Thursday, October 5, 2023

Big donor wants Khama to become BPF president …

It is now public knowledge that former president Ian Khama plans to contest for the presidency of the Botswana Patriotic Front. As we reported last week, Khama isn’t really interested in this position but merely wants to secure it for his younger brother, Tshekedi, who is not faring too well against Guma Moyo. However, there is another dynamic at play: big donors also want Khama to become BPF president.

Says a party source: “They believe that he would be able to eliminate factionalism and stabilise the party. They also believe that only he can instill order and discipline that are sorely lacking in the party.”

BPF is little more than a provincial party but who is behind this political project (Khama) still commands a lot of power. Some three years after he left office, Khama has not faded into the background but is still in the news almost every day. The latter condition has convinced some deep-pocketed people, both here at home and abroad, that while Khama may not himself become president, there is a future in which he will certainly be a king maker. They already see the sway that he has over Duma Boko, the president of the main opposition party, the Umbrella for Democratic Change.

Having once publicly pronounced that when he assumed power, he would imprison Khama for corruption, Boko mysteriously changed tune along the way and became Khama’s biggest defender. After the Chief Justice declared the Botswana Democratic Party the winner of the 2019 general election, Khama alleged rigging and said that he would take the matter up with Boko. Sure enough, Boko, who had been lying low, resurfaced a few days later to also claim that the election had been rigged. Alongside opposition leaders from other parties, Khama and Boko collaborated on the ill-fated People’s Court, a quasi-judicial forum that was to present evidence of the rigging. BPF had actually made advance payment to a Gaborone CBD hotel where the Court would have sat. The businesspeople in question have studied the relationship between the two men and can already see the power structure of the future taking shape.

Were it not for Khama’s tireless campaigning and resources, some UDC candidates would not have made it to parliament. Even more interesting is that Khama’s closeness with the UDC has made him the most powerful leader in the opposition movement – and most powerful such leader in the country if one discounts the power that Mokgweetsi Masisi has by virtue account of being president.

The business community is aware of these dynamics and while some of them hedge their bets by funding the BDP for the most obvious of reasons, they know that the party has lost steam and might lose the 2024 elections. They know that political power is a for-sale commodity and want to curry favour with a man who not only has such power but will have a lot of say in a post-BDP government. To that end, these businesspeople want to keep the vehicle that he will use to reach that power (the BPF) in good shape. That is why the BPF has no shortage of deep-pocketed businessmen who are ready and willing to finance it. However, they are worried about the current health of the party.

Only three years old, BPF is already riven with factions – two a matter of public knowledge and the third virtually unknown outside the party. According to the source and in terms of order of strength, BPF’s factions are led by Moyo, Tshekedi and the suspended party president, Reverend Biggie Butale. The latter’s suspension follows sexual entanglement with a female member of the party’s youth league, a student at the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources. That aside, Butale has also collided with the Khama brothers, calling the elder one (Ian) a “dictator” during a Central Committee meeting.  A source has asserted that it is this label, more than the dalliance with the BUAN student, that will get Butale kicked out of the party. However, the suspended BPF president is said to command a lot of support among women – which is odd considering why he was suspended from the party.

Having first fought over control of the party office in Gaborone, the Moyo and Tshekedi factions are now fighting over control of the party itself. So far, Moyo has won both battles, first securing office space for the party and paying rent as well as buying a membership-card printing machine. Moyo also has more supporters in the Central Committee than Tshekedi. However, BPF is only viable as a Khama-helmed political project: without the Khamas, the party wouldn’t have won all Serowe parliamentary seats. If Moyo becomes president, he would certainly be motivated to sideline and overshadow the Khama brothers – as he is already doing through his control of the BPF Central Committee. That could spell doom for the party in the one province where it has electorally significant support.

Donors are anxious to have the Khamas’ control of BPF preserved. They know that if that dynamic is erased, the party’s status would be weakened in the value chain of political power as a market commodity.

There is also indiscipline in the party that could be as detrimental. Three weeks ago, combatants from the Tshekedi and Moyo factions almost came to blows at a heated Central Committee meeting – public reporting that blows were exchanged is disputed by those who were actually in the room. What happened was that Vuyo Notha, the Deputy Secretary General, got into a war of words with Ford Moiteela, the National Organising Secretary. Notha is Tshekedi’s faction while Moiteela is in Moyo’s – interestingly, both men are from Serowe. One eyewitness account is at the height of this shouting match, Notha got up on the boardroom table and advanced threateningly towards Moiteela.

“That would never have happened if Khama was in the room,” says a BPF source. “Donors want someone who can instill discipline in the party.”

However, there is resistance (yet unvoiced) within the party itself, to Khama’s plans to assume leadership. The Khama-Masisi rivalry has largely been interpreted in terms of the former attempting to return to power. There can be no greater confirmation of that than Khama becoming BPF president because each opposition president wants to become state president. Masisi has himself publicly made the same assertion.

It is more than likely that ultimately, donors will prevail because, as happens in virtually all democratic systems, this special class of people have more power than both the Central Committee and ordinary party members. Put another way, donors can meet the party’s financial needs, the Committee and members can’t.

Donors also want to ensure that their money doesn’t end up in the pockets of those who receive it. As Sunday Standard has reported, a member of the BPF Central Committee kept for himself, the P400 000 that he was given by a “white businessman” as a donation to the party. While Khama discovered this theft, the party hasn’t been able to take any action against the culprit because an elaborate disciplinary process would necessarily expose the identity of a donor who wants to remain anonymous to everybody else but senior party members. As president, Khama would be the contact person for donors.

BPF’s donor profile is unusually interesting because it includes people who express anti-Khama sentiments in public but are privately lavishing huge sums of money on the party. It also includes tycoons who are also donating to the BDP for the stated reason.


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