The shifting sands of political change are burying yesterday’s strong contenders for the vice presidency under Ian Khama’s administration and turning up new surprises ÔÇô Writes SPENCER MOGAPI
A day in politics is a very long time, and this is becoming more apparent as speculation about who is likely to become Ian Khama’s Vice President when Festus Mogae bows out in the not too distant future reaches fever pitch.
Yesterday’s front-runners are today’s underdogs and the closer the date beckons, the smaller the list of contenders grows.
Those closer to Khama say the man has kept the criteria bare.
Khama’s Vice President will have to be a senior person inside the BDP, with experience inside both the party and government. The person must also have no ambition to take over the reigns as president after Khama.
In other words, such a person should be content in being VP for only as long as the first half of Khama’s ten-year presidency.
The outlined criterion has had the effect of eliminating erstwhile leading contenders like Jacob Nkate and Dan Moroka.
Nkate, because given his youthful age and irrepressible ambition, would certainly want to go all the way; Moroka because of an absence of any identifiable constituency inside the party.
The few names that remain are those of Baledzi Gaolathe, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, Mompati Merafhe and Daniel Kwelagobe.
But Gaolathe’s name immediately falls off not just because of the recent troubles the Ministry of Finance has caused cabinet, especially the enduring PEEPA squabble that saw him and Khama on opposing camps, but also because, like Moroka without any base inside BDP, Gaolathe’s chances of delivering any votes are almost non existent.
Another dark horse, Kedikilwe is discredited by his long running tumultuous political relationship with Khama, which took a turn for the worse when the two pitched against each other for the party chairmanship.
This leaves Merafhe and Kwelagobe as the leading contenders. The two men are BDP Central Committee members, but Kwelagobe (Secretary General) is much more senior.
While Merafhe has all the credentials Khama is looking for; experience, seniority (in both party and cabinet) and formidable political maturity, there are a number of factors discounting him out.
Like Khama, Merafhe is a retired army General.
The military background conspires against Merafhe because, lately, the BDP has been grappling with shrill criticisms, from within and outside of disproportionately high numbers of retired soldiers in its ranks, criticisms, which he would not want to carelessly brush aside.
Such criticisms have persisted in spite of many of the former soldiers efficiently discharging their public duties.
Over and above his military background BDP insiders say, unlike Kwelagobe, Merafhe lacks the mass appeal that Khama would need to comfortably win the 2009 elections, especially if the opposition were to regain their credibility.
Over and above delivering the votes, loyalty is one of the chief traits that Khama demands and lavishly rewards.
Loyalty is also one of the characteristics that Daniel Kwelagobe has in abundance.
Not only is he the longest serving Member of Parliament, he has also served as cabinet minister under all of the country’s three presidents.
His loyalty and love for the Botswana Democratic Party is unparalleled.
For many years, he was a loyal errand boy of Ian Khama’s father, Botswana’s first president, Sir Seretse Khama.
Ian Khama still refers to him as uncle.
He does not have ambitions for the highest office.
After Seretse’s death, Daniel Kwelagobe went on to serve Quett Masire with the same verve of loyalty and allegiance for the next eighteen years, although he was initially associated with the rival Moutlakgola Nwako camp. His years as a senior cabinet minister extended into Festus Mogae’s cabinet before he was unceremoniously dropped following the 2004 General Elections.
Although he did his best to take his expulsion from cabinet in his stride, those closer to Kwelagobe say he has still not recovered from the humiliation he suffered at the hands of Mogae. Only his abiding love for the party and optimism that things will turn out kinder for him in the future has impelled him on, narrowly defeating Margaret Nasha for the position of Secretary General he has kept for close to three decades.
Despite the humiliation Kwelagobe has lately suffered he, at least in public, remained warm to both Mogae and Khama while at the same time staying true to his beloved BDP, refusing to get disillusioned; only occasionally losing his temper inside parliament as to remind the front bench that they were failing the party and the people that put them in power.
This is in direct contrast to his friend Kedikilwe who has not only brooded but also despaired as he allowed himself to be consumed by disillusionment stemming from political isolation.
Another plus for Kwelagobe is that he is well versed and conversant with policy detail.
Unlike Kedikilwe, he has no erudition pretension.
That means he is at ease among the ordinary BDP members who also generously return the warmth and affection he shows them and their party. For that he is one of the most believable figures inside the party.
Although he has lost some of his past shine, energy, combative politics and workaholism, few inside the BDP can match Kwelagobe’s personal and individual popularity and extensive knowledge of the party.
From a more traditional BDP background, Kwelagobe can be trusted more than many.
And that is just what Khama is looking for.
Of all the contenders, Kwelagobe is the one who retains a passion for political campaigning so much so that despite his age and failing health, he still is able to traverse the length and breath of the country talking to BDP grassroots in a way that none of the senior ministers in cabinet is able to.
Kwelagobe knows government business much more than anyone in cabinet today.
His knowledge of parliamentary procedure allows him to maneuver, sway, bend, and manipulate parliamentary debates to his liking.
Although he does not command as much influence in the so-called “ big two faction” as Kedikilwe, he can be trusted not only to deliver votes for Ian Khama, but to leverage the respect he commands among the younger but increasingly influential Turks inside parliament, like Duke Lefhoko, Botsalo Ntuane and Keletso Rakhudu, and maybe win them over eventually. He persistently reminds and implores to put the party first ÔÇô more out of his abiding affection for the BDP, but also because his optimism that though the faction he co-leads with Kedikilwe has been annihilated and sidelined going forward there is still hope for reconciliation.
Even during the days of bare knuckled factional encounters, Kwelagobe was always a restraining force on the younger Turks in his camp imploring them that however valid and severe their grievances, none could ever be a reason plausible enough as to give them reasons to destroy the BDP.
Lately it has been Kwelagobe who was unleashed by Ian Khama to take a national tour, appeal to the two feuding sides to bury the hatchet basically calling on the two nemeses to start crossbreeding.
Expecting a payback from Khama for supporting him at the Ghanzi Congress has had an unnerving effect on the axis led by Merafhe and Nkate who have hitherto been close to Ian Khama, both by their control of cabinet and the central committee.
It’s no exaggeration that Nkate and Merafhe are now on the sidelines.