President Ian Khama who went to the Botswana Democratic Party Congress this week with bridges burning behind him was on Saturday retreating from the brink and trying to put out the fire that is threatening to devour the party.
Speaking at the 33rd Congress in Kanye on Saturday, Khama, veered from his extremist politics and moved towards the centre in an apparent attempt to nurse his frail relationship with the Kedikilwe/Kwelagobe faction and save the party from a possible split.
In a carefully worded speech, Khama spoke of unity and desisted from his usual divisive war talk and declarations that he was supporting women candidates and would not be able to work with Daniel Kwelagobe if the party chairman were re-elected back to the Central Committee.
Although Khama made some veiled attacks against Kwelagobe and his followers, most party insiders felt that the speech was mild compared to those he has been making in the run up to the congress.
In a few sentences sneaked into an otherwise feel good speech, Khama charged that there are “some in our midst, though few in number, and in the opposition and some in the media, who would like to see factions perpetuated and institutionalized. They are continuously undermining and demonizing the leadership of the party and glorifying whatever aspect they perceive as potential challenge to party leadership. They claim that democracy and the constitution are under threat.”
Khama was apparently launching a veiled attack on Kwelagobe’s faction which pegged their campaign for the BDP central Committee on their defence of the party constitution and democracy.
Members of the Kedikilwe-Kwelagobe faction, popularly known as the Barata-phathi, have lined up behind Kwelagobe, and maintained that they will stand by the constitution of the Botswana Democratic Party in the ongoing standoff between themselves and the Nkate-Merafhe faction, believed to be enjoying the support of the party president.
Most party insiders, however, felt that Khama’s speech showed a shift towards the centre and away from his earlier extremist position that he would not work with Kwelagobe, should they both be re-elected to the party leadership position at the national congress.
Khama has been toning down his attack on Kwelagobe in the week leading to the congress. He recently told a meeting of BDP structures for the Southern Region held in Kanye last week that he never threatened to resign from the presidency if Kwelagobe were re-elected party chairman and that he was prepared to work with any party member who is elected to the party central committee.
Khama had earlier told a meeting of BDP councilors in the Central District Council that he would have a serious difficulty working with Kwelagobe if he were re-elected party chairman.
In another meeting, he dismissed Kwelagobe as power hungry, old and unfit to handle the demands of the BDP chairmanship position.
Party insiders predict a tight race in favour of the Kwelagobe faction and maintain that Khama’s shift towards the centre shows that Kwelagobe’s faction may win so Khama is trying to mend bridges as he retreats.