By Adam Phetlhe
Compliments and welcome to the silly political season that has started in earnest. We are spoilt for choice!
The Voice newspaper dated January 11, 2019 carried an extensive interview with the former President Rre Festus Mogae in which he aired his views on the decision of Hon Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi to challenge President Mokgweetsi Masisi to the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) presidential position. Rre Mogae also touched on his regrets in Rre Ian Khama to which I will briefly comment. In discussing the subject matter, I will heavily rely on the interview by stating from the outset that I find his comments on Hon Venson-Moito very unfortunate and disparaging in light of his overall status as a statesman who has in the recent past been involved in the South Sudan peace process. While Rre Mogae is perfectly entitled to his views on Hon Venson-Moitoi challenging Rre Masisi, I think he is duty bound to have assumed the posture of a father figure in which he should have said: much as I may have my own reservations or misgivings about her challenging the sitting President, let them in the spirit of ‘authenticating our democracy’ as he put, contest each other in an open contest where members of the BDP will be the final arbiters. One would appreciate his frustrations at the goings on in the BDP. That said, I argue that his comments have the potential of adding more fuel to the already flammable situation at the BDP.
But why would the Mo Ibrahim Foundation be seriously disappointed by Rre Mogae’s comments on Hon Venson-Moitoi? Let me bring some brief context. Rre Mogae as we should know, was awarded the $ 5 million Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership back in 2008 for amongst others, ‘his role in maintaining and consolidating Botswana’s stability and prosperity in the face of an HIV/AIDS pandemic which threatened the future of his country and people….The Mo Ibrahim prize has the potential to change perceptions of African leadership by showcasing exceptional role models from the continent. The significance of the prize lies not only with its winners but also the conversation around leadership it generates’. He deserves all the accolades and as Batswana we are, and will forever be grateful and indebted to him in this regard. ‘Mo Ibrahim Foundation was established in 2006 with one focus: the critical importance of governance and leadership in Africa…Mo Ibrahim Foundation defines leadership as the ability to make choices, assess and take risks, define and order priorities’.
In light of the preceding paragraph, Rre Mogae’s comments on Hon Venson-Moitoi leadership bid is at odds with the general or specific position of Mo Ibrahim Foundation on gender equality and on ‘leadership as the ability to make choices…’ which Hon Venson-Moitoi has done but unjustifiably and unfairly in my view, is accompanied by some serious backlash from Rre Mogae himself and some members of society. Rre Mogae says in the interview with The Voice newspaper that ‘I am totally flabbergasted and surprised by the action of Mma Venson (Moitoi)’. Asked about whether he did not believe it was time Botswana had a female president, Rre Mogae answered: ‘They will emerge under the right circumstances, we can’t have a woman President at all costs…’ (My italics). Why would Rre Mogae be totally ‘flabbergasted and surprised’? The point of departure in answering this question is that he has made it very clear that he endorses Rre Masisi and possibly that he expected no one to challenge him as per the party tradition. I have always argued that tradition and culture are not static but dynamic. They have in modern politics all passed their sell-by dates. Democracy as a concept keeps on evolving and maturing and cannot therefore be impeded, conveniently so, by such issues such as tradition and culture. If people did not challenge sitting BDP presidents back then, we must come to terms with the painful reality (if some of us are still stuck in the Medieval era) that people like Hon Venson-Moitoi and others will raise their hands to be counted. It is not like Hon Venson-Moitoi does not have the wherewithal to be elected given that Rre Mogae himself concedes that she is a capable person. It leaves one to speculate that he may be having an axe to grind against her for reasons best known to himself. Or is he is ‘flabbergasted and disappointed’ by the fact that Rre Khama has endorsed her? Your guess is as good as mine. These two issues may be at the centre of Rre Mogae’s disappointment. Remember that Rre Mogae publicly stated during the Marietta Bosch’s murder trial around 2007 that he is a ‘retributionist by conviction’. The long and short of it is that he has chosen a faction like the ordinary rank and file member where other pertinent, substantive issues become peripheral and inconsequential.
‘…We can’t have a female woman president at all costs…’ Rre Mogae and with the greatest of respect, appears to be seriously blinded by my suggestion that he may be having an axe to grind against Hon Venson-Moitoi as an individual or against womenfolk as worthy species to assume the position of President of the BDP and that of Botswana. Elsewhere, this is in conflict with African Union’s position that ‘Women’s leadership at all levels is crucial for implementing Agenda 2063…’ If Rre Mogae genuinely believed that Hon Venson-Moitoi possessed requisite skills and capacity to become the AU Commission Chair in 2016 when he together with Rre Masisi dispensed so much resources, body and soul included in campaigning for her, have those requisite skills and capacity now suddenly deserted her to become the President of the BDP and by extension, of Botswana? I beg to differ!
It is accepted and acknowledged like I have already said that Rre Mogae is perfectly within his right to endorse Rre Masisi as his preferred candidate. In doing so I ask, is he ‘showcasing the exceptional role model’ referred to by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation wherein it is inferred that persons of his eminent stature should be more of unifiers than anything else notwithstanding their subjective preferences as in the subject matter. I believe Rre Mogae should have, given the volatile situation at the BDP, restrained himself from partisan politicking to provide an impartial advice or direction in an effort to lower the already high and dangerous political temperature thereat. I am afraid the interview report card doesn’t suggest so. Like he referred to Rre Ian Khama as a non-unifier, nothing in the context of the interview and the prevailing political dynamics in the BDP differentiates him from him. He has endorsed Rre Masisi while Rre Khama has endorsed Hon Venson-Moitoi.
For an eminent person like Rre Mogae to say that women will ‘emerge under the right circumstances’ and that ‘we can’t have a woman President at all costs’ is again with the greatest of respect, condescending, in bad taste and at odds with the universal position on women empowerment. It would have done us a great deal of good had The Voice newspaper sought clarification on what determines ‘the right circumstances’ for women to be considered eligible to become Presidents. The phrase at all costs and in the context of Rre Mogae’s view on a woman President according to the Collins English Dictionary, means that ‘it must not be allowed to happen under any circumstances’. Presumably, circumstances shall always be favourable to the menfolk.
On Rre Mogae’s regrets on Rre Khama, one should give the former the benefit of doubt in that when he appointed the latter, he wouldn’t have known that he would behave like a ‘problem child’. But tell-tale signs immediately showed after Rre Khama was appointed the Vice President. He surprisingly and unprecedently sought and was granted sabbatical leave by Rre Mogae; he continued to pilot BDF aircrafts against the Ombudsman’s recommendation which Rre Mogae gladly allowed and vigorously defended. I argue that as soon as Rre Mogae became aware that his Vice President was becoming a problem to him and the country, he should have dismissed him right away. We are now suffering the consequences of Rre Mogae’s indecisiveness on Rre Khama. He wilfully made him indispensable. From where I stand and while the Khama story is fait accompli yet it could have been avoided, Rre Mogae employed the politics of convenience with huge ramifications. I don’t share his regrets because he had the executive authority to have sent Rre Khama packing yet he chose not to.
Eminent persons who would have interacted with Rre Mogae particularly on the global stage and not least the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, should be highly and bitterly disappointed by his disparaging comments on his fellow compatriot who just two years ago or so, he presented to the continent and the world as a capable, fine and complete human being endowed with the capacity to run Africa. Her crime this time around it would seem, is her desire to run for party political office. How sad! I shudder at history unnecessarily judging him very harshly on the subject matter. Judge for Yourself!