Gaborone - Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi is facing a renewed threat of leadership coup after former African Union chairpersonship candidate, Pelonomi Venson Moitoi, announced this week that she would challenge him for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) presidency.
Venson Moitoi, who is a former Foreign Affairs Minister and currently Minister for Local Government, said this week: “Yesterday (17 December) I informed, in writing to the BDP and HE the President, that I intend to contest the position of President of BDP at the next elective congress.”
Writing on her Facebook page, Venson-Moitoi added that: “I believe that in true democratic fashion. My campaign will be one that debates issues constructively; always putting the party first and the lives of all Batswana at the very core of our debates.”
Venson-Moitoi has since announced that she will not be standing for the parliamentary seat in the coming 2019 general elections.
According to local media, Venson-Moitoi is not the only member of the BDP who has since shown interest in contesting for the BDP presidency. More names of possible candidates keep on cropping up as the party readies itself for the 2019 congress.
Masisi’s presidency has been marred by controversy since ascending to the top post in the country in April this year. Former President Ian Khama was recently quoted in the local media saying he is the legitimate BDP President and has never resigned but only stepped down as State President. According to the BDP constitution, the president of the party automatically becomes the State President. Historically, the Vice President of Botswana becomes the state president and it has been the tradition of the BDP that he or she should not be challenged for the presidency.
According to Argus Online publication, Venson-Moitoi was at some point hinted as the next incoming Vice President when Masisi ascended to power but Masisi chose Slumber Tsogwane instead. She is one of the longest serving members of parliament and she announced that she was not contesting to be a member of parliament again in the coming elections.
Another BDP member who intends to challenge Masisi for the party presidency, is the current Minister of Presidential Affairs, Nonofho Molefhi. He challenged Masisi for the chairmanship at their last congress held in Tonota village in central Botswana but lost. After ascending to power, Masisi made him the Minister of Presidential Affairs and they have been working well together lately.
The Argus Online reported that Molefhi could not deny or confirm that he is eyeing the position of party presidency but he responded through a message that he was in a meeting.
Venson Moitoi is not an ordinary member of the ruling BDP. She is part of former President Ian Khama’s inner circle. Her decision to challenge Masisi for the party’s presidency is seen as another ploy by Khama’s faction to topple Masisi from the party and state presidency. Khama and Masisi are at each other’s throats following a decision by the Masisi Administration to reverse some of Khama’s policies, which the former believes is a way of destroying his legacy.
Masisi is facing a lawsuit from one of the BDP members, Kamal Jacobs who lost recently in the party primary elections. He is challenging Masisi’s legitimacy as party president. Khama is expected to testify in court on whether he did resign as BDP president and, therefore, opening a vacancy to be filled by his then Vice President in government, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi.
Khama says his lawyers advised him that indeed it is the BDP which should write the affidavit and provide proof of any written letter if indeed he resigned. He is quoted by Weekend Post newspaper as saying failure to do so the court would have to ask him to come and testify, a move which he confirmed that he is prepared to take.
“My client is not saying Masisi is not the president of the BDP but that we want clarity as to who is the president, that’s all,” Jacobs’s attorney Kagisano Tamocha said.
He continued to state that they only want the court to assist in interpreting the BDP constitution on the party presidency, which is in dispute. He added that they contend that former state President Khama did not resign as party president and, therefore, he still holds the position.
“We have never been in contact with Khama to enjoin in the matter but we thought his coming in would assist tell the court with regard to whether he resigned or not because the presidency of Masisi can only come where there is a vacancy. When there is a vacancy, the VP takes over as party president. We believe the last president to be elected party president was and still is Khama during a party congress in Gaborone,” Tamocha said.
Masisi is also facing another attack from a faction within the BDP christened New Jerusalem. According to local media, the faction has deployed a multi-pronged attack to discredit Masisi, including spreading falsehoods and exaggerating their foothold within the BDP. As part of the strategy to destabilise the BDP and discredit Masisi, New Jerusalem is said to have joined forces with opposition members of parliament and is using them to raise questions about the President and his administration.
Although the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) President, Duma Boko, denies that the motion of no confidence against Masisi, which he recently tabled in Parliament, had anything to do with BDP internal fights, many are not convinced.
Recently, Gaborone North opposition Member of Parliament, Haskins Nkaigwa, asked Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration to confirm whether Masisi has business interests in Choppies Group and to state the value of the shares he holds and how they were acquired. Nkaigwa also asked the minister to reveal other companies that Masisi has business dealings with.
In his response, Presidential Affairs Minister Nonofho Molefhi denied knowledge of such information. “If anyone is interested, they can check with the Registrar of Companies,” answered Molefhi, adding that he is not aware of Masisi’s business dealings with any other company, as that will be a private business and nothing to do with his office.
Another opposition legislator Dithapelo Keorapetse recently caused a stir when he raised questions in Parliament about Masisi's academic qualifications. To some, such inquiry raises eyebrows as it has never been pursued vehemently against former presidents.