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By Adam Phetlhe
Long before he ascended the presidency of both the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and that of the country, tell-tale signs were there to suggest that the President His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi would not have it easy in cabinet and from his back benchers in parliament. There were suggestions from the President himself that some in the party, be they members of the cabinet or back benchers, had requested former President Ian Khama to dismiss him from the Vice Presidency. Khama has also confirmed this on numerous occassions. I have never understood what their complaints against him were. But that is neither here nor there. They wanted him gone like yesterday. Given this background, President Masisi wouldn’t and shouldn’t be surprised by the ugly turn of events in the party because his perennial detractors still sit in cabinet and parliament respectively albeit under false pretences that they support him.
To be fair to him, he inherited a party bedevilled by internal problems and issues some of which could be said were not from his own making. But this is no excuse because one inherits the office with the good and the bad. But still it could be argued, he was part of the top echelons of the party and government. The starting point for President Masisi’s problems in the party was the ‘infamous’ bulela ditswe (primary elections) processes and results that were heavily contested by some of the losing MPs and Councillors. Many of those who lost felt, and still do so, that their appeals were unfairly adjudicated upon. The narrative amongst the losers was that the leadership including President Masisi was hell bent on ensuring that their preferred candidates were put at an advantage over those they detested. To this day, the losers still feel some bitter medicine was administered on them. Consequently, this group still remains a painful thorn on President Masisi. To be blunt, this group has lost confidence in him however one tries to sanitise it. Added to them would be those who have been anti President Masisi for whatever reasons.
Following the bulela ditswe conundrum in which a sizeable number of cabinet members lost, President Masisi made a statement in Francistown to the effect that those who beat his ministers were of such poor quality that they were not even cabinet material. By any measure, this was a statement that could make its recipients lose faith in their leader somewhat permanently unless they are somehow appeased. This notwithstanding President Masisi’s frustrations that his Ministers had lost, was a serious error of judgement that has cast serious aspersions on these individuals as persons of low to no integrity. Apart from these individuals, Masisi’s comments would have rubbed other members of the BDP the wrong way. Some Ministers have surprisingly come out openly against convention and cabinet collective responsibility to make disparaging remarks on government programmes and policies. Notable among them is the Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Development Hon Vincent Seretse who recently told parliament that ‘our education system is in a mess….the quality of the education in Botswana is suspect as the grading system was just susceptible.’ (See The Patriot on Sunday online edition dated February 20, 2019). What’s more, the Vice President is reported to have said Ipelegeng and BCL are a waste of time and resources. (See Open News Botswana dated 8 March 2019). Assistant Minister Biggie Butale has made it very clear that he has not endorsed President Masisi for the BDP presidential position in the upcoming party elective congress at Kang and would consequently not vote for him. It is fair to suspect that other Ministers and MPs may be lying low waiting for an opportune moment to strike.
The emergence of the so called New Jerusalem could be described as one of the last straws that broke the camel’s back for the anti-President Masisi brigade. Predictably, BDP members who felt side lined by President Masisi for whatever reason would naturally align themselves with it principally to settle political scores than anything else. What more that the former President Khama is said to be its prime mover. Further, the intention of Hon Venson-Moitoi to challenge President Masisi to the BDP president position has been interpreted by some as a vote of no confidence in him.
Perhaps as a sign of no confidence in the President, the MP for Nata/Gweta constituency Hon Polson Majaga recently tabled a motion in parliament which sought in the main to provide for the direct election of the President of Botswana. It is said that President Masisi and his Vice His Honour Rre Slumber Tsogwane were against it. As is public knowledge, this motion was passed with the help of some BDP MPs. Under normal circumstances, such a motion would be discussed in the BDP caucus and a position taken whether to accept or reject it. Secondly, the final decision of the President on such motions would be followed. For Hon Majaga to avoid or ignore the Vice President who is also the Leader of the House as reported is a tacit example that he (Hon Majaga) and those fellow party MPs who supported and ensured that his motion passed is a sign of a highly divided party with relationships in cabinet and parliament seemingly a long way to be mended.
It is important to mention that these turn of events in cabinet and parliament which seem to suggest to be some revolt of some sort could be an indication that they may have a bearing on the upcoming BDP congress against the perception that the overwhelming endorsements of regions on President Masisi almost virtually gives him a win on a silver platter. More so that Ministers and other MPs who do not have confidence in him are entitled to vote at the congress. Given the above, it is fair and reasonable in my view to suggest that President Masisi has lost the confidence of some of his cabinet members and MPs. In football language, I am saying that he has lost the dressing room. This doesn’t put him in a good position going into his presidential election against Hon Venson-Moitoi. But like they would say, only time will tell. Judge for Yourself!