Saturday, June 15, 2024

Barolong by-election drama is a sign of how contaminated automatic succession has become

In trying to justify automatic succession, of which he is by all measure its chief author, former President Sir Ketumile Masire likes to speak admirably of the United States. The media’s disdain for automatic succession here fills Sir Ketumile with despair.

He’s never really come to understand how the media could be so contemptuous of something that is to him so infinitely virtuous. Sir Ketumile prefaces every conversation on the matter with how following the death of JFK in 1963, his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson took oath to become the new President of the United States aboard Air Force One. It was a sight to behold. Notwithstanding the tragedy upon which it was predicated, the LBJ ascendance was a marvelously seamless transition that has remained etched on Sir Ketumile’s memory ÔÇô over fifty years on. Sir Ketumile’s faith in what he had once watched unfold in America was accentuated years later when Botswana lost its founding President The shaping experience of Sir Ketumile’s ultimate faith in automatic succession was to come in 1980 following the death of Botswana’s founding President, Sir Seretse Khama. For almost a month, the country lumbered on without a clear successor to Seretse Khama.

The situation was further muddled by different camps within the ruling Botswana Democratic Party that seemed to clandestinely promote their preferred candidates behind the back of Masire who as long time Vice president and Seretse’s right hand man was considered by the public to be an obvious and unassailable choice. While he ultimately became Seretse’s successor, the air of uncertainty that followed the death of a president stayed with Masire so much so that he took it upon himself that it would never happen again. To address the headache he reached back into history to what he once watched happen in the United States following the death of JFK. He changed the law to make clear that the Vice President would automatically ascend should for any reason there be a vacancy at the top. Taken at face value this is a noble idea. In practice this has become a Trojan horse to subvert the will of the people. Automatic succession in Botswana is no longer used to achieve what Sir Ketumile Masire once watched happen in the United States when JFK was tragically assassinated.

Rather automatic succession is now being used by departing Heads of State to line up their cronies as well as the cronies of their cronies for the highest office on the land. While Masire’s invention has no doubt succeeded to rid us of the uncertainties of the 1980s, it has however served to create and entrench a totally new evil of succession by cronyism. As the English would say, what we lost in a swing we gained in a roundabout. This is what we see playing out in the by-election in Barolong constituency where a member of parliament recently resigned. Ruling party primary elections in Barolong has taken trust deficit in our politics to altogether Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Eric Molale has thrown away all sense of shame through the wind. Molale currently serves as Specially Elected Member of Parliament.

He also is a senior minister in the presidency in control of the public service and everything related to it. No wonder tenderpreneurs are falling over themselves in their tussle to make donations to his campaign effort. Outsiders would be hard pressed to understand just what he stands to gain supposing he wins both the primaries and after that the by-election proper. The answer is simple. Molale is part of the succession plan. With a constituency behind him, Molale would have put his ducks in a row to becoming a candidate for the position of Vice President when President Ian Khama retires or when Mokgweetsi Masisi is sacked ÔÇô whichever comes first. Tenderpreneurs aligned to Molale stand to make a killing should his ill-tempered campaign ultimately win. It’s a legally permissible kind of corruption. President of Tanzania Jakaya Kikwete is due for retirement.

Last week, his party Chama Cha, that creation of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere called an election to choose Kikwete’s successor. It was an open season. A total of 38 hopefuls initially raised their hands. The democratic process was allowed to take its course. There were no self-appointed emissaries volunteering to prevail over other contenders to make way for anyone candidate because they are perceived as an elder. The winner Dr John Magufuli ultimately got away with 87% of the vote. Dr Magafuli is not planning to sideline those that had stood against him. No witch-hunts are expected. He appreciates that like him they too were excising their rights as given by their party, the CCM. It is all part of the Tanzanian political heritage.

It is a totally different situation in Barolong where for the last two months Molale’s fiercest rival inside the party to become area MP, Fankie Motsaathebe has had to parry all sorts of brutal insinuations including all-frontal efforts aimed at persuading him to make way for the overnight princeling that Molale has since become. By simply offering himself to be elected by members of his party, it’s like Motsaathebe has committed some insidious crime. The situation in Barolong is made all the worse because it is pregnant with the now badly contaminated seeds of automatic succession. The stakes could not be higher. Automatic succession has mutated into an evil that cannot be justified, much less be defended. This is why many of us in the media are so openly hostile to this creation. But still Sir Ketumile Masire remains wedded to it.

To be fair to Masire, there is no way he could have foreseen what we are seeing today. The truth is that a noble idea has altogether fallen into the hands of political predators. And they are using it to subvert and defeat the people’s will and with that democracy. Thankfully, a growing number of BDP supporters are beginning to realize that automatic succession is now being used for ends other than for those it was created. “This system is no longer tenable. It promotes rule by cronies and friends,” a formerly religious adherent said to me this week.

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