With so much stacked against him, Masisi will need to draw on the rich history on his side

04 Mar 2018

He rose to the top by defeating too many people along his way.

And as he ascends to the throne in a few weeks time, from atop the hill, Mokgweetsi Masisi needs only  look down the road he has travelled to count the litany of dead bodies he has left on his wake.

It has not been an easy ride.

But even more turbulent winds await him ahead.

Potentially, he is on the cusp of really big success. But it may very well all go haywire.

To succeed he will need to tap on the history that is so much on his side.

Even during the best of time, being a head of state is never easy. And these are by no measure our best times.

So much has been destroyed in the last ten years that becoming a Botswana head of state today easily ranks among the most unenviable callings.

A few days into his new job, Masisi will find that he has been thrust into a minefield – literally handed a poisoned chalice.

On account of sustained stress tests, too many institutions are on their knees.

Education system has all but collapsed.

Corruption is on the runaway. People have lost faith in their politicians.

The economy, once the lifeline of all his party’s success is now operating below optimum.

For all his victories inside the ruling party, the Botswana Democratic Party remains a sick man.

Beneath the façade of serenity is a fragile streak of many unhappy souls.

He will need to overhaul it, get it dusted and well oiled ahead of General elections next year. And there is no luxury of time, not least because for the first time there is an opposition that fancies itself a genuine pretender.

That might sound bad enough, but it’s not even half of his difficulties. His biggest challenge will be to find a seamless way to emerge out of Ian Khama’s shadow.

To do that successfully he will have to dismantle not only Khama’s policies that brought this country on its knees, but also the elaborate human infrastructure that implemented those disastrous policies.

These are the people whose mere existence is defined by their unwavering fealty to Ian Khama. They sprawl every sector of the economy and security services.

Bear traps along the way will include efforts to undermine him.

Fending off such efforts will have inherent risks. But there is no choice other than to move with speed and determination.

For all his political successes at party level, there is no evidence to suggest that Masisi has been able to sell to many of the skeptics his view of the world.

No doubt this has to do with his rigid temperament that denies him humility in his victories.

He is so driven that he never has time to savour past victories.

Once done with a target, he immediately sets his eyes on the next one.

Once victorious he never works at taking other people, especially his opponents and his victims along with him.

Rather than suggest any strength, it shines light at deep-seated insecurities within.

That too has to change. He will have to reset his public image.

That will include having to learn that annihilating one’s political adversaries is not always the best policy.

There is virtue in magnanimity. Reaching out to a former opponent is not a sign of weakness, it is pragmatism.

Like a chess grandmaster Masisi will need to demonstrate skills to play several games on several boards all at the same time.

Some solace can be drawn from the fact that political determination is a commodity Masisi has always had in abundant supply.

But he needs to also establish a strong team of credible loyalists.

With a clear exception of Slumber Tsogwane, his team is currently dominated by discredited underlings who do not inspire trust much less admiration from the public.

That too has to change fast, or he will be a vulnerable president always distracted by endless fight for survival.

Reports that he rose to where he is on the foothills of Chinese and Indian money have been damaging.

Equally unhelpful have been other reports that he owes his presidency to the intelligence services; a discredited quasi-political security apparatus that has become rancid in the public eye.

Once in office, such interests might prove distractive. Not least because the scale of problems at hand will need a totally un-captured president who might often have to resort to unilateral decision making as and when called to do so by circumstances.

Building a personalized state empire will for Masisi include a foreign policy version.

Under Khama, Botswana’s international stature has dwindled to unprecedented levels.

But still it is not all doom and gloom.

Masisi is a descendant of long chain that has known more success than failure that is the BDP.

He will have to tap into that history to overcome the immense challenges facing him.

Those challenges are huge, but by no means insurmountable.