For over thirty years, former Vice President, Dr Ponatshego Honorius Kedikilwe has towered over Botswana politics. Touted for many years as the man to take over the presidency from Quett Masire, Kedikilwe is a man of grand stature, a huge presence, an orator of note, an English Lord-like command of the Queen’s language, very sharp intellect, a man who despite his age still hits all the high notes on the many occasions that he broke out in song in the middle of a speech, a man of immaculate dress sense, a taste for the finest things this life has on offer, a sophisticated taste, and a quintessential gentleman. Kedikilwe is as versatile as he is diverse. A swift mover in the boardroom and a shrewd rally politician; In fact, among the politicians of his generation, he probably bears the most scars of brutal political beating, but everytime, before a period is placed on his political obituary, he would resurface, limping but with more determination.
The last stroke that broke the ‘gallant’s’ back happened at the Ghanzi elective congress of 2002 when the minnow, Ian Khama, whitewashed him in the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) chairpersonship fight. From that moment, Kedikilwe retreated into a cocoon, preferring to expend his energy in his ministerial duties. When the BDP underwent the worst conflict in its history, leading to the formation of the splinter Botswana Movement Group (BMD), Kedikilwe was still engrossed in his duties of Minister. He did not say one word. Was this a man defeated?
However, Kedikilwe was a darling of all: opposition cadres, unions, civil servants, and babies alike. When he was called up from the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources (MMEWR) to assume the seat of Vice President, the whole country celebrated, noting that he deserved it. Some Khama detractors even cried foul that Khama was using Kedikilwe’s grand stature to revamp his bartered image and administration. Kedikilwe would retire as the seventh Vice President of Botswana to much fanfare. A hero indeed. He was infallible in the eyes of many. A gallant. But is he really?
Now that the country is facing a dire situation of water shortages, lack of power, and a diamond beneficiation project that’s hanging in the balance, the situation which the Botswana Congress Party blames on the poor planning at MMEWR, much of which happened during Kedikilwe’s tenure, The Botswana Gazette looks at a legacy left by a gentleman, who until recently, was Botswana’s ‘blue-eyed’ boy. We look at the fiasco that is power, water and diamond beneficiation, projects which Kedikilwe drove.
The water situation is getting worse by day with Gaborone Dam having dried up and the Greater Gaborone area now totally dependent on the North-South Carrier (NSC) water pipeline. The NSC is also frequently disrupted by bursts. President of the BCP, Dumelang Saleshando, addressing the media, recently reminded the nation; “The material used to construct the NSC was long questioned before the project was even half complete but Government opted to provide a deaf ear and hence chickens have come home to roost.” This project was completed during Kedikilwe’s tenure at MMEWR.
Minister Kitso Mokaila, the current minister at MMEWR has announced the re-commissioning of various boreholes around the country and refurbishing of old ones at dizzying costs. Had all these things been done back then, with prior planning, it would have been affordable and the country wouldn’t be thirsty. There is very little room for Mokaila to manoeuvre. He can only commission and refurbish old boreholes for the nation to tap into underground water as rain is scarce, a situation meteorologists say will be with us for a long time. Gaborone’s exploding population is not helping the situation.
Not much is being said about the ‘blue-eyed’ boy’s lack of vision, rather all fingers are now pointing at Mokaila. Mokaila inherited a troubled Ministry. BCP Spokesperson, Taolo Lucas says “Though we will not want to isolate personalities with the Water crisis, Kedikilwe’s performance at the Ministry was very dismal and hence he cannot be absolved from the current chaotic situation.”
Power Crisis – Morupule B
Botswana is facing severe power shortages, but has just spent over P15 billion in a sparkling new power station. The Morupule B Project is proving a liability as it continues to cost the Government of Botswana millions of pulas in lost businesses from both state owned parastatals and privately owned companies including possible Foreign Direct Investment as it is dependent on availability of energy. Local businesses are unable to operate effectively and efficiently due to frequent power cuts. The BCP views this as having been a “political mistake to grossly exaggerate Kedikilwe’s presence and stature at the BDP and confusing it with a possibility to run such a huge ministry.” Lucas further opines; “He (Kedikilwe) is not and has never been a political giant, he is like any other member of the BDP cabinet that has failed”.
It was during Kedikilwe’s era that a Chinese company was awarded the Morupule B tender worth billions of Pula despite the fact that the Chinese Government through the Chinese Ambassador to Botswana advised the Government of Botswana against engaging the company for it had no capacity to execute a project of that magnitude. Lucas expressed worry that “the power crisis was long anticipated 30 years ago after diagnosis became clear but the BDP never planned for mitigation and only for Kedikilwe to rush the Morupule B project hence the monumental failure and loss of billions of tax payers’ money.
Though more revelations of what really transpired at the project continue to surface, Kedikilwe still holds the blue twinkle in his eye for many Batswana.
The mineral sector alone contributes about 40% to Botswana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and about 50% of government revenue. While Kedikilwe’s colleagues at the BDP are seeing a successful diamond beneficiation drive rolling out, BCP’s spokesperson begs to differ “Just like water and power, the failure to pursue aggressive beneficiation is intertwined with all the failures of the BDP which was until recently chaired by Kedikilwe”. Diamond companies are retrenching and closing their operations. Yet again fingers are pointing at Mokaila who recently arrived at the Ministry. The former Senior Researcher at the Botswana Institute of Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA), Professor Roman Grynberg, is amongst those who have long warned about these matters and even wrote an article in the Mail and Guardian of 28th July 2012 that “without massive investment in railways, electricity and water – and these are investments that no mining company can make – the mining investments will not materialize.”
In its bid to launch lawsuits against Chinese companies at Morupule B, Government also remains tight lipped about the decision making processes and the accountability towards the crumbling power project and the NSC, which has left the country in stark darkness, and scotching thirst.
Kedikilwe could not be drawn to state his position on the reflections of the ministry he left that is now in trouble with major projects worth billions in life support. The little comment he could muster was; “I have no comment, what has happened has happened and no one would believe me, so what is the point?”