Friday, May 14, 2021

Masisi’s belated efforts to become BDP Chairman fraught with risks and pitfalls

It is indeed a true marvel to watch British politics at play. Late last year, writing on this same space we called on Duma Boko of the Umbrella for Democratic Change and also Dumelang Saleshando of Botswana Congress Party to take a leaf from Alex Salmond of the Scottish Nationalist Party who had just resigned because he could not convince his countrymen to vote for a break away from the United Kingdom in a referendum. We called on Boko and Saleshando to each step down in the event their parties performed badly at the polls. Boko had staked his entire political future on a controversial unity with other opposition parties, while Saleshando had opted, against all advice to take his BCP on a solo flight. The rest is history.

Salmond’s resignation, it is important to stress had been purely voluntary. And to be fair to him and his party, the results had not been a catastrophic crushing that many had predicted. Just this Friday the entire world once again watched with envious admiration as leader of the British Labour Party, Ed Miliband, also Nigel Farage of UKIP and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats all voluntarily resigned because their parties had performed badly at the polls.

All resignations were with immediate effect. Closer to home, Helen Zille, the leader of the Democratic Alliance in South Africa has announced that she is stepping down. She is doing so on her own accord. As my English teacher at Shashe River School, Paul Mitchell would put it: “That’s enough food for thought in one day guys.” It is now official: Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi wants to become Chairman of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party. There is no going around it; his candidacy has all the hallmarks of a kiss of death. If he wins, he stands to gain handsomely.

But if he loses it will spell the beginning of the end, not just of his presidential ambitions but also of his political career. Masisi is part of that outlandish crop of ministers who until recently had not much regard for the party ÔÇô preferring the trappings of power as provided by cabinet against the sweat and inconvenience of hard work at party level. Party activists have viewed this crop of ministers as not just disdainful of the party but also often disrespectful of it. That crop of politically detached ministers has included among others Boyce Sebetlela, Dan Moroka, Kitso Mokaila, Mokgweetsi Masisi and Ndelu Seretse.

Almost to a man, they now realize that to be a successful politician one has to be firmly grounded inside the party and its ethos. It is a change of heart that for many of them has come too late to allow them to either redeem or re-launch their political careers. Few tears will be shed for any of them. They are paying a self-inflicted and well-deserved price for political naivety and lack of independence. Perhaps with the exception of Sebetlela, each one of them took their cue from Ian Khama who while personally entrenching himself in the party told them that the party was a distractive nuisance that was derailing government agenda. Masisi is not the only one with a mountain to climb.

Ndelu Seretse ÔÇô never a party man to start with, now also wants to become the BDP National Chairman. It is an irony in terms. One of the first people to publicly declare his support for Masisi has been Samson Moyo Guma, a name that stirs excitement and resentment in equal measure within the BDP hallways. Moyo Guma’s special position inside the BDP demands a lengthy analysis. Masisi is overly aware that his association with Moyo Guma is fraught with risks. Rightly or wrongly, many BDP members continue to nurse a grievance against Moyo Guma following their party’s bad performance at the General Elections last year.

They hold him personally responsible for the creation of Botswana Movement for Democracy, a BDP offshoot that has been the greatest beneficiary of BDP’s decimal performance at the polls. Moyo Guma is one of BMD chief architects. He however later left it to rejoin the BDP where he was immediately welcomed with an elevated seat of National Chairman, a position in which he did not last long. His second coming at BDP is best remembered for his crafty weaving of a small group of inexperienced leaders with eccentric view of politics that were elected at the Maun congress.

He became the undisputed the spiritual leader of this small group. It is this group that after his resignation from party chair ultimately steered the BDP into a most catastrophic election in the party’s history. Other than eliciting divisions that Masisi can ill-afford under the circumstances, Moyo Guma is also an infinitely transactional politician. BDP members readily believe ÔÇô and they are largely correct – that he never supports any political cause unless there is something explicitly for himself in it. Few will be taking Moyo Guma’s support at face value. Rather, everyone will be scratching their head to establish what tradeoff he has been able to extract for himself from the Vice President.

Thus Moyo Guma’s oversized presence inside Masisi’s camp will instinctively turn off a lot of many BDP members who would otherwise be willing, albeit grudgingly to give Masisi a benefit of doubt. A campaign pitch that Masisi should be supported because as Vice President he is already in the paces to becoming State President is also misleading. At one level it smacks of desperation on the part of those rooting for him. Rather than speak to his personal strengths, it instead highlights his political weaknesses. It is a painful admission on their part that shorn of his recently earned vice presidential lapels, for which he is yet to prove his worth, their man is up against contenders of much higher personal credentials than himself. At another level there is a groundswell of opinion inside the BDP that questions Masisi’s credentials to lead the party.

An even bigger swathe of opinion questions his credentials to run the country. Put together, these doubts can very easily be traced to his suicidal lack of enthusiasm for the party earlier on in his career when he gave the party a cold shoulder in preference for positions in government.

Should Masisi lose the race for BDP chairmanship he will open himself to future challenges for the position of president. Assuming he ascends under the automatic succession, there is all likelihood of him serving in that office for the shortest spell since the birth of the republic. And when that happens he would have nobody to blame but himself; first for having opted to become a government-man rather than a party-man when he entered politics. And secondly for failing to resist a lame and idle temptation to run for party Chairmanship when the odds were so clearly stacked against himself.

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