Wednesday, April 24, 2024

PHK: A political animal that has refused to die

Not for the first time and against all odds, Ponatshego Kedikilwe has proved what a political survivor he is.

Over the last four years of his presidency, Ian Khama has found himself relying excessively on Kedikilwe much more than he would ever have liked. And that dependence is set to grow.

Kedikilwe’s recent appointment to the position of vice president is not so much a result of the reconciliation that has taken please between him and President Ian Khama as because it has become so abundantly clear to the president that there is not anybody else inside cabinet who is even remotely capable like PHK of filling up the post.

The incoming vice president will no doubt prove a tremendous administrative and intellectual asset for the president, just as Mompati Merafhe was.

What we are still to determine is the extent to which behind the scenes, Kedikilwe will have the appetite to be a restraining influence against the gangsters that make up Khama’s powerful but immensely unaccountable kitchen cabinet. For all his dogged public support for Khama, Merafhe was one person who was able to consistently put on hold the marauding ambitions of this ever present, self-aggrandizing clan.

Ndelu Seretse, Mokgweetsi Masisi, Pelonomi Venson and a host of other pretenders clearly have a long way to go before they can qualify to take up the demanding position of Vice President, especially during a political epoch characterized by an embarrassing dearth of talent such as that we are seeing in today’s cabinet and parliament.

When it comes to cabinet material, President Khama is operating on a shoestring budget.

There is buzz of a cabinet reshuffle in the near future. However hard we look, we are at a loss to see what it will achieve in as far as enhancing quality and depth.

Time was when Sir Ketumile Masire was president and a good many political giants bestrode both cabinet and parliament.

Masire was spoilt for choice. He had people like David Magang, Daniel Kwelagobe, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, Peter Mmusi, Chapson Butale, Ronald Sebego, Festus Mogae, Gaositwe Chiepe, Moutlakgola Ngwako, Patrick Balopi, Bahiti Temane, Kebatlamang Morake, and Michael Tshipinare from which to choose his executive team.

The same cannot be said about the clutter from which President Khama has to assemble his team.
One searches in vain to find a moment in our history since independence when cabinet was stacked with so much inexperience and undisguised lack of talent such as is the case today.

Other than Khama and Kedikilwe there are only five or six other members of cabinet who, under normal circumstances, especially during Masire’s time as President, would have met the cut to be in positions that they find themselves in today.

In intellectual terms, PHK is well rounded.

His experience in cabinet as well as the civil service means that he is able to fit in any portfolio that there is cabinet.

His work ethic is legendary.

Of course, he has foibles, like impatience with the less gifted.

Kedikilwe reached the height of his powers when he was Minister of Presidential Affairs during Sir Ketumile Masire’s presidency.

During those days he grew almost to regard the private media as a pariah.

Not only did he detest the stories the media wrote about himself, his government and his beloved BDP that together with Daniel Kwelagobe he controlled, dominated and run with an iron fist ÔÇô perhaps more importantly he was disdainful of what he perceived as unbridled intellectual inferiority among the journalistic tribe.

At least with the media, he never let bygones be bygones.

Unlike Kwelagobe, his longtime political soul mate, PHK nurses grievances for long periods of time.
A journalist colleague likes to regale a story of how PHK continued to find it difficult to exchange even the most casual of greetings with him many years after the senior minister had been mentioned among cabinet ministers that had been ousted for wilfully resisting settling their debts with the National Development Bank.

He is also not famous for much tolerance on those who differ fundamentally with him.
There is no evidence to suggest that he either forgets or forgives easily.

If anything his strategy to deal with a failure to get things done his way is to recoil into a complete and brazen silence as he has so often done in the past.

The period leading to the BDP Congress in Ghanzi was no doubt the lowest in Kedikilwe’s political career.

Though a very difficult moment for him politically, that period also proved what a tenacious fighter he was.

More importantly it laid bare his unwavering faith in the principles of democracy and republicanism.
Against all advice he insisted that he would not make way for the rapaciously popular Ian Khama who had made known his intention to take up the position of BDP National Chairman that Kedikilwe held.
He decided to fight, if not for anything else, at least to make a statement of principle.

In the end Kedikilwe was clearly powerless against the marauding Mogae/Khama machine. He went on to lose against Khama and naturally saw himself as the one who had been wronged.

Watching himself ostracized, including by way of being de-campaigned by a sitting Head of State must have been a terrible experience.

Following a devastating defeat that only he could not see coming he resorted to an exhaustive brooding mood that a cabinet colleague was to privately compare to that of an abused child.
Clearly out of protest and humiliation, PHK resigned from cabinet where he was serving as Minister of Education. It was then that many a political commentator started writing his political obituary.
But PHK had other designs. Politically he was not dead yet. Reports of his death, to paraphrase Mark Twain, had been greatly exaggerated.

Instead he recoiled to the back-bench from where he started all over again to build a power base that would prove what a cabinet material he really was.

It is ironic that when Mogae brought PHK back into cabinet it was against the explicit resistance of Ian Khama, the same man who this week found nobody else as more capable than PHK to be his official most senior advisor and confidante.

As Vice President he will not have the luxury to remain silent or keep his views to himself when he does not agree.

His views at the cabinet will be actively sought. The president will prod, nudge and goad him to say something. Cabinet ministers, all of whom will fall under his direct supervision will also rely and count on his counsel.

PHK’s appointment as Vice President this week comes after he had already announced that he would not be seeking re-election at the next general elections.

At the height of his career he clearly would have wanted to become the President, and he had all the necessary qualifications but from the look of things, at least as at this week, PHK had moderated his ambitions as to allow himself to settle for the second best.

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