When Chief Justice Julian Nganunu deliveried his judgement in favour of President Ian Khama in 2009 against Gomolemo Motswaledi, the judgement marked a new beginning which changed the course of Botswana’s politics forever. For the past two years, BMD has been thrown in disarray, with the emergence of two factions threatening not only the existence of BMD as viable political party but also the prospects of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) attaining power in two years time, writes ALFRED MASOKOLA.
The formation of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) will remain a centre of debate for many years to come. The political movement was conceived in the wake of the suspension of Gomolemo Motswaledi from the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). The rising political star had been recently elected secretary general when he collided with party president Lt Gen Ian Khama. In the build-up to the 2009 Kanye Congress, at which Motswaledi was elected the party secretary general, tensions were brewing within the party.
Factions had returned-the Barataphathi, which Motswaledi was a member of had wanted the party to hold central committee elections, meanwhile, Khama’s A-Team preferred a compromise arrangement in which women would be allowed to assume the position unchallenged.
Daniel Kwelagobe, who had retired his secretary general position from the previous congress after serving 27 years, had returned to the fold this time around to contest the party chairmanship. DK became the subject of humiliation from the A- Team faction because he reneged from his earlier promise that he had retired. However, the real battle was between Khama and Motswaledi, the Barataphathi prince. Khama had been at cross roads ever since the 2003 congress, in which against all the odds, Motswaledi, then a Youth Wing chairman, joined a small group of those who stood with Ponatshego Kedikilwe against Vice President Ian Khama for the party chairmanship.
Five years later, when Motswaledi wanted to succeed Khama in the Serowe North West constituency, the former was made to back down. Instead it was Tshekedi Khama, the president’s brother who took over the throne. The 2009 Kanye Congress was a continuation of the Motswaledi/Khama battle, but its aftermath left a ruin in the BDP and set in motion a chain of events which led to the formation of the BMD.
After the victory of the Barataphathi at Kanye, a series of events hastened the hostility in the party. Khama was in control of government, while Barataphathi were in control of the party. The ultimate point came when Motswaledi, two months into his position was slapped with a suspension letter supposedly for defying president Khama’s authority. Motswaledi was suspended for 60 days from the party and re-called as party parliamentary candidate for Gaborone Central. The suspension came after Motswaledi had written to two law firms seeking clarification on whether the party president had powers to make unilateral appointment of sub-committee members without consulting the central committee.
Collins and Newman Law firm responded through newspapers, stating that Khama indeed had powers to do so. Motswaledi wrote back, rebuking Collins and Newman’s Parks Tafa for running the opinion in the newspapers. This ended Motswaledi’s political career at BDP. A few months later, crowds of well wishers left the Court of Appeal with one resolution: to stand by Motswaledi through and through. Immediately after the judgement, Botsalo Ntuane, then Motswaledi’s sympathiser-in-chief had convinced Motswaledi to form a political party. It was a decision taken in the benches of the court.
After a few months later, BMD was born; it was the new kid in the block and immediately assumed the position of main opposition in parliament. Many theories have been said about the party but, its break through transformed the politics of Botswana, either for better or for worse. Many have said the party would not survive the politics of opposition, but the party has stayed to live, for seven years now. Part of the BMD legacy, which will stay forever is that for the first time in the history of Botswana, BDP experienced a split which weakened the party. BDP had been for years a major beneficiary of fragmented opposition parties.
EMERGENCE OF FACTIONS IN BMD
BMD is party which is a product of BDP factionalism. The suspension of Motswaledi from the party and barring him from contesting for parliamentary constituency was the turning point. Motswaledi’s court loss was met with a new five year suspension from the party. When announcing his resignation from the party in 2010, Motswaledi said he had to fight “what looked like a five-year sentence, while in fact was a 10 year sentence.” The five years suspension meant that Motswaledi would have not been eligible to participate in the 2013 party primary elections, ruling him out of the possibility of running for a parliament seat until 2019.
Ndaba Gaolathe, then Motswaledi’s campaign manager published an article in newspapers in which he condemned the party’s decision to suspend Motswaledi. Gaolathe said the decision was not in line with what the party stood for and that the decision was taken in bad faith. Meanwhile Botsalo Ntuane who chaired the committee which oversaw the formation of BMD, and later became its Vice President was of the view that after the 2009 Kanye Congress, the victory of democrats was sabotaged and undermined at every turn. He contended that the BDP had abandoned faith in democracy.
In the formative stages of BMD Ntuane never stopped insisting how BMD was important to the future politics of Botswana, and that if there was ever to be any change of government, BMD would be central to all the events. The former Gaborone South West legislator was then the leader of opposition. Ntuane has since returned to BDP and is not part of the boiling pot currently brewing at the party.
At the centre of the controversy lies party chairman Nehemiah Modubule and secretary general Gilbert Mangole while the other side of the divide is party president Ndaba Gaolathe and his deputy Wynter Mmolotsi. The two factions have failed to reconcile. The fire was stoked by the presence of former party spokesperson; Sidney Pilane who has since self declared his return to the party, defying an earlier resolution by party president, Gaolathe that his membership will only be dealt with at next year’s party congress. A liberal BMD constitution, which vests more powers on the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), has made it difficult for the party to resolve the impasse as NEC members remain divided.
The adoption of a liberal constitution by BMD at the 2011 Inaugural Congress was motivated by the manner in which the late party leader, Motswaledi was suspended by President Lt Gen Dr Ian Khama Seretse Khama from his position as BDP Secretary General in 2009, a few weeks after being elected into the position at the party congress. Pilane is the chief architect of BMD’s constitution. Gaolathe, who formed part of the inaugural NEC as National Policy Director became party president following the untimely death of Motswaledi in July 2014. Prior to assuming the presidency, Gaolathe had served as Motswaledi’s deputy. Pilane quit the party in 2012, a year after being defeated by Motswaledi for the party leadership at the party’s inaugural congress.
BMD president, Gaolathe had insisted previously that the process which was adopted to grant Pilane membership was unconstitutional since his earlier application at Gaborone North was rejected. Pilane would later be granted membership at Mochudi West branch after being abetted by party secretary general, Gilbert Mangole to do so. Pilane’s BMD return talks started making rounds in 2015 ahead of the BMD Youth League congress held in Mochudi where it was reported that he had funded the team which emerged victorious.
It was also reported that the BMD founding member was on the verge of return to the party and also eyeing the party presidency. Pilane however ruled out the possibilities of him returning to politics, only to announce his arrival later. Pilane was later listed as one of the negotiators representing BMD at the cooperation talks, something which Gaolathe/Mmolotsi faction opposed. The Gaolathe faction pushed for a special congress last year, despite winning support in 29 branches, the Modubule/Mangole faction controlled NEC rejected special congress on the basis that due process was not properly done. The Gaolathe faction is of the view that the Modubule/Mangole faction feared facing the wrath of party members are playing delaying tactics.
Last week, at the eleventh hour, the part NEC took a decision to postpone the Youth League elections billed for that weekend in Ramotswa. In another factional bout, the Mangole/Modubule faction diverted another contest but reasoned that the decision was taken after fears that the youth league would not have enough delegates to form a quorum. The Gaolathe/Mmolotsi faction did not buy that reason and insisted that, again it was another ploy to avoid defeat by the team. The Gaolathe/Mmolotsi team went ahead and held the congress where the new youth league was elected. However, the Modubule/ Mangole faction had insisted the congress was unconstitutional, referring to it “a wasteful gathering of friends.” Modubule has threatened to suspend those who attended the congress for bringing the party into disrepute.
IMPLICATIONS ON OPPOSITION COOPERATION
BMD forms a vital cog in the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). After the 2014 general elections, of the 17 elected UDC MPs, nine of them belonged to BMD (that was before Kgosi Tawana Moremi tendered his resignation). The UDC project is mainly attributed to hard work of Duma Boko, the Botswana National Front (BNF) President and Motswaledi who passed away a few months ahead of the 2014 general elections. In the run up to those elections, Gaolathe was Boko’s vice presidential candidate and also party secretary general.
One school of thought opines that the Gaolathe/Mmolotsi faction is also not happy with the gains of the BMD in the new UDC set-up following the arrival of Botswana Congress Party (BCP). They have since rubbished those claims. Meanwhile on the side of factional divide, Pilane and co are content with the gains of the BMD. A new deal insists that the position held at UDC was given to parties not individuals, which means, Gaolathe’s vice presidency is subject to him retaining the BMD presidency in July. Mangole and Modubule have announced at a press briefing earlier this week that they have lost confidence in Gaolathe.
Earlier last year, BNF senior figure and legislator for Molepolole North, Mohammed Khan warned UDC that BDP is alive to the fact that opposition parties are in pole position to take over power in the next general elections, and therefore will do everything to frustrate them. Khan was vying for the party vice presidency when he told this publication last year that already there were efforts made to infiltrate opposition parties and cause some sort of instability including by luring members with attractive packages to have them dump their parties. The Molepolole North legislator expressed that the UDC leadership should intervene in the ongoing BMD internal wars for the sake of protecting the mother party.
“At leadership level UDC should intervene with the bigger picture in mind. We are all UDC, people don’t care about BNF, BMD, BPP (Botswana Peoples Party) or BCP (Botswana Congress Party) because they will be voting UDC,” he said. “If the leadership does not intervene, the matter might get out of control and as a result hurting the UDC electoral success in 2019. I have experienced this situation before and I will be able to help.” However Boko has chosen not to intervene in the matter preferring to allow the party to sort itself out. Boko has said BMD is going through a normal process like any party and will pass through that phase.
On the other side, BOFEPUSU have been on the receiving end of the Modubule/Mangole faction, who said their appearance at BMD YL congress in Ramotswa over the weekend was interference in the internal affairs of the BMD. BOFEPUSU Secretary for Labour, Johnson Motshwarakgole and Deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa were present at the congress. It is reported that BOFEPUSU has pledged to support Gaolathe and his team.
Despite the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and his Namibian counterpart, Hage Geingob giving an impression that the borderline security disputes are a thing of the past and that diplomatic ties remain tight, fresh developments from Namibia suggest otherwise, following Geingod’s close confidante’s attack on Botswana and its army.
Giving a Zambezi region state of the affairs last week, a Geingob-appointed governor of Zambezi region, Colonel Lawrence Ampofu, a retired Colonel in the Namibian Defence Force, former plan combatant during the liberation struggle of Namibia, in a written speech, charged at the BDF and condemned their killings of the Namibians as unacceptable.
“The security situation within our borders remains calm. The incidence of the Botswana Defence Force shootings and wanton killings on the Nchindo Brothers on 05 November 2020 and other 37 Namibian lives lost since independence remain a serious challenge with our neighbor, Botswana.
Our residents living along the Chobe, Linyanti and Kwandu rivers are living under constant threats, harassment, fear, intimidation and killings and such activities are condemned and not acceptable,” he said under the safety and security title.
The attack suggests that Namibia has not bought Botswana’s story. Ampofu was part of the entourage that accompanied Geingob to the three Nchindo brothers and their cousin who were gunned down by the BDF, and is reported to be privy to the details of the unpublished Botswana-Namibia joint investigations report about the killings as a governor or political head of the region which has eight electoral constituencies.
The report contains the sensitive details of how the three Namibians referred as poachers by the BDF – and Fisherman by the Namibian government were gunned down on 5 November last year along the Chobe River. They were Tommy (48), Martin (40) and Wamunyima Nchindo (36), and their cousin Sinvula Muyeme (44).
His views are not really in contrast to his President’s views who also described the BDF as trigger happy in a scripted report to his cabinet.
The Zambezi region is located in the extreme north east part of Namibia and covers a total of 14,667.6 square kilometres. “We share borders with Angola, Zambia to the north, Zimbabwe to the east and Botswana to the South,” he said.
Sampofu was first appointed governor of the former Caprive Region in 2010 by the former Namibian president, Hifikepunye Pohamba and was reappointed as Zambezi governor by President Dr.Hage Geingob in 2015, a term running to 2025.
37 Namibia residents killed by Botswana army so far
Sampofu is a man who continues to insist that Botswana has killed 37 residents of his region. A video posted by the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) shows him alleging that at least 37 Namibians were killed by the BDF, after he met with the community at Impalila.
“It is true, the BDF started long ago. As we speak 37 lives have been lost here in Impalila along the Chobe river going to Linyanti and Kwado rivers up to Lizauli. All those families lost their loved ones,” Ampofu said in the video posted by NBC.
It is not known how the BDF, which has maintained their position that the Namibians were engaging in illegal activities of poaching, treats the constant attacks by the Namibian authorities, but they have repeatedly vowed to continue protecting the country’s sovereignty and natural resources.
Botswana’s premier brewer and leading distributor of beer, Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL), this month dragged the government of Botswana to court after President Mokgweetsi Masisi imposed an alcohol ban with immediate effect. KBL labelled the decision as unjustifiable, irrational and that it overrides the rights that are enshrined in the constitution.
This week, Masisi through attorneys representing the government disparaged the case in his written affidavit of KBL’s application, referring to it as frivolous and that it ought to be dismissed with costs on a punitive scale.
In his court papers, Masisi reminded KBL that Botswana is a Republic whose laws find validity from the constitution, and in terms of Section 17 of the constitution the President is empowered to declare a State of Emergency and that it is a common cause that Botswana is under such state.
“It is common course that there is in existence emergency powers (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 as amended from time to time which is solely designed to regulate the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Masisi pointed out that he denies that the application before Court is proper such as to challenge the lawfulness and validity of a regulation made and a notice published in the exercise of a legislative function in accordance with the Emergency Powers Act which empowers the President to make regulations as appear to him to be necessary and expedient for securing public safety.
Furthermore, the President revealed that the decision to ban alcohol sales was not arrived at willy-nilly, but rather that there had been careful considerations that the risks posed by Covid-19 had increased and therefore it was expedient and necessary to suspend all liquor licenses.
Moreover, Masisi denied that the decision to reinstate the ban should be made by the Director of Health Services as indicated by KBL in their nature of the application, “the Director is to cause the notice to be published in the Gazette after consultation with the President.”
Masisi indicated that the role of the Director of Health Services is to publish a regulation made by the President.
He further, reminded KBL that the power to make regulations in a State of Public Emergency in accordance with the EPA lies with the President, “such power includes the amendment of any enactment, suspending the operation of any enactment or modification of an enactment.”
According to Masisi, his decision to ban alcohol sales was based on evidence provided by the Director of Health Services who indicated to him that there was a sudden spike in the transmission of the Covid-19 virus following the reinstatement of liquor licenses.
Another piece of advice tendered by the Director of Health to Masisi was that bars and other liquor outlets were some of the major hotspots in the sense of such being high-risk areas at which the virus spread rapidly.
“Alcohol was one of the major causes of non-compliance with the health protocols that were put in place to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, there was an indication that more arrests were made on people failing to adhere to Covid-19 protocols more particularly at places where there were gatherings,” he contended.
He pointed out that therefore, it was expedient and or necessary to preserve lives and to reduce the risks of transmissions of the virus to reinstate the suspension of liquor licenses.
Moreover, the President says that it must be noted that he avers that the Director of Health Services is a credible source on matters of public health of which he also accordingly gave due weight to the Director’s advice on deciding to reinstate the ban through the impugned notice.
“I am aware and was always aware at the time of promulgating the regulation complained of that it shall negatively affect some sectors of the economy. However, after due consideration and receipt of advice, I decided to give priority to the safety and health of the nation,” Masisi said.
He presaged KBL that it would not be prudent and in the best interest of the nation to ignore a health emergency such as Covid-19 and gave preference to trading and making of profits by the applicant. “The results would only be catastrophic to the extent that when we emerge from the scourge we would be left with a depleted and ailing nation from Covid-19 and its side effects.”
Furthermore, his written affidavit further pointed out that the decision to reinstate the ban on alcohol was taken notwithstanding understanding and appreciation of the economic hardships that would befall the country.
However, he said he deliberately made the decision based on the evidence provided to him by the Director of Health, whose evidence he believes to be credible to give public/safety and health priority over economic considerations in some sectors.
In making the decision, Masisi states that he was and considered different options including allowing for sale of alcohol consumption off premises, however the evidence he had been provided with suggested that such other alternatives would not achieve the overall objective of securing public safety and health by reducing the risk of the spread of the virus.
“By the time I imposed the ban, alcohol was already being sold for consumption off-premises. This did not work. The information provided to me by the Director and the Presidential Task-Force team demonstrated that consumers purchased alcohol and then loitered and consumed it within the peripheries of bars and other liquor outlets,” he said.
Attached to the affidavit as emphasis, were photographs and videos of Gaborone West, Phase 4 in mid-June 2021, which he explains circulated on social media and was brought to his attention.
“I need not say much about the photos as they depict a crowd exceeding 50 gathered at the parking area of a bar. There is little or no regard to Covid-19 protocols. It was clear to me and my advisors, including the Director of Health Services and members of the Presidential Task-Force team that the total ban of alcohol was necessary to manage the risk of increase in infections, to understand what seems to have led to an increase in the risk of infection when alcohol is present I was advised by the Presidential Task-Force team that scientifically there has been evidence that alcohol narrows physical distance,” he argued.
Masisi says that allegations made by KBL are serious allegations of infringement of fundamental rights yet they fail to state how imposition and reinstatement of the suspension of liquor licenses out of necessity and expediency of the health of the nation infringes on the rights as alleged.
In an embarrassing turn of events that depicts disintegration in government communication on the fight against COVID-19, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Assistant Minister of Health & Wellness, Sethomo Lelatisitswe gave two conflicting statements on the same matter, same day, just minutes apart.
The Commander-in-Chef told health practitioners and residents in Ramotswa that the COVAX facility has scammed African countries after billions were paid in a crowd funding effort to procure COVID-19 vaccines in bulk.
“We have pumped money as developing countries of the African continent into the COVAX Facility but the returns were not satisfactory, they cheated us,” the President said in Ramotswa.
According to President Masisi, the COVAX facility Vaccine only came in bits and pieces, frustrating the continent ‘s head immunity targets amid rapidly spreading Delta Variant which is currently reversing all progress made by Africa in containing the contagious virus.
“What we are getting is very small portions of the vaccine, they keep telling us that there is shortage of supply, this is not fair, but we have paid in advance, however what can we do, we have no choice but to spend more money and look for other avenues of securing other available vaccines,” he said.
Meanwhile in Gaborone, Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness told Parliament that vaccine from COVAX facility is anchoring Botswana’s vaccination program.
“I am not aware of such information that COVAX facility is not delivering as expected, we are actually bolstered by COVAX facility in this country,” he said responding to a question from Mahalapye West Member of Parliament David Tshere who is also Chairman of Parliament Committee On Health and HIV/AIDS.
“We have received doses as ordered from the COVAX facility, and we are still receiving more, I have not seen that information which is purported to have been revealed by the President, unless its new information, we as the Ministry we are not aware of any frustrations by the COVAX facility,” he said.
COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside key delivery partner UNICEF.
Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.
The facility is a global coalition that works to ensure fair and equitable access of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. So far, 190 countries have joined the COVAX initiative, including all 22 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.
The COVAX Facility aims to have 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution across the globe by the end of 2021, targeting those most at risk (e.g. frontline health workers) and most vulnerable severe diseases and death (e.g. elderly and people with co-morbidities).
On other vaccination issues President Masisi revealed, still in Greater Gaborone vaccination centre visits, that Botswana has placed orders with Pfizer, a United States vaccine producer noting that they have promised to deliver next year.
Meanwhile, government kick-started phase two of the Covid-19 vaccination program this week, opening up for ages between 30 and 54.
President Masisi revealed that this was done because some elderly were reluctant to be inculcated.
“We can’t take forever trying to convince people to take vaccine, we moved to the next age segments because we cannot afford to have vaccines-which are already in shortage supply to just lie there,” he said.
On Friday, Ministry of Health revealed that it was receiving large numbers of people below the age of 55 lining up to be vaccinated.
In a statement the Ministry of Health said it, “acknowledges the huge turnout that marked the commencement of the Phase two COVID-19 vaccination program”.
Given this high turnout, especially in the Greater Gaborone region, the ministry announced an extension of operation hours in order to serve the huge crowds that had come for vaccination.
Of the nearly 85 000 doses that were being doled across the country as first doses, the majority of the Greater Gaborone vaccination sites were already getting depleted by 1800hrs on 22 July 2021.
As a result of this development, the ministry took a decision to discontinue the extended hours of operation announced yesterday for vaccination sites in Gaborone.
This means that vaccination sites in Gaborone and elsewhere in the country which still have some vaccines, will offer them in the normal working hours and days of the week.
The Ministry says it appreciates the great desire to be vaccinated shown by thousands of citizens and residents of this country and wishes to assure them that it will continue to expedite their vaccination every time vaccines become available. As has been communicated in various fora, more vaccines are expected in August 2021.
As at July 2021, Botswana has so far received 62, 400 doses of AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD bought through the Covax facility, 30,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine donated by the Republic of India, 19, 890 doses of the Pfizer vaccine bought through the COVAX facility, 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, donated by the Peoples Republic of China and another 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine bought through bilateral negotiations with Sinovac company in China.
“We encourage Batswana to remain hopeful that although it’s taking longer than anticipated, enough COVID-19 vaccines will eventually arrive in our country. We urge them to always strictly abide by all COVID-19 protocols so that they protect themselves and others from this deadly virus,” the ministry said.