Saturday, April 1, 2023

Trouble in Khama’s paradise

Nestled in a thicket of palm trees deep in the middle of nowhere is a small settlement, hardly a dot on the Botswana map called Mosu. For a man in search of a life far from the hustle and bustle of the city, the privacy of Mosu must have proved irresistible. A few years ago President Lt Gen Khama set up a holiday retreat there. An air strip and four chalets, two for the twin brothers Tshekedi and Anthony and another one for Sports Minister Thapelo Olopeng completes Khama’s picture of paradise.

The stress of keeping the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) together after a disastrous election and the internal party presidential succession fight may be getting to him, but President Khama can only imagine the serenity of the tall palm trees swaying against the wind and the peace of this back-water tucked far from the political madding crowd.

As BDP insiders jostle for the post of vice president, everything is being stress tested, and the Mosu happy family portrait is having the worst of it. There is trouble in paradise as President Khama’s close circle of friends is torne between the President’s brother Tshekedi Khama who is believed to be the heir apparent and Selibe Phikwe Member of Parliament, Nonofo Molefhi who enjoys the support of most party members.

Among those backing Molefhi for Vice President is Thapelo Olopeng the only non family member at the Mosu compound and his business partner Samson Guma Moyo.

The duo managed to harness all the party structures to their side at the last BDP congress in Maun to win all central committee position. Although Moyo later stepped down from the position of party chairman, BDP insiders believe he has been able to marshal his strong support base to back Molefhi. If elections for vice president were held by secret ballot, Molefhi would most likely come on top.

Tshekedi Khama on the other hand enjoys the support of party kingmaker and legal brains Parks Tafa and long standing Khama family friend Kitso Mokaila. With the BDP facing its worst decline in history and president Khama having squandered his goodwill, most party members believe there will be no BDP after Khama. Tshekedi’s supporters, on the other hand believe that the party needs a fresh dose of the tried and tested Khama magic to spring it back to life. They look to the president’s younger brother whose image has not been tainted by controversy as the keeper of the Khama flame.

Tshekedi, although has been keeping a low profile, is believed to be his elder brother’s biggest critic. Friends close to the Khama family say Tshekedi shares most Batswana’s disdain for his brothers close circle of friends, especially Olopeng and Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services Director General Isaac Kgosi. In fact, Tshekedi is believed to be among a few cabinet ministers who have mustered the courage to call for Kgosi’s head, much to the chagrin of big brother. Tshekedi however has not been able to translate his moral high ground into support in the party. Some party insiders insist that Tshekedi’s support in the party is being sponsored by President Khama.

Despite his waning support in the party and the country, President Khama has not only maintained his clout, but has managed to break through many of the regime’s traditional restrictions on executive power. His political standing has been weakened but not undermined. There are indications that in an effort to push through his succession plan, President Khama will continue to push the limits of Botswana’s government structure and pick fights to place allies in influential positions.

For much of his presidency, Lt Gen Khama has treated the BDP-dominated parliament with contempt, boldly appointing loyalists in vital state organisations with the tacit approval of his cabinet.

During the past six years, he has appointed and replaced political allies in key institutions, such as the Botswana Defence Force, the Directorate on Corruption and economic Crime, Botswana police and the Department of prisons. He has weakened the BDP structures and removed possible opponents of his succession plan. Two temporary vice presidents later and on his last term in office President Khama is now running out of moves and has put his succession plan in motion.

In a legal plan masterminded by his lawyer and Tshekedi’s supporter Parks Tafa, the president last week demanded that parliamentarians vote on the vice president by a show of hands, rather than by secret ballot.

That has sparked fears within the BDP that the president is preparing to name his younger brother as his deputy and will try to stifle dissent.

Speaking anonymously, a group of BDP members of parliament said they fear the president may be attempting to create a “dynasty”.

“The founding president was the father to the current president. Now the president wants his younger brother, another Khama, to succeed,” said one MP.

“We cannot allow a Khama dynasty in Botswana. This is not a family party.”

Tshekedi Khama is MP for the Serowe North West constituency, once held by his brother.

Acting for the government, Attorney General Athaliah Molokomme, has launched an urgent application with the High Court to challenge the constitutionality of secret parliamentary ballots.

The case is expected to be heard on November 6, and until then the vice president spot will remain unfilled.

The vote by secret ballot has been there since before he joined Parliament in 2004. Khama was also endorsed as vice president in 1998 by secret ballot.

Last week’s election was the first time that BDP — which has governed uninterrupted since independence from Britain in 1966 — has won an election by less than 50 percent of the votes.

“The Botswana government enjoys a stellar reputation internationally and comes out near the top on rankings of African governance,” said Peter Fabricius, Foreign Editor of South Africa’s Independent Newspapers.


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