Monday, July 15, 2024

Has Slumber survived the plot to oust him?

For Slumber Tsogwane, the new year may yet present a much needed political breather. The daggers are back inside their sheaths – at least for now. A far cry from the situation as it was by the close of the year end, last year. In December Tsogwane was facing what by all accounts amounted to a political apocalypse. In the context of Botswana politics, appearances can often be so misleading. In fact our politicians, just their lackeys too often get away with murder – literally. Our politics have too many compartmentalised layers. What you see is not always how it really is. Botswana politics, especially inside the ruling party is strictly hierarchical. The hierarchy of the ruling party often reminds me of that of the Roman Catholic. The president, like the pope often behaves like they have direct access to God. The responsibility of the president, like that of the pope is to keep the reputation of the institutions they lead. Anything else in between is too often easily sacrificed as collateral damage. Late last year, ruling party activists talked of a simmering fallout between the party president and party chairman. At government levels those two constitute head of state and his deputy. There was barely concealed unease as the party seemed to roll on to a point of absolute peril. Inside the party, home grown terrorism was fast fermenting. Things were moving at such a high speed that it seemed almost a done deal that the whole thing would end up with an irreparable chasm. Cabinet ministers talked of palpably tensions at the cabinet table.

The Chairman’s allies talked of how unfairly their man had been treated. They conceded that in case of a collision, their man would inevitably have no chance of winning against a sitting president, but still pointed out that he was no pushover. To be fair, blunder after blunder the chairman had stood loyally behind the leader. For their part, the leader’s allies were salivating at the prospect of yet another big scalp in their trophy cupboard. It had degenerated into a zero-sum game. And Those who care about stability were worried that the schism was destined to destabilise the party as it tried to prepare for the General elections due in 2024. Since the beginning of the year things have seemingly cooled off.

Tsogwane seems to have won himself a new lease of life, possibly stressing beyond the Masisi tenure as president. Key functionaries from either side are convinced that the whole hiatus is now water under the bridge. “Both men are now happy in each other’s company. You just have to look at their smiles when they are together,” one insider recently told me. It seems like all involved, principally Tsogwane have dodged the bullet. There is a more important context to all the above. It all started during the preparations for the ruling party congress that was held in Tsabong in 2022. Slumber Tsogwane who is chairman and also vice president of the country was being challenged at party level. The president did not endorse his deputy. Instead he seemed to be watching all this from a distance – with curious detachment. And this was not lost to Tsogwane’s inner circle, that the president was not lending a hand in defence of his vice president and right hand man. Some of the chairman’s more radical members interpreted this aloofness from the president as clearly calculated to give the other side a fighting chance against Tsogwane. Tsogwane went on to win the chairmanship quite easily. But for his more prickly supporters, the humiliation was too much to absorb. A few days later things took a turn for the worse after reports of a brewing ouster for the vice president. Tsogwane’s followers remained defiant. Their man would not take it lying down. He was keeping the gun powder dry, they briefed.

He had made too many sacrifices at great risk to his career and taken too many bullets on behalf of the president to be treated like that, was their story. But all that seems to have changed now. There appears to be harmony. I have never considered myself a ruling party sympathizer. But I have a soft spot for Slumber Tsogwane the man. Chiefly because he is so often depicted as an underdog. But also because he is hardly ever given credit for his work in keeping this otherwise fractious party and government together under Masisi. Those of think of him as a buffoon are terribly wrong. His priestly demeanor belies a steely inner self. With skill and strictness of a boarding school headmaster he has been able to marshal and tame an otherwise rancorous and disparate ruling parliamentary party.

One thing is clear. The ruling party is dead serious when they say they want 80 percent share of the popular vote in next year’s General Elections. What that means is wiping all the opposition in all its formations from the face of the earth. That sounds politically unrealistic. But the ruling party is working very hard towards their goal – albeit frantically. They are burning the candle at both ends. Of course there is still a question mark hanging over the integrity of the last elections. The opposition failed to prove their case at the courts, but politically the blot is there. It would be foolhardy to claim they did not muddy the waters.

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