Calls for Botswana National Front president, Otsweletse Moupo, to step down are already public knowledge. What remains unknown is who would replace him. At least five names are being mentioned.
There is Lobatse MP, Nehemiah Modubule, who has a long history with the party and has had a stint in the past as Leader of the Opposition. Gaborone South MP, Akanyang Magama, who was Modubule’s immediate successor, is also mentioned as a possible presidential candidate. The third name is that of Dr. Baatlhodi Molathegi, a lawyer in private practice. Two University of Botswana academics, Drs. Monageng Mogalakwe and Elmon Tafa, are also said to be interested in the party’s presidency.
All the five men have been associated with the anti-Moupo faction but there is still a huge question mark over whether they will actually get to replace Moupo because he has vowed to serve out his term, which ends in 2010. Not all party members find the five men acceptable. Some of Moupo’s supporters accuse them of having contributed to the mess in the party. There is also a view among other party officials that a Moupo successor who comes from outside the current central committee would destabilise the party more. None of the five men is in the central committee.
Under the circumstances, the vice president, Olebile Gaborone, would be the favoured candidate.
“The fact that Gaborone is vice president means that he is ready to ascend the presidency at any time and under normal circumstances when the president is away, he stands in for him,” says a senior party figure.
Thus far Gaborone has avoided controversy and the only time he came closest to it was last year when his political DNA was put under microscopic examination after his name turned up on a Botswana Democratic Party membership list. Previously, he was with the BDP. The ‘dual-party membership’ charge, as his detractors called it, did not stick. As it turns out, even the BNF itself does not update its membership list as often as it should.
The South East North MP declined to comment on whether he would be interested in the presidency and referred all other questions to the party’s publicity secretary. In terms of the party’s constitution, Gaborone would, in the event of Moupo stepping down, lead the party in an acting capacity until a new president is elected at a special congress.
The BNF finds itself in extraordinary ferment because perspective on Moupo’s worth is hugely dissimilar. One camp says that he is hard to sell to voters because the retail value of his political brand has been severely degraded. Among others, they point to monumental missteps that span two continents: getting embarrassingly broke in Europe and back home in Africa, rendering himself speechless when, as Leader of the Opposition, he failed to respond to former President Festus Mogae’s state-of-the-nation address.
On the other hand, there is a lobby that has been loudly and persistently making a ‘buy’ recommendation. This lobby points out that this is a man who renewed his mandate as party leader at last year’s special congress in Molepolole when all candidates on his ticket trounced the other faction.
That notwithstanding, the party’s leadership forum meeting in Letlhakane last month, took the decision that Moupo should resign for the good of the party. He resisted but pressure on him is mounting. This past week, the Youth League president, Nelson Ramaotwana, formerly aligned to Moupo’s camp reiterated the leadership forum’s position at a press conference in Gaborone.
The Women’s Wing has not taken a position on the matter but its publicity secretary, Keneilwe Lekoba, says that will happen very soon.
BNF sources say that the pressure on Moupo is a direct result of feedback from house-to-house campaigns being carried out in preparation for next year’s general election. Those carrying out this process, some of them confirmed candidates, are reportedly getting negative feedback about Moupo and are worried that could jeopardise their chances of winning.
One other interesting dimension offered by a well-connected party official is that members deserting Moupo’s camp are not necessarily aligning themselves with the other faction but are forming a third, non-factional bloc.
“They speak with one voice but are not in the same group,” the source says.
Some party leaders have begun mining the anti-Moupo sentiment but digging too deep would be a grave mistake as it would have the unfortunate effect of alienating other party members whose vote is needed in next year’s elections. On both sides of the political divide, Batswana have been known to take their revenge with protest votes. The emotional aftermath of a forced Moupo exit could be disastrous for the party.
While a hostile takeover would be an earthshaking experience for the BNF, there is also having to deal with the fact that elections are around the corner and the party has to start preparing itself.
In addition to providing a strategic vision, the other challenge that a possible Moupo successor would face is forging consensus and compromise within it. That way, he would be in a better position to go toe-to-toe with the strongest brand name in Botswana’s politics ÔÇô Khama.