In the ongoing chess game between President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his predecessor, Lieutenant General Ian Khama, it is being whispered that some of 2019 parliamentary candidates who have been associated with the latter, actually secretly support the former.
Following the second round of the Botswana Democratic Party’s primary elections, 12 ministers (most said to be Masisi’s supporters) lost. By the calculations of BDP mathematicians, the Round Two and Round One Bulela Ditswe winners gave Khama an edge – which could have dire consequences for Masisi’s political future. However, the reality may not be what appears on the surface. BDP sources say that some of the parliamentary candidates who have been associated with Khama are actually Masisi’s supporters in private. If belief that he has the upper hand ever lulled Khama into any sense of false security, he could find out the hard way that he was actually on the back foot all along.
Given the characteristic, pre-election chaos in the opposition, there is a high likelihood of a BDP win in the 2019 general election. If the party does indeed win, the Masisi-Khama battle will be settled once and for all as far as deployment of MPs as foot soldiers goes. Masisi will seek to entrench himself and assert his authority in the party, things he is currently unable to do because he is serving out the remainder of political term based on the electoral mandate that Khama got in 2014. On the other hand, Khama will seek to use his parliamentary support to oust Masisi through, possibly, a motion of no-confidence. This plan will be severely compromised if the candidates that Khama believes are his actually support Masisi.
Up until May 2 this year, Khama would definitely have known who his real supporters were but on that date, Masisi relieved Colonel Isaac Kgosi, who had been head of the dreaded Directorate of Intelligence Services and Security, of his duties. Through a highly sophisticated and very well-funded espionage infrastructure, DISS is believed to have been more attentive to Khama’s personal than national security interests. While a rogue, pro-Khama/Kgosi unit is believed to still be active within DISS, the power that Khama had through the spy agency has been severely degraded.
Masisi himself faces danger and part of that may be a result of his own actions. In effort to build power structures within the BDP that he has absolute control over, the president is said to favour new faces over old ones. A returning in Round Two of Bulela Ditswe, a long-time activist, alleges that the party headquarters gave him a rickety old vehicle when he set out for his assignment at a rural constituency with bad roads. On the other hand, he adds, Masisi’s people doing the same assignment in more developed areas, were given vehicles in good shape. This and other grievances is said to be alienating Masisi from members who don’t necessarily support Khama but find themselves being drawn to him.
The president also recently scored an own-goal when he made a public statement that cast the Government Backbench as well as parliamentary candidates in bad light. Commenting on the near-annihilation of his cabinet ministers in the primary elections in plain language, Masisi revealed a cabinet-selection criteria that ruffled feathers. He stated that some of the people who had defeated his ministers were not cabinet material and hinted to propose, down the road, for a constitutional amendment to allow a president to choose cabinet from outside parliament. BDP MPs (especially those who have never been appointed ministers in this parliament) and the Bulela Ditswe winners are said to have been greatly displeased by this statement which they viewed as a vote of no-confidence in them as quality representatives.
The Masisi-Khama battle will ultimately come down to whether one can successfully use his immense financial power (which has been described as “literal mountains of cash”) against equally immense power that the other has constitution bestows on the presidency. Khama, whom suspect is the richest person in Botswana, may have all that money but Masisi is anything but helpless. Most people (MPs included) join the BDP to take full advantage of its generous political patronage system – which is operated from the Office of the President. Unless an MP or candidate is absolutely certain that Khama will provide adequate business opportunity to enable him to put his children through expensive South African secondary schools or intercede on his behalf when applications for a CEDA loan or highly unusual expansion of a commercial plot get stuck in the pipeline, Masisi will have the upper hand.