The words unease, lack of smoothness, tested and challenges came up more than ten times when President Mokgweetsi Masisi describes what is turning out to be the most traumatic presidential transition in the history of Botswana. The president warned that if not contained, this can degenerate into national disturbance.
The transition difficulties have been on display since April 1 when President Masisi took over from his predecessor, former President Lt Gen Ian Khama. President Masisi and former president Khama’s conflicting personal value judgments have snowballed into national conflict extensions which have polarized disputes over the disarming of the wildlife department, the hunting ban, retired presidents’ benefits, alcohol levy and many others. Every difference of opinion between the two leaders is elevated into a national controversy, with the Facebook and news media becoming an endless buffet, feeding the outrage and anxiety of a nation.
This has not been lost on President Masisi who told Sunday Standard two weeks ago that he took a decision to brief parliament about the difficult presidential transition through the recent State of the Nation Address because “it was important to report as consummately and as sensitively as possible, not recklessly as I have seen some report this transition challenge because it is a matter of public concern. It is not to be made frivolous. It was only right that I report of it through the State of the Nation Address, only right that it is through parliament, only right that the leadership of this country debate this, form an opinion at least and then go and inform an electorate. That is democracy at play. I had to take a number of things into consideration; the reputational risk to the country but also my swearing or taking the oath that this is what I will do.
In a wide ranging interview with the Sunday Standard, President Masisi cautioned that “you cannot not pay attention to it because it has a potential of growing out of proportion and really causing disturbance.” He revealed that Botswana’s transition problems have already attracted the attention of the international community. The president could not take us into his confidence, but said “to put it mildly” his international colleagues were “taken aback”.
The president stopped short of confirming that Botswana’s stability is also being distressed by the transition. Allaying fears that he may have lost control of the country, the president said, “I feel competently and confidently in charge. There may be arguments about the extent to which and these are nuances of stability more than my ability to make things happen.”
SEE PAGES 4 11&12 for a detailed anatomy of how Khama and Masisi’s differences have degenerated into what is arguably the biggest polarization of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party and the nation ever