Sunday, May 29, 2022

Khama’s absence, internal wrangling weakening BPF  

The absence of former president, Ian Khama, from the domestic political scene is coming at a great cost to not just the party that he founded but the opposition movement as well. Five months after Khama fled into South Africa to beat a Directorate of Intelligence Services and Security deadline that required him to hand over some pistols, the party that he founded is going through a really rough time. A fortnight ago, his twin brothers, Tshekedi and Anthony, were arrested and spent two nights in jail. We understand that following his release, Tshekedi and his family joined Khama in South Africa.

Oddly for people who have lived in a suburb on the outskirts of Gaborone all their lives, Tshekedi’s family used the Pioneer border gate near Lobatse to cross into South Africa. Lobatse is 72 kilometres south of Gaborone. Tshekedi is the Secretary General of the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) and Serowe North MP. He is also a businessman who is director of a company called Seleka Springs that tellingly did roaring business with the Botswana Defence Force when General Khama was both army commander and president. Sunday Standard understands that Tshekedi has begun butting heads with Guma Moyo, who was Assistant Minister of Finance and Development Planning during the presidency of General Khama. For some time now, Seleka Springs’ office has been serving as the BPF secretariat. On such basis, party’s membership cards were printed at the Seleka Springs offices, with company equipment and under Tshekedi’s supervision.

In the process, Tshekedi came into possession of vital party information that he was reportedly not sharing with other party members, including members of the Central Committee. There is also complaint that most of the new members who were being registered were from Serowe, which is the tribal headquarters of the royal family that Tshekedi comes from. Another complaint is that the machine at the Seleka Springs office is small and couldn’t make as many cards as was desirable. Last week, with Tshekedi away in South Africa, Moyo despatched the BPF office manager to South Africa to buy a bigger machine that would be able to print more cards. This he did without consulting Tshekedi who, despite his sojourn in South Africa, still supervises the party secretariat and maintains links with it from South Africa. Naturally, Tshekedi wasn’t happy to learn about this development because not only was his authority being undermined, him and Moyo are expected to run for the presidency at the party’s next elective congress.

Under normal circumstances, the party leader would intervene and restore the situation to normalcy but the BPF finds itself in an unusual position. BPF’s real leader is General Khama – everybody else is a mere figurehead. The most prominent figurehead is the founding president, Reverend Biggie Butale, who has been suspended following ill-advised hanky-panky with a university student. In Butale’s absence, the Vice President, Caroline Lesang, has been acting as president but a source says that she is hopelessly ineffectual. Tshekedi wasted no time in filling the power vacuum but has now joined his elder brother in South Africa. Moyo is said to be determined to fill the power vacuum that resulted from this apparent relocation by the Khama brothers. Khama’s absence is also coming at great cost to the Umbrella for Democratic Change, which is fraternising with a man that its leader (Duma Boko) once said he would put behind bars when his party won.

A tireless campaigner, Khama played no small part in successive wins by opposition parties in the recent bye-elections. Had he not fled to South Africa, Khama would certainly have been campaigning for UDC for the upcoming Bophirima Ward bye-election. In the general election proper, the former president not only campaigned for some UDC candidates but also used his personal resources in the process.  As a former president, former army commander, Bangwato kgosi and well-connected international businessman, Khama can help raise money that the opposition desperately needs to unseat the BDP. Good sources say that the physical absence of Khama from Botswana’s political scene is dampening spirits in the opposition movement – and revealing the folly of relying on an individual to energise the movement. UDC is feeling this void and some UDC leaders, especially those in the Botswana National Front, have privately expressed concern that Khama’s absence is stalling the momentum that he had generated. Naturally, the opposition would want Khama to come back home soon but it is unlikely that will happen any time because he will be immediately arrested. Khama was also instrumental in the ongoing campaign to besmirch the Botswana Democratic Party reputation with accusations of electoral fraud in 2019.

At a time that Boko was grave silent and staying indoors, Khama was the first opposition leader to allege that the elections had been rigged. He said that he would speak to Boko about the matter and that appears to have happened because soon thereafter, Boko resurfaced to also allege election-rigging and led a legal campaign to have the results overturned. When the campaign failed, BPF financed a still-born public relations project to prove the fraud. The project entailed a quasi-judicial forum, called “People’s Court”, through which witnesses who had reportedly helped rig the elections would have testified about their respective roles. Two years later, the People’s Court has yet to sit – when BPF has already made advance payment to a Gaborone CBD hotel that was to host it. Against this background, there is also realization that the opposition movement’s overreliance on an individual (Khama) is not good for it. In a broader sense, this also applies to other opposition leaders who have become bigger than the parties they lead.

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