MMADINARE: Former Presidents, Festus Mogae and Sir Ketumile Masire were nowhere to be found at the just ended National Congress of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). Party members who interacted with this reporter neither understood nor had explanations as to why the two former heads of state were absent at the massive BDP decisive congress in Mmadinare this past weekend.
Sources allege that the duo’s conspicuous absence could be a result of the beleaguered relationship amongst the party leadership. However, party elders Dr Gaositwe Chiepe and Kebatlamang Morake were present. Recently, Mogae’s critical statements of the party opened a can of worms within the BDP corridors and at the Government Enclave and they attracted criticism that he was trying to rule from the grave.
It has been alleged that Mogae received a cold shoulder on many occasions when he tried to engage President Ian Khama on important issues of national or party interest followed by an outburst by Mogae on the current regime. Regarding the past tensions and fallout between the current regime and two former presidents, it would not be far-fetched for people to assume that the current party leadership and the former Presidents are still failing to find common ground.
Political analyst Anthony Morima opined that the absenteeism of the two former Presidents could confirm their battered relationship with President Khama whose leadership style they criticized as disrespectful to the rule of law. Khama and Mogae differed on topical issues such as advocating for the legalization of prostitution, providing prisoners with condoms, recognition of gay and lesbian rights, and funding of political parties for purposes of leveling the political playing field.
At the African Leadership Forum in 2014, Mogae told his audience “…the present government has expelled over 2000 foreign professionals over the last six years. When I was president I would have invited you to a debate, anywhere, anytime…express my views, accept yours and challenge those with which I did not agree with.”At Motswaledi’s funeral last year, Masire was also quoted as having said: “Spread the message. The future of our country is paramount. We need visionary people on the future of the country, not those who want to create a name only for themselves,” a statement which angered Khama’s administration.
“The failure of the two statesmen to show up at such a decisive congress especially in a situation where the Vice President is contesting for a position confirms the fissures that still exist in their relationship with the party, especially Khama,” Morima observed. He further pointed out that Mogae had come out to endorse Masisi for the BDP chairpersonship position a few weeks ago and in the current status quo he should have availed himself to show support.
“Mogae endorsed Masisi and stated how important it was that Masisi’s region has nominated a delegate,” he posited, adding that beyond this congress things would never be the same in BDP politics because there is likelihood of Khama becoming a lame duck President. He stated that the possibility of a lame duck President can occur when factors are such that the evident deterioration of Khama’s veracity in his rule and that he would be serving his last term and loyalties could be shifting to Masisi or the candidates likely to takeover power. “This decisive congress should have been important enough for the two former heads to attend,” he said.
Arguably, a lame duck President does occur in an instance where control and influence has shifted but in the case of Khama, at the moment he seems to have absolute stranglehold on power due to his control of the intelligence community, the electoral commission, the judiciary and the vice president if tables do not turn. “It is true that our elders did not come for this congress and considering the tensions we had in the past, we anticipate such questions as to where they are and why they are not here,” outgoing Secretary General Mpho Balopi posited rhetorically.
“But the truth is that we have had our differences before and they have nothing to do with them not being here today, they are our elders and we appreciate that most of the times they are held up,” Balopi explained. “They are our elders and we respect them, and we need their guidance within the party but it’s not only them who could not make it, even the likes of David Magang could not make it who is the chairperson of the Elders Council but we understand their commitments as elders, but at least others were here like Dr. Chiepe and that was enough representation from our elders,” he said.
He indicated that they are working on uniting the party to reclaim its dignity and to prove that indeed there is no tension between the current leadership and the former Presidents. He strongly stated that there is a good relationship between Khama and the former Presidents and it goes unnoticed since it is not for public consumption when they meet, it is just personal interactions that strengthen the relationship.
The incoming Secretary General, Botsalo Ntuane, also told The Botswana Gazette that it was not mandatory for the former heads of state to attend the congress or party events. He said that they do not necessarily have to get an invite but from time to time their presence is recognized and availed the proper respective accolades.“They can come as and when they can, it is not mandatory to have them invited but their presence is always well recognized,” explained Ntuane.