Monday, May 17, 2021

Every President needs a Willie…

Where would Botswana be without the British? In fact where would our President Ian Khama be without the British? Love them or loathe them, the British have one strong characteristic; they are pragmatists. It is to our colonial master that we shall draw inspiration from, not an extreme ideology, but something Botswana will find novel. One question which Batswana religiously pay attention to is the caliber of the individual who becomes Vice President and how s/he gets there.

It was Margret Thatcher who once said “…every Prime Minister needs a Willie.” Being Britain’s only female Prime Minister, she knew exactly what she was talking about. In British folk palace, a “willie” is …..Err… you know. It symbolizes virility, strength, power, perhaps life even in some cases. Some might even add joy, a great thing to do. But the heart of the matter is that the “willie” Margret Thatcher was talking about was her Deputy Prime Minister, Willie Whitelaw. He was best described by Margret Thatcher as “that large, spontaneous, but infinitely cunning man.” He was a person who, when the Prime minister was acting foolishly, improperly, or in a manner that would do the government serious damage, would tell her straight to her face that she was wrong. A true statesman, Whitelaw was able to tell Prime Minister Margret Thatcher anything that was on his mind without any fear or favour. So what is it exactly that are we pushing at? Simply put we are saying that every President needs an able Deputy, preferably in the shape of a Willie Whitelaw.

When the now Vice President, His Honor Mokgweetsi Masisi confessed to being a lelope (bootlicker), he was publicly ridiculed. His unforgettable comment went…“ke lelope, ke ngwana wa lelope, ke ngwana wa ngwana wa lelope,” which when translated literally meant “I am a bootlicker, I am a child of a bootlicker, a grandchild of a bootlicker.” For many, Masisi had departed from his own persona to the extent that he could ascribe to himself such a lowly attribute as to be diminutive to his whole being.

Unsurprisingly Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi last week announced to his inner circle that he is now in the race for the position of National Chairman of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). ?Reliable sources within the ruling party suggest that Tshekedi will now throw his support behind Masisi. Masisi joins the fray after seemingly extracting a concession from Tshekedi Khama who was also viewed as a portent threat to Masisi’s political ambitions. Tshekedi had wanted to contest for the position of Chairman.

The painful fact is that African Presidents, not only President Ian Khama alone, tend to choose people they think would be pliable as their running mates. And these ‘mates’ may not necessarily be competent people who can take over in case the President is incapacitated. They are simply chosen because the Presidents want ‘yes’ men who will not rock the boat as Vice Presidents. Imagine the impact such yes men will have on the country when suddenly thrust in top power? The current situation in our country does not allow for such.

It is not yet clear what trade-off was made to placate Tshekedi and more importantly convince him to climb down. Potentially that trade-off would include a promise to appoint Tshekedi as his Vice President in case Masisi ascends in 2018 when Ian Khama retires. For the position of BDP National Chairman, Masisi will contest against Tebelelo Seretse, Ndelu Seretse, Seteng Motalaote, Biggie Butale and Dithapelo Tshotego. Masisi was reported to have been acutely hurt when Tshekedi’s ambitions for the Chairmanship hatched. ??Masisi recently announced to his inner circle that indeed he is standing. “In fact he says his campaign team has already hit the ground running,” a reliable member of the ruling party who attended a meeting at which Masisi announced his candidacy was recently quoted. As it turns out, one of Masisi’s early and foremost supporters is Samson Moyo Guma, a former Chairman of BDP himself. Ever a political chess player, Moyo Guma was said to be pained by an earlier announcement that Tshekedi was standing which if it had materialised would have put paid Masisi’s ambitions. ?

Without a shadow of doubt, under the Constitution of Botswana Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi is destined to be the President of this country through automatic succession when the incumbent President Ian Khama retires from active politics in 2018. The great unanswered question, therefore is, if vice presidents automatically become presidents on the death, incapacitation and resignation of their bosses, why is their selection as “running mates” left to the whims of only one man, the President, or at best in consultation with the party. Shouldn’t the people of the country, the eternal voters, who are said to be the respiratory of power in a democracy not have a final say in the choice of the Vice President? Unfortunately things do not happen like that in Botswana.

This is a reminder of one story from a certain soldier from the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) who once narrated a story of his father who once told her of how parachutists never go up in the air without having two parachutes. If one fails, the second is sure to bring them safely down to earth. From this, we are inclined to think that a nation is more important than a parachutist, and that a nation needs a better insurance policy in the shape of a competent “president in waiting” who is ever ready to step in when the incumbent dies or is unable to continue.

Let’s not leave the selection of such a man to the whims of one man or party. It must be a collective effort via an election of that man on his own merits, not hiding behind the presidential candidate as a running mate.

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