Masisi’s week of high drama

19 Aug 2019

This past week has seen events that can only be characterized as a week of high drama inside government.

A group of ministers voted against government to defeat the president and the ruling party.

While that was by itself shocking and possibly unprecedented, even more staggering has been the fact that the same ministers are as we speak still well ensconced in their ministerial positions.

Is it a result of what little room the president has to maneuver?

Is it a sign that the president has become hostage to powerful interests running a parallel government inside his cabinet?

Or as some might have us to believe, it is an early symptom of a government on the throes of a collapse, with many more similar mishaps to happen ahead of the General Elections.

However way one looks at it, it has been a week of political fiasco, not least for President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

He will find it impossible to comprehend, much less explain what just happened.

Events of last week give an impression of a very weak president, or at the very best a president held hostage by divergent and corrupt interests inside both his party and cabinet, working and coordinating with the opposition.

The situation has been made all the worse by the fact that the nation has up to now not heard from the president.

This is way beyond just defiance. It is treachery.

It’s almost impossible to find a pathway of just how the president can work again with the same ministers.

What has since happened to cabinet’s collective responsibility?

Why haven’t the same ministers resigned their cabinet portfolios to demonstrate how irreconcilable their consciences had become to cabinet position on the Water Tender fiasco?

The status quo raises serious questions.

It fuels speculation about who in cabinet is really in charge – president Masisi or the predatory vultures surrounding him?

A decision by these ministers to vote against a cabinet-approved funding blew what little consensus was still left inside Government.

The opposition who are the true handmaidens of the plot are for now beaming with excitement.

They still cannot believe their luck. It’s one thing to get votes from the backbenches. It’s quite a different one to get so from senior cabinet ministers.

They will most probably be engaged with the victory dance – however misplaced - until election day.

They still cannot believe what they have pulled -getting a generous helping hand from senior cabinet ministers to defeat a cabinet position.

Quite rightly the opposition now feels empowered and emboldened.

They are sensing blood; literally.

They look at Masisi and they see a helpless animal stranded at sea and left for the dead.

Their job, they reckon is to finish off the animal and then take a victory lap to election day.

These are testing times for Masisi.

This is by far the biggest political crisis he has had to contend with, easily eclipsing the troubles so far caused by Ian Khama and his clandestine entourage.

Putting the cabinet decision before parliament for a vote was a clear strategic mistake on the part of Masisi and his advisors, especially because red flags had been there for all to see.

It was like walking into a minefield with eyes wide open

In the end it was a mistake that left him exposed, outflanked and outgunned.

Immediately after he took office, it became clear that Masisi could not always count on the loyalty of some of his cabinet colleagues.

He chose to keep the faith; an elementary mistake in politics where loyalties like pieces of a puzzle are always shifting.

It was a gambit for which he paid an enormous price in the end.

The ministers have opted to use Mokwaledi Moswaane as their public face to explain themselves.

To the opposition, Moswaane is one of the parliamentarians they are all too happy to call allies, in other words reds under the carpet.

As a backbencher, Moswaane has little to lose.

He is also too often mis-characterised as a maverick.

The truth is that he is an ignorant if reckless buffoon always looking for opportunities to pick a fight with everyone including authorities in his party.

Masisi’s detractors have raised the stakes.

At face value, the strategy seems to be to drive Masisi into a corner.

It is much bigger than that.

These ministers are beholden to a ragtag of footloose gangsters that control Botswana’s construction industry. This mob is uncouth, vile and immensely wealthy.

They have long turned Botswana into their client state.

They consist mainly of Chinese nationals, but also of ragged if heartless Arabs.

For almost twenty years now this cabal, aided and abetted by a few Batswana in the industry have literally manipulated tenders going as far as deciding among themselves who got which contract.

Masisi’s fight against corruption has challenged these ruffians in their own turf.

They are fighting back, including if possibly removing him.

Events of last week showed them that they still have a fighting chance.

Masisi is on a backfoot.

He needs the entire country behind him to wipe off this cartel.

But he can only win against them if he is more tactful than he has hitherto been.