Prior to an October 2014 political rally in Maun, very few people outside Kanye and the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) knew who Alec Seametso was. That changed at that rally when, at President Ian Khama’s encouragement, the youthful, foul-mouthed activist stepped up to the microphone and spat venom at two dikgosi: Kgosi Tawana and Kgosi Bathoen.
Seametso all but called Tawana, then Maun West MP, a spoiled brat who was engaging in all manner of misconduct like spraying insults at people, pushing a girl out of a moving vehicle, frittering away money obtained through a Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency loan on alcohol and sneaking into the stadium for a paid show. Worse though was that Tawana’s Batawana subjects were themselves overindulging his excesses by forever pleading with the police to forgive his egregious misconduct. Of Bathoen, who died in 1990 – when Seametso was himself only eight years old and completely clueless about politics – the Kanye fire-brand said that the former Botswana National Front president and Kanye MP wanted to lead his subjects astray by getting them behind an opposition agenda. He insultingly used a form of a coarse Setswana word for getting even with someone (“mmakisa”) in mistaken reference to Bathoen being voted out of office.
Seametso, who had flown to Maun on the presidential jet, said all this at two rallies that were headlined by Khama – making clear the fact that Khama fully endorsed and most likely suggested what Seametso said. In that regard, the former president and founder of the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) bears full responsibility for what Seametso said.
Seven years later, Khama and Seametso find themselves on opposing sides. Seametso is still in the BDP but Khama decamped in 2019 to form BPF after falling out with his successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi. Upon the formation of the BPF, one speaker at a Serowe rally used Setswana that ironically denotes disrespectful conduct towards someone (“go tlwaela”) while the speaker is themselves being disrespectful. The speaker said this in the context of Masisi’s attitude towards BPF members: “Masisi o a re tlwaela.” Widely used in 2019 as a hybrid of a party slogan and war cry, “Masisi o a re tlwaela” soon fell into disuse – until last month when Khama resuscitated it.
This time, however, the BDP is not taking anything lying down. Party office-holders, among them the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Kabo Morwaeng, immediately warned Khama that they will reply in kind. This was an unmistakable whistle command which the BDP’s online brigade understood perfectly well and accordingly responded to by heaping insults on Khama. This past week, Seametso, who is one of BDP’s chief trash-talkers, signaled his willingness and readiness to join the fray.
In a factually incorrect video message peppered with idiomatic Setswana, he accuses Khama of introducing coarse language to Botswana’s politics and of deviating from what he taught BDP members when he was still party president. He laments that “respect” for leaders is no longer part of Botswana’s political culture. The most painful thing, he adds, is that Masisi is being insulted and demeaned. Acting on belief that attacking Masisi is an attack on the BDP, he vows to “protect” the dignity of both by returning the favour – basically by also insulting and demeaning Khama. Dr. Frankenstein, meet your monster.
When that meeting happens, the layers of irony will be too numerous to peel. One is less obvious though: Masisi, who will not be president forever, is himself feeding a monster that a former president created.