Monday, September 21, 2020

Masire walking on a tight wire

The older members of Barata Phathi faction still can’t understand just why father and son tend to approach the same issues so differently.

They say every time there was a crisis in the party and Government, the late founding President Sir Seretse Khama would canvass for a vast array of opinions, including from political opposites like Kenneth Koma and Phillip Matante before making a final decision.

But not so with Seretse’s son, President Ian Khama who they insist never makes an effort to reach out to people outside his tight circle of trusted friends.

Though he likes to claim otherwise, when it comes to matters of consultation clearly Ian Khama’s role model is not Seretse Khama who is said to have maintained a close relationship with opposition leader Kenneth Koma, a distant cousin with whom he studied during their student days in England.

Although he was a strict disciplinarian, those who knew him say Seretse Khama’s strength was that he knew when it was time to make compromises.

But not so with his son.
Ian Khama’s model is not former President Ketumile Masire either, a born extrovert who relished an argument and enjoyed public sparring with the opposition during his frequent kgotla meetings he held across the nation.

Or Festus Mogae, who, as a distinguished and accomplished intellectual, never shied away from bare-knuckled exchanges with professors from the University of Botswana.

Even as the party and government are undergoing the biggest crisis since independence, Khama is keeping himself to his usual circle of friends.

History shows that President Ian Khama has always demonstrated a shocking disdain for both the media and the academia, but his inability to even listen to other senior BDP members outside his circle is a mystery that many BDP watchers find difficult to even start to understand.

With the BDP facing its first split in its long history, it will be interesting to see if Khama is about to change tact.

A BDP insider, who did not want to be identified for fear of annoying the President, said there seems to be an admission on the President that the crisis he faces today is much bigger than anything he had to deal with in the past.

“A simple fact is that Ian Khama is the first leader in the BDP history to face such an open revolt,” adding that Masire and Festus Mogae have opted to join behind the scenes because there seems to be consensus that today’s crisis is somewhat above Khama’s comprehension.

While officially Masire and Mogae do not represent President Khama, there seems to be an understanding that Khama has grudgingly accepted their mediation because at least in private he realizes that this time around the stakes are much higher.

Not only have the dissidents announced they will be forming a new party, they also have been wise enough to tap into growing public disenchantment on a number of national issues.

A majority of Batswana are worried about what is popularly called extra-judicial killings.

By the last count at least 14 people had been killed by security agents since Ian Khama ascended the presidency nearly two years ago.

There is also a simmering of official corruption, with senior members of the cabinet accused of helping themselves to the national kitty.

While President Khama has himself never been personally implicated, he is accused of possessing a soft spot for those named because they happen to be from his camp.

“It will be interesting to see how he addresses the issue of corruption among his cabinet ministers. This is one issue that will not be addressing itself as he seems to have hoped,” said a BDP Member of Parliament.

At the centre of it all is government’s spirited determination to stave off all attempts to introduce a law that would compel MPs and ministers to publicly declare their assets.

Then there is another dimension, not directly of Khama’s making.
The opposition Botswana National Front and Botswana Congress Party seem to be in a resurgent mood.

Both parties are scheduled to hold elective congresses in July at which times a new crop of leaders is expected to take over key leadership positions at the helm of respective parties.
This puts the BDP under an added strain to be more imaginative, especially in the face of what is viewed as a not so stellar performance in last year’s General Elections.

A key member of Barata Phathi said they were watching developments at BCP and BNF with keen interests.

“We are under no illusion that we could be anywhere near to defeating the BDP on our own. What we have in mind is an alliance with other opposition parties and we hope the BCP and BNF will elect progressive leaderships that will be able to work with us against the BDP in case of an election,” said a member of the Barata Phathi Executive Committee.
But still not all is lost.

A BDP member close to the negotiations says there is a realization among the party leadership that Barata Phathi is much bigger than it has often been given credit for.

“At our first meeting last week we realised that the real owners of the faction are behind the scenes. They are the people you never hear or read about in the newspapers. This has gotten us really worried,” said a senior party member who is also a leading supporter of President Khama.

But just what are the chances of Masire successfully negotiating a truce? More importantly does President Ian Khama consider Masire as a mediator that can be trusted?

However way it will not be an easy fit for former President Sir Ketumile Masire, not least because Barata Phathi have also ratcheted their rhetoric and upped the stakes by way of their close to 30 demands.

An experienced negotiator that he is, Sir Ketumile knows so well that there cannot be a settlement unless President Khama moves halfway as to accede to some of Barata Phathi demands.

Yet the BDP has already trashed those demands out of hand, calling them “untenable and outrageous”.

“The stakes are higher not only for President Khama but also for Masire. As an incumbent, Khama has a vested interest to put this matter behind him. For Masire it is a matter of legacy.

Together with Seretse Khama, he founded this party. And with Seretse no longer in the picture Masire takes the ultimate responsibility about what becomes of it. Or else history will judge him harshly. To him it’s a sense of duty,” said another BDP member of parliament.

But for all the hopes of a negotiated settlement past attempts by Masire to bring stability inside the BDP have not turned up well.

Just last year, former Secretary General Gomolemo Motswaledi was banished from the party after Masire failed to bring sense between the BDP Central Committee, led by Khama, and Motswaledi, representing Barata Phathi faction.

The two ended in the Court of appeal where Motswaledi lost with costs.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper