Friday, December 1, 2023

Masisi’s redesign of civil service has clear election-strategy edge

Chances of winning elections with a rogue intelligence agency, a minister loathed by civil servants, improper high-profile appointments and an unimpressive predecessor’s legacy are very slim to none. So, what is a sitting president to do in the 18 months he has? Simple: bring some measure of respectability to the agency by firing its errant head, redeploy the minister, recall an envoy whose decades sojourn in a plum posting was the direct result of backroom deal-making and disassociate yourself from your predecessor’s legacy.

Assuming the upcoming elections will be free and fair, President Masisi can’t know for sure which party will win. He faces a steeper climb than both his predecessors: when Festus Mogae became president in 1998, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) was sure it would win in the following year’s elections and the same happened with Ian Khama in 2008. Support for the ruling party has been steadily declining over the years and now, unlike the past, the possibility of the opposition taking over is extremely high. Beginning on April 1 when he took over, Masisi has been redesigning the civil service and it is not too hard to discern the outline of an election strategy if one looks too hard at this new design. As the Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Eric Molale, dealt with public sector trade unions through the Directorate of Public Service Management. Prior to joining politics, he had also dealt with unions as the Permanent Secretary to the President. Molale’s interpersonal relations and management style can use a lot of work and in both cases he had an extremely difficult relationship with unions.

On April 1, Masisi shunted Molale off to the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy and replaced him with Nonofo Molefi. A cool, calm and collected person, Molefi has both the temperament and diplomatic aptitude that is required to handle sensitive industrial relations issues. He would be as useful in parliament tackling the equally sensitive issue of electronic voting machines which Molale complicated with his temperament.

On May 2, Masisi fired the Director General of the rogue, cloak-and-mostly-dagger Directorate of Intelligence Services, Isaac Kgosi, who had told a parliamentary committee the previous week that he doesn’t take orders from anyone, the president included. For the past 10 years, DIS has (under Kgosi’s leadership) spread around a lot of physical and emotional pain. Interestingly, Kgosi’s pronouncements may have given Masisi a valid reason to do something that he was angling for an opportunity to do. Ever since Kgosi left DIS, the streets and airwaves (both public and private) have been lavishing praise on the new president and for now at least, people feel freer to talk freely on the phone.

On May 3, Masisi recalled Colin Blackbeard as Botswana’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. As is common knowledge, Blackbeard’s posting had absolutely nothing to do with foreign policy imperatives. Within 24 hours of relinquishing command of the Botswana Defence Force, Lieutenant General Khama showed up in a business suit at the Office of the President to start work as President Festus Mogae’s vice president. As veep, he needed a constituency and Blackbeard gave up his seat as Serowe North MP to ease Khama’s transition into politics. Beyond the atrocity of this backroom dealmaking with public resources, Blackbeard has been in London for 20 years while other envoys were moved around. Once more, the streets and airwaves raved about “Sisiboy” ÔÇô Masisi’s nickname ÔÇô for correcting this anomaly.

Unlike all presidents who went into office with a predecessor’s legacy they felt comfortable associating themselves with, Masisi doesn’t have such luxury. On an objective empirical basis, under Khama Botswana lost 10 years that it will never get back. Disassociating himself from Khama is Masisi’s best bet of winning next year’s elections and in his inauguration speech, he found seemingly innocent language to repudiate much of what Khama’s presidency was about.


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