BY THOBO MOTLHOKA
Efforts by the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Council of Elders to strike a truce between President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his predecessor Ian Khama are still underway, Chairman of the council Patrick Balopi has said.
The committee, it seems, still sees a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel in its precarious efforts to resolve a feud bedevilling the estranged former and incumbent presidents despite initial mediation efforts having hit a snag.
Balopi said he could not discuss the progress made by the council before informing the involved parties.
“I will not discuss the details of the mediation talks with the media before informing those who have tasked me with the responsibility to lead the discussions,” was all he could say.
Balopi’s cautionary position comes in the wake of a setback for the BDP senior citizens’ efforts to strike a truce between a former president and a sitting Head of State.
Thanks to the arrest of Khama’s trusted ally, Isaac Kgosi, who is privy to the political dynamics of the country by way of being in close association with the former president, the development, though by no measure political, has further stoked the fires within the ruling party as some switch allegiance between a former president who ruled the country rough shod and a sitting president who has made it his business to follow the rule of law to the letter.
Following the arrest, Khama, rather predictably, condemned the manner in which Kgosi was arrested, and played down the seemingly ‘treasonous’ utterances the former Director of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) made during the public arrest.
When delivering his maiden State of the Nation Address (SONA) in November 2018 President Masisi informed the nation that senior citizens’ “failed” mediation attempts.
“Batswana are all aware that the transition from the previous administration has not been as smooth as expected,” Masisi said in his SONA.
“However, it ought to be noted, I have in my attempt to smoothen the process engaged senior citizens namely; His Excellency Dr. Festus Mogae, His Honour Dr. Ponatshego Kedikilwe, His Honour Ray Molomo, His Honour Patrick Balopi and His Honour David Magang to assist and lead in smoothening the transition,” said Masisi adding that their efforts had so far failed.
A few weeks following the announcement Masisi seems to have take the war to the Khama family, dropping the former president’s brother, Tshekedi Khama, from a cabinet position as the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism a crucial ministry with immense benefits to the Khamas. This was widely viewed as effectively loosening their grip on the lucrative tourism industry which the Khamas have a vested interest.
Masisi’s move followed Serowe South Member of Parliament Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi’s announcing her intention to challenge Masisi for the BDP presidency, a first since BDP was formed in 1961.
While Venson-Moitoi has denied being a pawn in the greater scheme of things, Khama is believed to be the one pulling the strings behind the scenes in an effort to unseat Masisi and install his preferred candidate ÔÇô his younger brother Tshekedi.
Possibly in an effort to put pressure on Venson-Moitoi lest she changes her mind about standing, Khama leaked information of her intentions to the media, forcing the Serowe South legislator to grant an immediate interview to an online publication – The Argus Online – confirming her candidacy.
Masisi’s immediate response was to sack Venson-Moitoi, then Minister of Local Government from cabinet. News of Venson-Moitoi’s decision to stand came as shock not only to the BDP faithful but to the nation at large, with the former minister receiving an avalanche of criticism.
Many accused her of allowing herself to be used as a pawn in the ongoing war between the duo. Party senior members including Patrick Balopi, David Magang, Dorcus Makgato, former President Festus Mogae, and former Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe have come out and rallied behind Masisi. The BDP Women’s and Youth wings have also thrown their weight behind President Masisi.
“The women of the Botswana Democratic Party met in Mogoditshane on November 30 where they took a collective resolution to stand behind President Dr Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi as our presidential candidate for the 2019 general elections,” Makgato said in December 2018.
Professor of Political Science David Sebudubudu holds that Venson-Moitoi is entitled and has a right to contest against Masisi as long as she is a member of the BDP in good standing.
“I don’t see anything that stops her from contesting. In politics there are a lot of interests at play. Africa is fraught with politics of access. The contest for political power is fierce. People should not vilify her,” says Sebudubudu. He says under BDP tradition one would expect the party to rally behind the leadership.
The political analyst though cautions: “It can’t be ruled out that Venson-Moitoi may be bidding for the former president.”
President Masisi told the media late last year he was not averse to the likelihood of being challenged for the party presidency.
“If the party feels they need a better candidate to lead us into the 2019 General Elections then great. We will win with even more numbers,” he told the media. “I’m not afraid. The Democrats will elect who becomes their president. It’s a process. It’s in our rules. We created it to be that way. Why should anyone be anxious about it? A sitting president such as my-self may be challenged.”