Will Masisi-Khama rivalry play out in the 23 October vote?

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Mpho Tebele

Gaborone - The rivalry between Botswana’s former president, Ian Khama, and his chosen successor President Mokgweetsi Masisi has intensified.

Touted as Africa's democracy poster child, Botswana will head to the polls on 23 October in what observers believe will be the real test for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) which is facing a tight electoral contest from a coalition of opposition parties under the banner of Umbrella for Democratic Change(UDC).

The issue is not helped by the fact that the ruling party goes to the polls weakened following its split in June this year and the decision by its former leader, Ian Khama, to abandon it.

Khama, who has since quit the ruling party and abandoned his handpicked successor President Masisi, continues to lock horns with Masisi over key issues such as why the former quit the BDP and alleged betrayal of Khama by the latter.

As the tension between the two men boils over, Masisi escalated the feud recently as he drew first blood by launching a candidate for the BDP in Khama’s home village of Serowe on 12 October, a day before the latter launched his younger brother, Tshekedi.

Initially, Khama, who has since decamped from the BDP which his father founded in 1960 and has been ruling the country since independence from Britain in 1966, was scheduled to launch Tshekedi on 12 October.

Upon learning that the former Minister of Wildlife (during Khama’s administration) was to be launched on the same day, the BDP also set the same date as the day for the launch of their candidate, Moemedi Dijeng. But the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) whose patron is Ian Khama rescheduled the launch of their candidate to 13 October.

Dijeng replaced Tshekedi as the BDP candidate for Serowe constituency after the latter resigned from the ruling party and joined its splinter, BPF.

Before travelling to Serowe, Masisi had earlier on told a BDP rally in the capital Gaborone that his fallout with his predecessor was as a result of his refusal to let Khama continue as the president of the party and campaign manager after he had stepped down in April last year. The two men also had a fall out after Masisi reversed some of Khama’s polices such as the reduction of the alcohol levy, withdrawal of arms of war from the anti-poaching unit, and lifting of the hunting ban.

Masisi also rubbed Khama the wrong way after he sacked the influential former head of intelligence, Isaac Kgosi, and the president’s decision to instruct the army not to allow Khama to fly army aircraft.

Speaking in Serowe on 12 October, Masisi took a swipe at Khama accusing him of failing to consult the nation while he was the head of state on a number of decisions he took which affected their lives, citing the contentious hunting ban.

“The current BDP understands the importance of consultation and it will continue to come up with bills and policies intended to uplift the lives of Batswana,” he said.

While he did not mention Khama by name, Masisi called on citizens to jealously guard against issues that are likely to sow seeds of disunity as a result of tribalism. Khama recently accused Masisi of promoting tribalism claiming that people from Masisi’s tribe and home village were appointed to top positions in government departments.

Masisi called on Batswana to vote for all BDP parliamentary and council candidates so that collectively they could continue on the transformation exercise.

But the following day, Khama and his brother were uncompromising when it was their turn to respond to some of the claims made by Masisi on 12 October in their home village of Serowe.

Ian Khama accused Masisi of betraying him, saying he would never trust him. While he did not go into specifics as to how his handpicked successor betrayed him, Khama reiterated that he would never trust Masisi because he had betrayed him several times, and stripped him of some positions he held.

Masisi stripped Khama of his position as Chancellor of Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources as well as the national vision champion and tourism envoy.

“As potential voters, you shouldn’t be scared of Masisi because even myself he doesn’t scare me, rather you should fear God,” said Khama when launching Tshekedi as candidate for Serowe constituency.

Declaring his support for the UDC led by advocate Duma Boko, Khama described the upcoming 23 October polls as special.

Khama, who was a fierce critic of the media and opposition during his reign, said: “The UDC has competent leaders that is why the BPF and I support them. On the 24th of October we will be celebrating the ascendency of Duma Boko to the presidency of Botswana.”

Accusing the BDP of attempting to rig the 2019 elections because Masisi is scared of losing power, Khama told his audience: “If you vote BDP, they are going to jail all of us so don’t even try voting for it.”

Further accusing Masisi of being drunk with power, Khama said under Masisi, the ruling party was no longer what it used to be.

Claiming that the BDP was fading, Khama said “The party of the founding father of the republic (his father Sir Seretse Khama) is no more.”

Reports indicate that Serowe constituency, which is located in the central district of Botswana and where Khama remains an influential figure, will be a deciding factor in the outcome of the general election as it is the stronghold of the BDP. The district has 19 constituencies and Serowe is perceived to be its “headquarters”.

 

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