Thursday, October 5, 2023

Can the BDP produce another Khama?

The extent to which President Ian Khama has literally become an insurance policy for the Botswana Democratic Party cannot be emphasized strong enough.

Against all odds, the party has grown so fat under him so much so that there are many insiders who privately worry of a life without him.

And they are right to be worried.

The dynamics have changed dramatically since Khama came into the scene.

And were it not because of his personal attributes, it is most likely that the BDP could easily have lost power because of the challenges brought by recent events.

Among other things, these events include the recent split, but also a growing belief among many that it is simply time to give somebody other than the BDP a time to run this country.

Whatever the case may be, the truth of the matter is that the BDP has to prepare for a life without him.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, individuals come and go.
And depart Khama will when his time is up.

The trouble is, behind him, he will leave men and women with feet made of clay.
Men and women who are all a shadow of their hero.

And for that, the Emperor has to take all the blame.

He has tirelessly worked to ensure that nobody around him emerged as to be a clear candidate for future leadership.

Although Khama claims to dislike Robert Mugabe’s ways, on this one our President has proved an excellent student. For him it has been a lesson well learnt.

After 32 years in power, there is still no clear successor for the Zimbabwean strongman.
It was not always like this.

The founding president clearly had prepared Quette Masire for a life without himself.
When Masire came into the picture, he made it a point to empower an array of his deputies to have a clear life out of the President’s shadow.

After Masire it was Festus Mogae, who from early on ordained Ian Khama as the ultimate and unchallenged successor.

But once he got his turn at the cherry, Khama left us guessing. With deliberate abandon, he has steadfastly resisted calls on grooming a successor.

Thanks to Khama’s contempt to share the limelight, power and public glare, we have a Vice President who is almost twice the age of the President.

That cannot inspire confidence in the minds of those who have to make decisions based on certainty and long term clarity.

Khama’s grip on the BDP is nothing like anything that has ever happened to the party before.
He has insisted on a military-like code of discipline never heard of in the party’s long history.
He has insisted that for as long as he is the party leader, it shall be his way or the highway.

And without costs! With a level of flexibility, tolerance and a live and let live attitude, the BDP split is something that could easily have been avoided. Although there is today some semblance of unity, has it really been worth the price?

Has the unity he wrought at such a great cost been the kind of legacy he had wanted to leave behind to be remembered with once he has left the scene? I do not think so.

The trouble for them is that it is the BDP that will one day pay a hefty price for allowing a one man show to run uninterrupted for so long. What happens when the Emperor is no longer there?

Either the whole edifice he has taken years creating collapses or there is a bitter feud over the emperor’s clothes.

The BDP has shown some remarkable resilience in the face of the split, not least because of Khama’s own resourcefulness, his own personal popularity not to mention an abiding insistence on cowering everybody else.

His unwavering belief in his being the only centre of power has no doubt provided a buffer against what has turned out to be the hardest phase in its fifty years.

He has managed to do that because he had created an audience that strongly believed in his message.
That audience believed in the message more because they also believed in the messenger.
By any other messenger, the message could easily have been disbelieved.

That is the legacy that Khama will leave the BDP, that he, and he alone can solve all of the party’s and, with it, the country’s problems.
That is dangerous.

The question though is can the party once again produce a person as popular and as strong-willed as Ian Khama on which to fawn once he has left?

The possibility of that happening is as remote as asking South Africa to produce another Nelson Mandela. The opposition is currently optimistic because they know beyond Ian Khama there is no BDP.
And that is the rub.


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