Tuesday, July 16, 2024

As opposition leader, Cde Khama will be what BDP always dreaded

So reads part of a letter that the Botswana Patriotic Front patron, Lieutenant General Ian Khama, has written to the Secretary General and his younger brother, Tshekedi Khama and Deputy Secretary General, Vuyo Notha, to announce his candidacy for the party presidency. Khama does more than wear many hats, he is a walking hat shop: former Botswana president, former Commander of the Botswana Defence Force and kgosikgolo (supreme traditional leader) of Bangwato. To boot, he founded BPF and made his fiefdom (the Serowe constituencies) its power base. Serowe is the capital of the Bangwato. While the party has a president and a National Executive Committee, there has always been understanding that all power reposes in Khama’s throne.

This set of factors bode ill for whoever plans to run against Khama at the April congress. Two names, Reverend Biggie Butale and Guma Moyo, have been mentioned so far but there can be no doubt that the contest (such as it) will be a mere formality. It is yet possible that Khama could lose but what happened late last year points to the fact that the former president would rig the process in his favour.

On determining that all his preferred candidates (primarily Tshekedi) wouldn’t win against Moyo in an elective congress that was scheduled for last October against, Khama launched a fierce campaign to force the cancellation of that congress. Now confident of victory, he wants such election to go ahead. These events strongly suggest that if Khama suspects that his chances of winning are slim, the April congress may be pushed farther down the road until such time that he is once more confident of victory. Whatever the case, Khama will ensure that he becomes BPF president and in the process, the Botswana Democratic Party government will be confronted with a problem it has never once had to deal with before.

A huge part of the reason why Botswana’s opposition has performed badly in elections since 1965 is that it has always operated not on a shoestring but aglet budget – aglet being the stiff section on the end of a shoelace. At a point of time that the Pan-Africanist Botswana People’s Party was a solid unit, fraternal organisations from around the continent gave generously to it. However, the money dried up when internal wrangles became public and ugly, erasing hopes of a pan-Africanist movement assuming the reins of official power in Botswana.

On the other hand, the BDP has always been awash with cash and thus better able to mount more effective electoral campaigns. When Dr. Kenneth Koma was travelling by donkey from Mochudi to Lentsweletau as he told Radio Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama’s plane was taxing down the Gaborone Airport runway en route to Maun. No opposition leader has ever been a threat to the BDP because none is personally deep-pocketed enough or able to effortlessly raise enough funds to present a threat to the BDP. As BPF president, Comrade Khama would change all that because he would ramp up his activism. As he has discovered, merely being patron limits the extent to which he can exercise power and influence over the party. Given how badly he wants Masisi out of office, Khama would be inclined to dig even deeper into his pockets.

Khama is a very wealthy man and remains BPF’s main financier. He used his financial muscle to campaign for both the BPF and Umbrella for Democratic Change during the 2019 general election. Most of the time, he was using chartered air transportation. The BPF bagged all three Serowe-name constituencies and it is widely acknowledged that at considerable expense, Khama helped UDC win at least seven parliamentary seats. Flying by helicopter, Khama was able to cover many more constituencies than is typically possible for any opposition leader. His foot soldiers, all battle-hardened former BDP activists with decades of political campaigning experience, stayed at hospitality establishments.

Through political sleight-of-hand called tactical voting, Khama also poured resources into constituencies that he knew the BPF would lose. One such was Palapye and the UDC candidate, Onneetse Ramogapi of Palapye, is said to have expressed concern that the BPF’s participation in the race would undermine his but was assured that the alternative scenario would be worse.

“He was told that a two-way between UDC and BDP race would result in a win by the BDP because the party is very strong in the constituency,” says a BPF source. “On the other hand, a BPF candidate would hive off votes not from the UDC but BDP. He understood and didn’t raise any more objections.”

Ramogapi won the Palapye seat.

On account of his political, royal and business background, Khama is also a highly accomplished fundraiser. As a matter of fact, BPF say that while Khama donates his own money, he mostly relies on donations. Ahead of the BPF’s inaugural congress in 2019, a donor whom sources have only identified as a white businessman based in Gaborone, made a cash donation of P400 000 to a senior party official – who then kept the money for himself. The businessman is said to have been planning to donate more hadn’t the apparent theft been discovered.

As part of his campaign for the BPF presidency, Khama told an NEC meeting that was held last month that if he was elected to the position, he would buy campaign vehicles for all (61) constituencies. No opposition leader in Botswana can do that.

Having fallen out with Masisi, Khama is now living in exile in South Africa. It turns out that his temporary home across the border has financial benefits for the BPF, if not UDC – which the latter joined as a group member last year. Interviewed on Duma FM earlier this year, Khama said that South Africa has more political donors than Botswana. The message couldn’t be clearer: Khama is already drawing funds for the 2024 elections from a donor pool that is much wider and deeper than Botswana’s. He is now doing for the opposition what Satar Dada has historically done for the BDP for decades and is the reason he has been BDP’s treasurer for that long. What this means is that the BDP has lost the money advantage that it has had over the opposition for decades.

Khama is also closely aligned to a globally-dominant western power structure that South African leftists call “white monopoly capital.” Even during his administration, Khama aligned himself with the interests of that power structure. Sources say that it is members of this structure that are hosting him in South Africa. Within this structure is the donor pool that he enthused about to Duma FM. No other opposition leader in Botswana has the same level of access to white monopoly capital. If Duma Boko or Dumelang Saleshando had had to flee to South Africa via Martin Drift border post and white monopoly capital had to cater for him, their temporary residence wouldn’t be ultra-luxurious lily-white estate similar to one that Khama is reportedly living in.

There is another dimension. White monopoly capital (which includes all western governments) is unhappy with Masisi’s closeness with China. Experience says that it will deploy all its resources at its disposal to get rid of Masisi. Getting rid of Masisi is something that Khama, who is aligned with white monopoly capital, is determined to do.

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