A week that the then minister of Defence, Justice and Security resigned his position, I received a text message on my phone from an activist of the ruling party: “Speculation is high that Ndelu’s position will not be filled until his case is over so that he can get his ministry back. Replacing Ndelu may derail Khama’s game plan.”
I did not bother to reply the message because it sounded to me overly cynical and paranoid.
This week it crossed my mind that six months down the line, a replacement has still not been announced.
It well is the case that the BDP activist I dismissed as deranged was right after all.
However one looks at it, a refusal by President Khama to reshuffle his cabinet so as to replace Ndelu Seretse as a Minister of Defence and Justice is a damning vote of no confidence on the BDP backbench and also on other ministers who would have aspired to be elevated to the all important ministry.
I don’t wish to be seen as obsessive, like that BDP activist, but there is not a slightest semblance of logical consistency in how Khama treats Seretse vis-├á-vis other ministers in similar situations in the past.
An impression has been created that Seretse’s position will wait for him no matter how long it takes, no matter what it takes; no matter how much it costs.
In the past Khama has never had any difficulty replacing any minister of state.
The resourceful Baledzi Gaolathe was ruthlessly dragged out of the portfolio of Finance while he was recuperating from a sick bed in Johannesburg.
Guma Moyo was told to jump or be sacked because the rumour-mongering president had gotten wind that some agency wanted to investigate the then assistant minister of finance.
Almost three years down the line we are still to hear what has become of the allegations that forced Moyo out.
Olifant Mfa’s dismissal from cabinet could easily have been the act of a bullet from a marksman.
Scores of senior civil servants, notably Moshe Lekaukau were unceremoniously bundled out of office because the intelligence services had lied to our paranoid president that they were involved in corrupt practices.
But not so with Seretse!
It is now almost six months since the former Minister of Defence resigned his post before he was charged with corruption, and there is still no hint that President Khama is about to announce a replacement.
This is outrageous, to put it kindly.
I used to think that the ministry of Defence, Justice and Security was a very key portfolio in Government.
It turns out I was wrong.
Or else how can the President let it lie vacant for close to a full year, occasionally allowing in someone to moonlight as an acting minister.
From the look of things it may well be that we never needed to have a Minister of Defence and Justice.
In which case we may as well do away with it!
Some commentators have tried to say the delay is because Seretse and Khama are cousins.
I think that’s utter rubbish.
A retired soldier tells me how during their days in the army, Khama never hesitated to take disciplinary action against Seretse if the boss felt the sidekick had not lived up to the expected standards.
The truth is that in high political office the stakes are much higher than they were at the Botswana Defence Force.
To the Ian Khama machine, Ndelu Seretse is an indispensable cog that was from day one groomed to ensure continuity.
The former minister is much more than a blood relation.
He is an integral part of Khama’s command structure and succession plan ÔÇô a member of the inner circle without whom the whole conception risks total collapse.
There is no question that Khama needs Serete badly, not just as a minister but more importantly to get back on track a succession plan ruinously derailed by a rancorous BDP split early in the year.
But for all Seretse’s importance to the succession project, I still don’t see how adding a political spectacle to what is best left as an exclusive legal matter helps either him or Ian Khama.
It must however be said that notwithstanding the court case, Seretse has been one of the star performers in cabinet.
This is not to say he is indispensable. No one is. Not even Khama.
Because the President can always reshuffle his cabinet whenever he wants – without accounting to anybody one might add – Seretse could always reclaim his beloved ministry when he has sorted out his little problems with the law.
It would have been neater, more ethical and more upright had an impression been created (however insincere) that the President treated all his ministers equally.
As it is we are in Animal Farm territory, where “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others”.
But still what does it mean to BDP members of parliament to realize that the President does not see any of them as fit enough to fill Seretse’s boots and assume the position of Minister of Defence, Justice and Security?
The first implication would be that the entire backbench, including assistant ministers are buffoons not worthy of this plum job.
This applies to senior ministers holding less prestigious portfolios, say Youth, Sports and Culture who would want to move up the ladder, closer to where big decisions of a police state such as ours are made.