President Ian Khama has been accused of using government funds and resources to reinforce Botswana Democratic Party campaigns in constituencies where the opposition is considered to pose a threat. The opposition Botswana Congress Party last week dismissed Khama’s national tours as a guise through which he actually campaigns for BDP candidates through his kgotla meetings and constituency walk-abouts.
Things came to a head last week when, while addressing a non-partisan kgotla meeting in Francistown East, Khama addressed BDP parliamentary candidate Phandu Skelemani as the area MP, reiterating that he is confident that Skelemani will be returned as MP after the general elections.
The president’s statements caused an uproar within the opposition circles, who consider Khama’s statements as campaign propaganda that is meant to give Skelemani an edge over his opponents ahead of the general elections.
“It is unfortunate that the President would say such a political statement in a non-political forum. This is blatant abuse of power and privileges and it is in no way different from the recent broadcasting of BDP propaganda on national radio and television,” said BCP Publicity Secretary, Dumelang Saleshando, last week.
He added that the BCP has been observing a worrisome trend in which the president has been using his presidential visits to launch campaigns for BDP candidates in constituencies where the BCP is set to overturn the ruling party’s fortunes.
Just recently, said Saleshando, Khama was in Ngami to boost beleaguered BDP candidate Jacob Nkate’s fortunes after it emerged that his political career had reached its twilight. Other constituencies include Francistown, and Selibe-Phikwe, which are among the 21category-1 constituencies that BCP has targeted in the October general elections.
In Bobirwa, parliamentary candidate and BCP Secretary General Taolo Lucas revealed that they had made so much impact in the constituency that there is no hope for BDP’s Shaw Kgathi. Lucas told The Sunday Standard last week that in the past ten years the BCP’s influence has been growing by leaps and bounds while, in comparison, the BDP’s fortunes have been dwindling.
In 1999, said Lucas, a still wet behind the ears BCP candidate, managed to garner 1200 votes to the BDP’s 4900. In the 2004 general elections, the BCP increased their popular vote to 3700 while the BDP’s vote decreased to 4200.
“This shows that our influence has been growing over the years. We have increased our representation in the wards and we are confident that, with the hard work that we put in over the last 10 years, it is now time for us to assume control of this constituency,” he said.
He added that it is therefore not surprising that Khama was recently in the constituency, engaged in his usual walk-abouts and bonfires in a bid to drum up support for beleaguered BDP candidate Shaw Kgathi. Lucas, however, remains confident that the president’s disguised campaigns will bear no fruits as the people of Bobirwa have made up their minds that they want change.
To BCP supporters in Francistown East, Khama’s recent controversial visit was a belated response to pleas from central ward council candidate and former Skelemani campaign manager Anthony Chebani, who once implored the president to visit the constituency and weave the Khama magic so as to reverse the immense gains made by the BCP.
The BDP campaign in the constituency was greatly affected by Skelemani’s perpetual absence due to his international responsibilities as Foreign Affairs minister.
Skelemani was recently forced to take a leave of absence to attend to his fledging campaign in Francistown East after his councilors sent a clarion call to the government enclave to the effect that the BCP was making forays into his constituency and planting ideas of “an absent MP” in the people’s minds.
From within the BDP fold grumbles of discontent have emerged to the effect that the president seems to have reserved his national tours and campaigns for his cronies within the A-team at the expense of barata-phathi candidates. BDP insiders have complained that Khama’s recent sojourns to Ngami, Selibe Phikwe, Bobirwa and Francistown are proof that his campaigns are flawed towards a-team sympathizers in Nkate, Kavis Kario, Kgathi and Skelemani, respectively.
Taolo Lucas concurs, saying that parliament’s recent refusal to increase the number of Specially Elected MPs to 8 has pushed Khama against the wall as he will have limited special nomination seats with which to award his loyal A-team foot-soldiers, most of whom are tipped to tumble in the October 16 general elections.
“These people have been loyal to Khama in his standoff against Kwelagobe and the barata-phathi and he is now bound to boost their campaigns because many of them will find themselves jobless after the general elections,” he said.
In a previous interview Presidential press secretary Sipho Madisa refuted these allegations, saying that Khama’s visits are only a continuation of his tour of the country to check on development projects and monitor public service delivery.
“There is nothing political about these visits. The president is only doing his official duties and not campaigning for the BDP,” he said.