Tuesday, December 7, 2021

“I will be back” ÔÇô Jacob Nkate reassures the BDP’s demoralised troops

Not a man to content himself with a life outside politics, Botswana’s Ambassador to Japan, Jacob Nkate says he is not lost to a life of political existence. SPENCER MOGAPI talked to the former BDP Secretary General and discovered a man still beaming with lofty political ambitions
Before going too far into the interview, Jacob Nkate breaks into a frolick of his own without any prodding. The whole thing soon degenerates into a long rendition about his love for politics.
“Nobody in Botswana does not know that I have a passion for politics. And here I am talking not just power politics ÔÇô but all politics.”
It is a passion that has not deserted him after a spell in the corporate world where he served as Chief Executive of BEDIA, the disbanded government export agency.
Nkate was to later leave BEDIA under a cloud before setting off for Tokyo where he is currently serving as Botswana’s Ambassador.
On more than one occasion during the interview, he reminisces about the times he used to travel across the country as Secretary General of the Botswana Democratic Party in the company of among others Batlang Serema, a close associate who was at the time serving as BDP Executive Secretary.
“We would travel to such places like Kang, Hukuntsi and other more remote settlements just to meet with less than fifty BDP members. It gave me a lot of self-contentment. It gave us excitement that we were building the party ÔÇô one member at a time.”
As part of the pre-interview preparations Nkate had made it clear that he would not be talking about the state of the BDP.
It is a disclaimer he repeats on a number of occasions during the interview. He is prepared to answer any and all questions about himself ÔÇô but not about the BDP. For a man clearly planning to rejoin politics, an express unwillingness to discuss the BDP makes the entire interview a tight ship.
“I am Botswana’s Ambassador to Japan. I have a job here and the last thing I want to do is to meddle in politics back home. What I can tell you is that I want to serve all my tour of duty to the end. And that means I will be in Japan until at least October 2016.”
This statement of intent is very important for him, and he keeps harping on it, because a good number of BDP members have been trying to entice him to come back home early so that he could join the ongoing frantic preparations for the party’s elective Congress in July this year. He has spurned all such calls and repeats during the interview that his friends and supporters should respect his decision to see through his mandate in Japan.
“I am here on a national duty sent by the President. It is very important that I see through my assignment. I want everybody including my friends and supporters to respect that. But believe me I remain a politician at heart. And this is what BDP members should know. I will be back into the BDP when I come back, that I can assure you. They just have to wait.”
Nkate stresses that he remains ambitious but would accept whatever responsibility that the BDP members may assign him, before breaking into his trademark hearty laughter.
“Who knows I could end up being a branch Secretary somewhere in Tsau [his home village]. I am ambitious. Anybody who is alive but does not have ambitions is not alive. More than that I have confidence in myself. I have been accused of everything but I am still here.”
The accusations he is referring to primarily refer to an incident almost twenty years ago when he was accused of corruption. He strenuously denies the allegation to this day.
As a director of a construction company owned by a Lebanese socialite called Nick Zackhem, Nkate was discovered to have been receiving a monthly cheque.
The media went on a rampage effectively accusing him all of sorts of sinister crimes.
He got entangled in a web and ultimately had to resign his cabinet position. He was at the time serving as a junior minister responsible for finance.
That incident, though many years ago still pains him.
And he is not able to hide the pain that it causes him.
He says his support for a law on Declaration of Assets is for him personal. That support for such a law is to effectively cover himself.
“I don’t want an instance where when something goes missing in a room people start to say it must be Nkate who took because we saw him passing here earlier. That is how I have often felt.”
In a way he is right.
Though never charged in a court of law he has often had to live under a spectre of insidious allegations about his character.
As Minister of Education many years after the first incident there was an accounting error that effectively led the ministry to a deficit of almost a billion Pula.
Insinuations started to fly thick and high that Nkate must have dipped his fingers into the till.
The allegations haunted him until he was exonerated by the Auditor General’s report.
“I am not corrupt. With the Zackhem issue I was a director and I was drawing an allowance as were other directors. That is good corporate governance. Show me what I did that was wrong. I am a lawyer. And I am also sophisticated. If I wanted a bribe I would have taken cash rather than a cheque.”
But still the incident cost him his cabinet job, a reputation and to this day keeps coming back, almost like a bad penny to haunt him.
“I am aware of that. The same with the Nchindo case. People thought I was favouring Nchindo with a plot because I was being paid. At the court I was consistent with my evidence. Debswana had applied for a piece of land. Along the way Debswana pulled out. But Nchindo who was Managing Director of Debswana felt he could apply on his own and he did. I was happy the Court of Appeal eventually exonerated me.”
Although he does not want to discuss the BDP, his return from Tokyo at the end of 2016 puts him in an enviable position to take part at another congress due in 2017.
His break away from politics means that when he comes back he will be coming back into it with a clean pair of hands.
Nobody will accuse him of having participated in the demise of the party.
Rather he will be a symbol of the good old days when the party used to win all elections on offer.
For him there is yet another upside to it all.
While detractors say by the time he comes back he would have lost touch with internal party dynamics, the fact of the matter is that nobody inside the BDP is under any illusion that the July Congress where the party will elect a new set of leaders will bring any changes to the party’s fortunes.
This is because at that Congress the top spot will not be up for contest.
Not much can thus be expected by way of a major shift.
The vacancy for President only opens up in 2019 before the General Elections. By which time he too would like many others could throw in their names if they want.
“Whatever position I get that will be determined by the mood of the party at the time. I am not worried about positions. I know my abilities and I am fully aware that BDP members know my abilities.”
Politics aside, there are several ghosts from the past that Nkate still has to deal with. As is the case with the BDP at the moment, the odds are stacked against Nkate.
At BEDIA, Nkate left before he could finish his term.
He does not say it. But it is common knowledge that he left after an almighty falling out with Dorcas Malesu, the then Minister of Trade who was the BEDIA political head. Insiders say it was a fight for turf more than anything. When Nkate was senior minister and also Secretary General of the BDP, Malesu was a Chief Executive at BEDIA. The change in tables happened after Nkate lost a constituency which coincided with Malesu becoming a Minister responsible for BEDIA among other things.
The treatment he received at the hands of a much junior politician like Malesu highlights the obstacles Nkate may just have to grapple with on his arrival back into politics. There will most certainly be obstacles to cross.
Reservations about Nkate have however always been offset by the near worship treatment he enjoys from his political acolytes; Isaac Seloko, Langston Motsete and Batlang Serema, especially Motsete whose commitment and devotion to the boss often invites caricature within the BDP circles.
“Nkate rose through the BDP ranks. He knows the party very well,” said Motsete this week when asked what role Nkate will play in the future.
“Our party needs to reconnect with the youth. Nkate is best placed to do that. Although he is now in his fifties, Nkate is still young at heart. You just have to follow his interactions with young people on the social media to appreciate this. He feels like he is one of them. There is not that artificial barrier between him and the young people,” Motsete said excitedly.
He adds that Nkate is exceedingly exciting to be around.
“Some of our current Members of Parliament have never been active in the party before rising to high positions. Nkate is of the old crop, the same like Daniel Kwelagobe who went through the drill. He was active at the University of Botswana, then the Youth before becoming Member of Parliament and Minister. He is part of the BDP generation that does not need invitations for them to attend a political rally. He is at ease among the members, can defend the party at every forum and is very approachable. He fits everywhere ÔÇô among ordinary people, the intellectuals or the elite,” said Motsete.

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