Thursday, July 18, 2024

This is how Khama would have returned to power even when he wasn’t contesting

A month after the historic October 23 election, the Umbrella for Democratic Change still finds itself having to disentangle itself from former president Ian Khama.

While the working relationship between UDC and the Botswana Patriotic Front (Khama’s party) was never formalized, the former president clearly had an understanding with the UDC leadership, notably the president, Duma Boko. While he had severely criticised Khama’s leadership and vowed to even jail him when UDC assumed power, Boko mysteriously warmed towards Khama after he left office. At one point, Boko called Khama his “friend” and at another, said that he had been “rehabilitated.” To paraphrase a New York wordsmith, life under Khama’s Lord-of-the-Flies presidency was a constant struggle of trying to die of natural causes. No less a person than President Mokgweetsi Masisi did say at one point that Khama “o tsile go le kabolla ditshoka” – which literally means that he would “dewax your ears” but substantively that he would rule with an iron fist.

The UDC-Khama relationship unsettled some people, including trade union leaders, who say as much in a video that went viral last week. While analysts had predicted an election photo finish between the UDC and the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, the latter won the October 23 election with a commanding majority. This has been interpreted as not so much a rejection of the UDC but of Khama who had endorsed some UDC candidates.

Commenting on this issue in parliament, the Leader of the Opposition, Dumelang Saleshando said that in one respect, the elections were about “hyping up” fears about Khama returning to power.

“The accusation was made by none other than those who preached for 20 years that Khama was a God-sent Messiah. Some voters cast their votes, not on account of the manifesto messages, but chose to use the vote as a shield against the imagined return of Khama. It escapes my mind to imagine how Khama could possibly return to govern after 2019 when he was not contesting any election,” said Saleshando on Wednesday afternoon when responding to Masisi’s state-of-the-nation address.

On the other hand, there are those who genuinely believe that a UDC government would have brought Khama back to power because he held sway over Boko. The motion of no-confidence in Masisi that Boko tabled had reportedly been ordered by Khama. The motion was Boko’s first after four years in parliament. An UDC MP in the previous parliament says that Khama called Boko in the morning – which is why the latter never even had a chance to notify the Opposition Bench about the motion. This alone shows how much power Khama had over Boko. Khama’s power over the UDC was such that its leaders stopped talking about his alleged corruption – which means that plans to prosecute him had been ditched.

Khama is by nature transactional and would have wanted to be repaid for helping the party win. In the event that Boko resisted, Khama would have viewed that as betrayal and launched a campaign not dissimilar to the one he launched against Masisi. Ironically, while Masisi has long initiated his own campaign to contain Khama and has scored some major successes, Boko would have had to start from square one and would not have been guaranteed of success. It is as ironic that while the UDC wants Masisi to clear the air on rumors about a deal that he made with Khama, it has itself chosen to not do the same on similar rumours.

Khama may not have been contesting for elective political office but even before the elections, he was already pulling the strings and would not have stopped after UDC won. He had so much power over its leaders that he either lured or forced them into an ill-fated alliance that cost the party what would have been a historic win. Had trade unions not been unsettled by the UDC-Khama alliance, they would certainly have endorsed UDC as they did in 2014.


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