In less than a decade Mokgweetsi Masisi's political star kept on shining brighter if not the brightest in sub-Saharan African political landscape. This feature looks at how a political novice's own political machinations and providence catapulted him to the pinnacle of Botswana's political system.
It is no longer in doubt that His Honour, Vice President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi is one foot into the highest office on the land. April Fool’s Day Sunday 2018 will crystallize this dream into reality when he takes oath of office before the parliamentary building. What is in question is how an erstwhile political lightweight in less than a decade ago in Botswana political landscape and the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has managed to have a meteoritic rise and an exponential political growth to grab power in front of the politically anointed altar boys and the BDP high Priests. Masisi played his cards close to his chest and the proverbial Indian Karma was also in abundance in time of his need. Masisi is a political Machiavellian whose some of his political tactics can be derived from the famous book; The art of war and 48 laws of power.
Before 2009 Masisi’s only claim to political fame was his losing to the late Moshupa legislator Mr. Maitlhoko Mooka in the BDP primary elections prior to the 2004 general elections. At that stage of his career he had never had any political position within the BDP both at national and regional level. Before his coming to parliament in 2009 His Honour was a BDP outsider, only his family name made him to belong. He is the youngest son of the late Edison Setlhomo Masisi who was a high ranking member of the ruling BDP and a member of our first parliament to the eighth parliament who also served under Sir Seretse Khama and Masire as cabinet minister in different ministerial postings.
After winning the parliamentary seat in the Moshupa constituency, President Ian Khama chose him as the junior minister in the ministry of presidential Affairs and public Administration. This deployment meant he had a close working relationship with the president and the quickest time to acquaint himself with the likes and dislikes of his superior and benefactor. When we became the laughing stock of the global community through Khama's developmental agenda of Poverty Eradication Programme by back-yard gardening, Masisi became the president spin-doctor and cheerleader, traversing the length and breadth of the semi-arid terrain of our country promoting his party leader's populist pet project.
He promoted this programme with passion and aplomb to the point where the down trodden masses of our society took it as gospel truth that indeed back yard gardening will be the panacea to totally obliterate their pangs of hunger and their abject poverty. Masisi somewhat acquitted himself with flying colours; the bearer of bad news who turned them to glad tidings.
He did this by also ducking blows from the opposition which mocked the programme calling it unsavory names and defended the president from antagonistic elements within the broader sector of the populace. This programme execution and defending the president from the opposition detractors somewhat endeared Masisi to President Khama who equates total allegiance and blind loyalty to him to patriotism. This was the beginning of Eric Masisi's upward trajectory in his political sojourn.
He got his remarkable reward more than he had expected. As fate would have it, he got promoted to a full ministerial position when his superior Daniel Kwelagobe was made to choose between his ministerial position and the party position of chairmanship. Kwelagobe preferred the latter over the former. Masisi steered the ship of the ministry with dexterity in the eyes of his superintendent, Ian Khama. The next test of his loyalty to the powers that be was the infamous public sector strike of 2011.
Masisi struck his neck out and came to the rescue of his superior by risking his dignity, promising political career and his intellectual prowess by telling all and sundry, who dared to listen that the public sector unions mostly BOFEPUSO, can go to hell, come sunshine and hailstorm, the 16% salary increment they were demanding will never be effected let alone any salary increase however small. What the public servants will be getting will instead be no work, no pay. This was Khama's hardline stance regarding public sector wage negotiations which Masisi wholly embraced.
He only did not embraced it, he lived and preached it. Other cabinet ministers did their bidding but Masisi's ministerial portfolio was the one responsible for public sector, so he championed the course of his master with the description of superlatives only. After the 2011 public sector strike there were ensuing court battles and the public sector federations declaring war on the government and the ruling BDP head honchos including Masisi. Masisi got on well with his ministerial duties as nothing has happened.
He was still the president's blue eyed boy but at that stage a political minnow in the party hierarchy. He went about biting the bullet for the president whose high affinity for praise-poets, sycophants, loyalists and boot-lickers is second to none. By this stage of his career Masisi had already located Khama' soft spots, sensitivities, fears and vulnerabilities. He knew the person he was working for and the traits he embraces from his inner circle of cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, technocrats and others.
Time was also crawling to the heartbeat of the Moshupa legislator. Then came the time for the BDP primary elections dubbed Bulela Ditswe. What came out of the primary elections was politically unprecedented. Some of the party stalwarts had been heavily defeated by what was seen to be political 'mosquitoes'.
The likes of Phandu Skelemani was beaten by Buti Billy, Ian Khama's cousin Dikgakgamatso Seretse was for the umpteenth time beaten by his longtime rival Kgotla Autlwetse, Peter Siele by Alfred Madigele, Reverend Setlalekgosi was beaten by Tshenolo Mabeo. The sad reality was that all the losing candidates were cabinet ministers and the party's golden generation. They were openings for the party young turks to come to the fore to take their rightful places in the high echelons of BDP structures.
In Moshupa constituency Mokgweetsi Masisi was elected BDP candidate unrivalled. He was given a clean bill of health to wrestle the constituency with the opposition which was now a quadrilateral alliance of the Botswana National Front (BNF), the BDP splinter group named the BMD, BPP and the Public and private sector union federation, BOFEPUSU. The quadrilateral alliance was now seen as a force to reckon with the ailing and fractious BDP and the political tide of the time was pregnant with regime change expectation.
Even though there was panic among the ruling party functionaries, what was given and apparent was that the BDP will win the 2014 general elections. What was remote and latent was the extent at what damage the alliance will cause, who among the political heavyweights are going to be causalities. Electioneering had begun in earnest, political vitriol and venom were spewed from both side of the Rubicon.
Masisi was among ministers who were on the hit-list of BOFEPUSO, who were seen to be enemies of the working class. During the campaigns Masisi declared himself a progeny of sycophantic ancestry, himself a bootlicker of repute both in government and at the tribal kraals at Moshupa and Manyana. This statement seemed to have put Masisi in the most treasured parts of Ian Khama's 'golden' heart. Khama with no iota of doubt knew Masisi was one of his trusted lieutenants. Khama being the believer in the power of the spoken word and unpretentious believed in what Masisi meant.
Masisi was growing in political clout and stature more than any person he found in the party. At that stage his words carried weight and was now acted upon in the party by elders and those who were ahead of him in the party hierarchy. When the American Embassy in Botswana sponsored radio political debates before the 2014 elections, Masisi took a unilateral decision which was later agreed and endorsed by the party leadership not to partake in the debates but instead create their own debates on the national television, Botswana Television, (BTV).
He told the ruling party faithfuls to open false social media accounts to stem the tide of opposition which was at its highest point ever in Botswana political atmosphere. These high commands were ordered by Masisi to the party general membership and party leadership thanks to him taking center stage when the party was experiencing leadership vacuum under the weight of a marauding opposition
He acquitted himself well when he appeared on national television against opposition, when presenting his party manifesto and credentials. He was a star in the rising but he was not yet khama's political right hand man. He was may be in the top five of khama's trusted lieutenants. Before the general election Kitso Onkokame Mokaila was the preferred Khama's Vice President candidate and there was utmost consensus in the party and the first family.
The Mokaila's are the Khama's family friends. Looking at his competencies and aptitude he was befitting the vice presidential credentials. The 2014 general elections came and went but their repercussions and aftermath was ghastly to contemplate. Their destruction of political lives of some of the president's untouchables was beyond comprehension. Kitso Mokaila was one of them, his chance of becoming the vice president went begging and Khama was left blushing. His preferred candidate cannot be Vice president because constitutionally, for one to become VP he must be an elected member of parliament.
The other causalities of 2014 general elections included long time cabinet ministers and strongmen in the mold of Jonnie Swartz, GUS Matlhabaphiri and Daniel Kwelagobe. The brighter side of it was that political newbies had hatched from the BDP golden egg and they were now parliamentarians. The quadrilateral alliance of UDC had left the BDP with only seven constituencies South of Dibete.
Masisi was among the Parliamentarians who came unscathed from the grueling duels of the election. To pacify the opposition from entrenching their stranglehold South of Dibete, a Vice president from down South was a political imperative… With the President Ian Khama from North of Dibete, half of the presidium had to be from the South to balance the act of Botswana's North and South divide regional politics.
Among Khama's trusted top five allies apart from his brother, Eric Masisi was the only person who fit the bill of becoming the Vice President. He was elected Vice President with purported conditionality but nonetheless he accepted. Masisi knew it was better to be within than to be outside. Part of the conditionality was that he would serve only for two years before the ultimate Vice President will be chosen to assume presidency when Khama leaves. He continued his loyalty to Khama, served a stint as minister of Education as well as Vice President.
In less than a year into his vice presidential position, one of BDP strong man Guma Samsom Moyo persuaded him to try his luck for party chairmanship. Masisi reluctantly accepted the proposal. His reluctance emanated from his superior's perception about his political ambitions. At the initial stages of the chairmanship race Khama's brother Tshekedi, Tebelelo Seretse and Dikgakamatso Seretse were the front runners. Masisi’s candidature for the ruling party chairmanship was akin to throwing the cat among the pigeons.
He won the party chairmanship convincingly. This was the turning point in Masisi's political career. He was now in the big league of Botswana politics. The ruling BDP chairmanship and State vice Presidency are not mean feats, they mean absolute power. Masisi's assumption to BDP chairmanship was accepted by Khama reluctantly and viewed with suspicion. The positions Masisi occupied made him slightly invincible in the greater scheme of things. Time came for the conditions that were initially given to Masisi to effect but nothing happened. Some small machinations were played when Goodhope – Mabule Member of Parliament James Mathokgwane resigned his seat for a plum job at SPEDU, to create a special dispensation for Eric 'Hardrock' Molale.
The opposition consuming fire continued to ravage everything on its way and Molale was not spared. He suffered a humiliating defeat at the onset of his political career. This seemed to change Khama's perception regarding His Honour Eric Masisi's suitability to succeed him because fate always seemed to favour him, when arrows and bullets were aimed at him. Khama had no options in his political closet, only skeletons of his political bosom buddies and confidantes whom in his eyes were more suited to succeed him not Masisi. Khama started breaking BDP's long held tradition of factional neutrality by openly endorsing his Vice for the retention of the position of chairmanship in the 2017 elective congress which was held in Tonota.
Masisi and his faction dubbed Camp Dubai swept all the positions in the Central Committee to quell any doubts over his arrival at the plateau of BDP and Botswana politics. The cherry on top of his political clout was when President Ian Khama announced to the nation during his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) that he will be relinquishing power next year into the capable hands of His Honour the Vice President. It might be the stuff of legends and myths, we should by now practice to say His Excellency Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi.
KEITERILE PHINEAS MALETSI is a freelance journalist
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan
Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.
This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.
The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.
Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.
Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.
Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?
This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.
The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.
So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?
This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.
Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.
I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’ I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’
Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message. Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?
The answer is – as always: now.
This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.
We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.
It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.
Let us start today.
*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana
Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.
So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair. When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees. They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.
It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government. To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.
It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.
If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer. It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.
An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.
On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.
Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country. Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.
Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country. The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?
Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.
When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised. If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?
Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land. Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.
His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.
The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.
The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.
Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.
Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?
The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.
The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly. So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?
COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.
Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.
Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.
Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.
Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.
Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.
Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!
This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety. Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.
Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.