The word ‘checkmate’ in chess, originates from the Persian word ‘Shah Mat’, which means ‘the King is defeated.’
The most unprecedented election of our time! – pundits will probably say in 2019. And recent events confirm that it is the most anticipated electoral event thus far. Solomon’s gates have opened and the pieces are taking their place on the checkered board. The layout is utterly interesting.
The Trojan Horse
Rre Sidney Pilane is here! And almost everyone is surprised. Most are angry and frustrated. Many feel cheated and robbed. But he is here, posing as the most powerful politician currently! He might as well be. The events leading to Bobonong are well known. No surprises there. But judging from the outcome, it would seem many people had prepared more for a stalemate than they were for a checkmate. Now there is a strong push for a back pedal at a moment where the tide has gained momentum. And you can hear from the howling that opposition Generals are trying to reorganise their resources. The Trojan horse is here and with it comes calamity for the opposition. The Trojan horse has the advantage of incumbency which neutralises any suggestions of a new political formation. On the other hand, the Trojan horse will not hesitate to use the courts should there be push back from within the coalition. That will move the fate of the opposition beyond its grasp and will most certainly stall progress. The prize? Control of the Umbrella for Democratic Change. This moment is not for the faint hearted.
Rre Duma Boko faces, perhaps the most difficult challenge of his life. That challenge is to stay on course: to deliver the fire of power in 2019 or step down – his own promise. Now, like Rre George W. Bush, he must face his decision points. Will he risk weakening his current position in parliament and go after Botswana Movement for Democracy’s allocated constituencies? How will he leverage renegotiation of standing pacts should Rre Ndaba Gaolathe apply with a new political formation? Does he think with his heart or his head? Does he sacrifice himself to save the opposition or sacrifice the people to save himself? That is the way of the gods in any case. His Achilles will be the near impossible task to save Rre Ndaba Gaolathe. He needs him. How much? Only he knows.
The Putin-Medvedev Tandem
At the coattails of power stands the next president of Botswana ÔÇô guaranteed at least for 18 months ÔÇô Rre Mokgweetsi Masisi. He is chomping at the bits after vanquishing his challenger in Tonota. Just as he needed the emphatic win in Tonota, he needs to do the same in 2019, to stomp his authority and assert himself as a battle hardened politician. This is something that will be difficult to do because it seems like his fortune is really the extension of President Lieutenant General Dr. Ian Khama Seretse Khama’s largesse. This year alone, the president has made power moves that do not indicate a president scaling down into retirement. Deploying his brother, Rre Tshekedi Khama II as chef de mission, the president marched into the cobbled streets of Berlin for the International Tourism Bourse. The first country south of the Sahara to partner! But bigger than tourism, this was a power move to position Botswana amongst the emerging powers at the centre of this new, multi-polar world order. That world was quite apparent at the recent G20 summit that was held in Hamburg. Then there is the Dalai Lama power move! This is a move that most retiring presidents would avoid like a plague. But it seems the president would like to end the same way he started – with the Chinese! And for this task, he has deployed perhaps the shrewdest politician in his cabinet, Dr. Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi. The dynamics of these power moves and the times they are played indicate that the Botswana Democratic Party does not intend to relinquish power in 2019. And with his ego badly bruised in 2014, president Khama is taking the war to the opposition. It is just that it will be Rre Masisi’s face on those election billboards.
Perhaps awakened by what is going on inside the Botswana Movement for Democracy, a cohort of Young Turks inside the Botswana National Front is making long bets on its political futures. Some of them were not happy with President Duma Boko’s reforms and some are working out exit strategies in case the coalition fails. Whatever their reasons, the challenge will always be how to let them exercise their rights without risking the same divisions that have torn the Botswana Movement for Democracy asunder. Right now they are idle and an idle mind is a precarious mind. It will be interesting to see how President Boko handles this cohort. More than ever, he needs a united Botswana National Front.
The Wild Card
Botswana Congress Party is perhaps the saving grace for the opposition right now. It is to this contracting partner that Rre Duma Boko will perhaps seek counsel. He needs second vice Rre Dumelang Saleshando’s experience and depth in holding a party together after a debilitating loss. Besides, the Botswana Congress Party is currently the only party in the coalition whose exposure to destabilisation is limited should the coalition project untangle. As things stand, strategy bunkers are alive, prepping exits. Resources are being channeled to plug exit wounds. In the midst of this chaos, Botswana Congress Party is emerging as the face of reason, keeping the fire burning for the opposition during this trying time. While reason will hold the opposition together in the short term, it is credibility that is badly needed for the long term. Right now, the opposition is found wanting in this area.
Just as it was the case in 2014, 2019 will be decided in the media space. In its unofficial position as the fourth estate, the media holds the power of kingmaker. And the political players are aware of this as evidenced by escalating developments since the return from recent congresses and conferences. Politicians were/are playing to the gallery. However, the media will have to remember that great power comes with great responsibility. The American media has been a clear example of the power and influence media wields. President Donald Trump knew this and the rest, as they say, will be found in the annals of history. Therefore, the media’s role during this stretch to 2019 must be to check and balance and not to tilt the scales of power. It must strive to define reality as it is or as near as possible. I say reality deliberately because pursuing the truth during this time; will be elusive and perhaps, foolhardy. With such a historic election, the media would best be remembered as a tool that strengthened democracy and, not one that bludgeoned the republic into a totalitarian state. The bugle has sounded. The games have begun. Long live constitutional democracy!
*K. Gabriel Rasengwatshe is a strategist, multi-dimensional speaker, author and presenter of Gabzfm’s Breakfast Show, weekdays, 6am-10am.