While it has been long coming, Vice President Mompati Merafhe’s retirement may turn out to present one of the hardest moments yet for President Ian Khama.
While Merafhe’s strengths have seldom been acknowledged, more as a result of his often crude and acidic statements, for president Khama running the country without Merafhe’s counsel is likely to turn out to be one of the loneliest political moments for a president who still has a lot to learn.
While many BDP members so clearly welcome Merafhe’s departure, one is hard pushed to believe Khama shares their opinion.
For all of his time as Vice president, General Merafhe served a role, which was to protect, counsel and defend the president – whatever it took. No price was too high even as it often meant ridiculing one self.
However hard they may try it, no one in the BDP ranks can come anywhere close to Merafhe in their defence of the BDP, Khama and, most importantly, the government policy.
With time, Khama may find out that he misses the lush cushions that Merafhe’s combativeness provided and indeed guaranteed.
One of the key reasons why Merafhe has been successful at all he did has been his ability to remain deferential to the president.
There is also another side to Merafhe which has seldom found its way into the public domain.
While in public he was President Ian Khama’s foremost political attack dog, in private he put brakes on some of the most extremist decisions that were so clearly sponsored by Khama’s kitchen cabinet, including, insiders point out, a decision three years ago to sell Botswana Meat Commission to a group of white Namibian farmers. This he was able to do because he creditably remained outside Khama’s inner circle.
Merafhe no doubt relished giving opponents a bloody nose in public (more often on Khama’s behalf) but he would go out of the way to privately make amends with many of those he had offended.
Up until his health betrayed him, Merafhe privately believed he was still very much on the race to one day becoming President of the Republic, his ultimate preferment, which confidantes point out he liked to say, remained only a breath away.
“Don’t rule me out,” is a phrase often attributed to him when the conversation moved to who was most likely to succeed Ian Khama as president.
For a man who had so little formal education it is interesting that Merafhe often fancied himself not just an intellectual but also an international statesman.
It was when he talked about foreign affairs and international relations that he spoke with force and passion. That combativeness is only matched by his passionate reminisces on his days as a police officer.
Although he was the founding commander of Botswana Defence Force, it is instructive that it is his time spent at the police that he most likes talking about.
He often regales on stories of how he jumped quite a few ranks on his way to the top.
Somebody called me the other day to say at least Merafhe left under own terms, that he must be a happy man that he has achieved all he sought to do.
Far from it!
Whatever his other motives, Merafhe walked into politics with a clear mission; to seize or, better still, to save the BDP from Daniel Kwelagobe.
Right from the beginning, his political career has seemed purposive.
It is a matter of irony that somehow his political ambition seemed to be actuated by a deep-seated disdain for Daniel Kwelagobe.
While circumstances have changed over the years, the target and with it the objective has remained constant.
For him it was a matter of principle that one way or another, Kwelagobe had to be done away with.
So committed was Merafhe to ousting Kwelagobe that he formed a political alliance with Jacob Nkate as a way of creating a base that would take on Kedikilwe/Kwelagobe axis.
I don’t think we are in any way overstating the gravity of the situation when we say for the vice president it was as if Kwelagobe was to blame for all the evils that had befallen both the party and country.
We shall probably never exactly know what the source of political hatred between the two men has been, but there clearly has been a combination of anger, ego and pride.
Somehow these three factors convinced Merafhe that for as long as the BDP was under Kwelagobe’s grip, the party’s democratic primacy was under threat. It has been an unwavering article of faith he has kept to the end.
Thus his goal has always been to wrestle the BDP from Daniel Kwelagobe’s stranglehold. And this ambition he has pursued with admirable fortitude and single mindedness of a combat he has always been.
Other than a clear ambition to one day become president of Botswana, Merafhe’s abiding disaffection for his political rival endured. That he clearly he has not achieved it must be truly painful.
For a man who has spent his entire political career working at defeating Kwelagobe, it must be a sad ending that he leaves the scene with his rival still ensconced on the BDP driver’s seat, somewhat weakened, but no less in command than was the case when Merafhe first walked in.
For a man of such modest formal education, Merafhe has of course achieved much more than any individual could ever hope for.
But Merafhe has always been an ambitious man who deliberately set the bars high, not least but especially for himself.
While he never for a second allowed a reputation of weakness to find a place on his reputation he was always abnormally conscious of what a thankless profession politics is. More than once, I heard him quote the former American President Thomas Jefferson, “No one takes out of politics, the reputation that they brought into it.”
But still Merafhe did not believe anything was for him out of reach ÔÇô not even the presidency.
I have no doubt that as he leaves the scene his only honest regret, which he will of course keep to himself, would be that he did not achieve what it takes to become a State President.