Received wisdom is that the ministers of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation as well as Finance and Development Planning are senior to all other ministers.
It turns out though that those who have received such wisdom have actually been deceived. When parliament debated a bill on the Botswana Examinations Council, Ngami MP, Thato Kwerepe, referred to a male frontbencher as a senior minister.
“No, there is no senior minister here,” Kokorwe corrected him.
And so (hopefully) has died the myth that three ministerial portfolios are the most important in government. However, while there may not be a formal ministerial pecking order, per capita substantial prestige has been lavished on those three portfolios to build an impression that such order exists. Historically, those appointed vice presidents and ultimately becoming presidents have been drawn from those portfolios. As vice president, Ketumile Masire (who was knighted during his presidency) doubled as Minister of Finance and ascended the presidency upon Sir Seretse Khama’s death in 1980.
Masire’s first Vice President, Lenyeletse Seretse, was also Minister of Local Government and Lands. To date Seretse is the only VP to have come from that ministry. When he died in 1983, Seretse was replaced by Peter Mmusi who in keeping with tradition, became Minister of Finance and Development Planning. When Mmusi stepped down after being implicated in a land-grabbing scandal, he was replaced by Festus Mogae who also doubled finance minister. However, when Mogae ascended the presidency in 1998, his VP (Lieutenant General Ian Khama) was for the first time in the history of Botswana’s cabinet, given the portfolio of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration. Khama didn’t serve too long in that portfolio because following his controversial sabbatical leave (which he cut short), he became the first VP to be shorn of all ministerial responsibilities, thereby initiating a tradition that continues to date. Khama appointed his former boss at the Botswana Defence Force, Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe, as his VP. At the time Merafhe was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, having served earlier as Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration. When Merafhe stepped down due to ill health, he was replaced by Ponatshego Kedikilwe who was Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources and had had a long stint as Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration. Kedikilwe retired in 2014 and was replaced by Mokgweetsi Masisi who had served for a brief period of time as Minister of Education and Skills Development after a much longer stint as Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration.
It should not be too surprising that the road to the vice presidency passes through the office of Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration. Those who occupy the latter position not only have the president’s ear especially but also have an office at the Office of the President.