a dutiful son would want to preserve his father’s most positive legacy. However, Khama’s campaign to regain power has also spawned a dark, regionalist/tribalistic element. This should come as no surprise because historically, he has always put personal before national interest. Despite what we are led to believe, Botswana is still Africa’s most tribally integrated country: when a Mokgatla-wa-ga-Mmanaana is in Serowe he is home and likewise with a Mongwato in Moshupa. This national project took more than Botswana’s 52 years of independence to cohere and will not be undone by anybody’s selfish interests – especially when the intending undoer is a cultural outsider who is not steeped in Batswana’s ways.

If New Jerusalem constructs a false narrative about tribalism, Cava should take battle to a ground where the former can’t compete – racism, which is a real and pressing problem. As president, Khama pursued a racialised economic agenda (which Masisi is trying to reverse) that benefitted whites over blacks. One very good example is the hunting ban which impoverished black communities in the north while enriching whites. While he may be a paramount chief of a black tribe, Khama is culturally western and as president, aligned his foreign policy to that of the west and not that of the African collective.

Another battleground where New Jerusalem wouldn’t be able to compete is DISS of the past decade. If Cava portrays it for what it was - a terror (and on some days hit) squad that was operated right from inside the OP – New Jerusalem can effectively counter that assertion.

Cava has been as reluctant to tackle Khama on his peddling of real fake news, not the fake fake news. At the Serowe meeting, he made the impossible and stupefying claim that during his presidency “everyone” who wanted a government tender would get it. The fact of the matter is that he unlawfully took personal control of the economic stimulus package for the express purpose of making it impossible for people outside his mostly white inner circle to win any tenders. “Everyone” would also exclude private media houses critical of Khama because he used a military tactic (scorched-earth) to put these houses out of business by persistently denying them government advertising.

Khama wants to project himself as a great philanthropist who is improving people’s lives – which is absurd because philanthropy doesn’t improve people’s lives. Cava could puncture this myth by backgrounding it against the most-underreported episode of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that President Masisi attended. Participating in one panel discussion, Dutch historian Rutger Bregman called out billionaires at the Forum for not paying their fair share in taxes. Khama’s philanthropy is an empty charade because while he donates blankets and footballs, some of the companies that he has been associated with are stashing money in tax havens.

There is another advantage that Cava is not exploiting fully in its public messaging. Masisi’s historic anti-corruption crusade gives the BDP a general-election advantage that Venson-Moitoi doesn’t. This crusade has so impressed even veteran opposition stalwarts that some (like Johnson Motshwarakgole) have publicly expressed support for Masisi whom they see as having genuine intent to repair Botswana’s economy, institutions and international reputation. On the other hand, Khama’s role in the campaign of Venson-Moitoi is clear indication that should the latter win, Botswana would relive the 2008-2018 nightmare.

One accepts though that Cava is as confused as everybody else because this is unfamiliar territory for the entire country. The opposition party – Umbrella for Democratic Change has itself been thrown into weird, unfamiliar territory. The self-styled small-man’s party found itself criticizing Kgosi’s public arrest on corruption allegations while keeping mum about simultaneous and similar arrests of thousands of small men suspected of stocktheft. Rather than applaud Masisi, Thutlwe has attacked Masisi for seeking to replace Khama as chief server at soup kitchens.