Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi is expected to defend his chairmanship of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) next year. The 2017 National Congress is billed to make or break political careers of several ruling party stalwarts especially those who aspire for the presidency and or the vice presidency of the republic.
Following the Mmadinare congress last year, which ushered in Masisi as chairman the BDP will have a more gruelling elective congress next year that will see many political careers hang in the balance. Masisi is said to have made it clear to his inner circle that he will contest the chairmanship. The move is seen as the President in waiting’s intention to stamp authority and demonstrate his aura within the party structures.
President Lt Gen Ian Khama is expected to step down at the end of March in 2018, it will be 18 months before the 2019 General Elections. By all accounts the focus will shift towards Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who is expected to ascend to the highest office. While some within Masisi see the decision to stand as a risky dice, the Vice President does not want to second guess his popularity, and he is determined to put to bed those who doubt or undermined his political prowess and command within the party.
Several names have been suggested as potential challengers for Masisi as President Khama’s tenure nears expiry. Some have made abundantly clear that they have presidential ambitions and they intend to challenge. Former secretary general of the BDP, Jacob Nkate; and Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama are loud and clear on their ambitions. Tebelelo Seretse unsuccessfully took on Masisi in Mmadinare last year; she may try her luck again. Minister Nonofo Molefhi has some party members pushing him to avail himself, and he has kept quiet.
But Masisi’s inner circle is convinced that next’s year congress is a worthy gamble, and by all accounts those who want to dictate party terms should be part of the group that will be elected next year. Losers at this congress may well kiss their political relevance goodbye. But for Vice President Masisi, losing the chairmanship could send the party and the country into confusion. There could possibly be questions as to how he will win a national election if fails at party level; some could ask why they should trust him and entrust him with national issues if his party does not trust him. However, this publication learns that Masisi is confident that he wants to bite the bullet because he is not a coward. Should Masisi lose the chairmanship to any challenger, he will be a limping president-in-waiting; he could easily be challenged and beaten should the BDP go for a presidential vote in April of the following year.
These events leading to this 2017 National Congress bear a resemblance with what transpired in 2003 at the Gantsi congress prior to the 2004 General Elections. This is the congress that is believed to have ‘robbed’ Ponatshego Kedikilwe of the opportunity to succeed Festus Mogae as the country’s fourth President.
Mogae’s Vice President at the time, Lt Gen Ian Khama won the party chairmanship race against Kedikilwe with a convincing margin. As things stand, if President Khama does not drop Masisi before he leaves office at the end of March 2018, Masisi automatically assumes office as the country President and Party President through the party’s automatic succession plan.
Article 29.3.3 states that ‘In the event of a vacancy arising in the Presidency of the party at a time when the party is in power, the Vice President of Botswana shall automatically become the State and Party President. But Masisi does not want a situation where he is president and had recently lost some party position to one of the party members, it will be damaging to his national standing. His audacious recruitment drive in the opposition ranks is part of the strategy to cement his standing in the BDP.
Hell will break loose if Masisi loses the chairmanship of the party, it will automatically translate that the party no longer has trust on him. He will become a weak President in 2018 with no party support and his future will hang in the balance. He will risk making history becoming the first President to have ever run the shortest term (18 months). At this stage he can only be ‘rescued’ if the party believes in his leadership and administration as the President. However, the party has the option to substitute him with someone who would have won the chairmanship because that person will have the support of the party. In this setup, it is vital for the party to win elections than an individual.
SIGNIFICANCE OF 2017 CONGRESS
The 2017 National Congress significance is that the elected central committee will take the party to the 2019 General elections. Should Masisi win the chairmanship next year, it means that by the time he takes over from President Khama, he will still be chairman and the party will have the option to choose the next chairman from the 18 member central committee. Therefore this may mean that those aspiring for chairmanship should ensure by all means possible that they are part of the next central committee. Upon Masisi assuming the Presidency, the constitution states that ‘In the event of a central committee member, other than one of the six Office Bearers resigning, being incapacitated, dying or otherwise ceasing to be a member of the central committee, the President of the party shall appoint another person to fill the vacancy, pending the next National Congress. In this case Masisi will be eligible as the party president to appoint a chairman of his choice.
THE 2003 FALLOUT
The 2017 National Congress will resemble the events that unfolded at Gantsi in 2003. Former Mmadinare legislator and BDP stalwart who was later given the transitional Vice Presidency, Ponatshego Kedikilwe took over as the BDP chairman in 1995; he would have ascended the ladder to become the President in 1998. Conversely, things took a bitter turn, with the backing of President Mogae; Vice President Khama challenged Kedikilwe for the chairmanship of the party. The stakes were high: Had Kedikilwe won; there was a strong possibility that he would have challenged and defeated Mogae for the State and Party Presidency the following year.
An ex- soldier, Khama did not find it difficult to breakthrough; he endured the comfort of working with former Army General Mompati Merafhe and the backing of his faction. Merafhe had for many years been part of the central committee as an additional member after suffering hard blows from the strong Kwelagobe- Kedikilwe alliance. Tried and trusted, when he announced his bid for the party chairman, he was seen as the only man strong enough to defeat the alliance.
Khama convincingly outdid Kedikilwe winning with a big margin; this was the end of Kedikilwe’s steadfastness. He would only return in 2012 taking over as a transitional Vice President taking over from Merafhe who was ill at the time.
MASISI’s VICE PRESIDENT
The outcome of the 2017 National Congress might also significantly bring into the picture the face that will ascend to the position of Vice Presidency. This could be someone within the central committee who has party backing and support. The position of Vice-President has always accounted for a smooth political succession. Masire served as Vice-President and Minister of Finance and Development Planning in the government of Sir Seretse Khama, the first President of Botswana. Following Seretse’s death in 1980, Masire ascended to the presidency.
Soon after he assumed the office, Masire chose Lenyeletse Seretse for the position of Vice-President. Lenyeletse Seretse held that position until his death and was succeeded by Peter Mmusi. Mogae succeeded Mmusi and Khama became the Vice President.
For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.
Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.
In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.
When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.
The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.
According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.
Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.
Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.
Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.
Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).
The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.
He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.
“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”
Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.
“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”
Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.
Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.
Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.
Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.
There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.
The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.
And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.
Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.
Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”
Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.
Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.
On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.
The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.