Khama shows his deft hand at Maun congress
MAUN: The recent flawless elections of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) central committee have been lauded by observers as an indication that the party has regained its stability and intends to hold its democratic principles in high regard. This is because in past years BDP has faced great division whenever going to and during central committee elections. The party's history is also littered with tales of paralysis and splits after disputes at the elections. Ahead of the BDP polls, all attention was on the two candidates for the tightly contested position of party chairman, wealthy businessman-cum-politician Samson Guma Moyo and cabinet minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi.But there was one man who had a lot to prove going to the party's national elective congress and that was President Ian Khama. Though the party had been fairly stable after the 2011 congress, for the first time in his tenure Khama knew that he had to deliver a clean elective congress, otherwise he would be deemed the wrong man for the BDP presidency by observers. This time he did not disappoint. More than 10 years ago, Khama retired as commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) to "neutralise" the ruling BDP warring factions. Khama was brought into the BDP fold following recommendations by a political consultant (now deceased) Professor Lawrence Schlemmer, whom the party engaged to map out its future.
The late Schlemmer's report had recommended, among others, injection of new blood and a popular figure into the party if the BDP was to be guaranteed prolonged stay in government. Schlemmer had not singled out anyone in particular but immediate past president, Festus Mogae, found Khama a worthy candidate and an accomplished man capable of giving the party a new lease of life.It was a given that his family background and pedigree would accord him "universal" acceptance among the warring factions.
The advantage of having Khama was that it was assumed that few if any, would have the nerve and audacity to challenge his authority. It was expected that many would submit themselves to Khama out of reverence for his father. With the benefit of hindsight, this line of thinking was fundamentally flawed as it became apparent that Khama was not invincible as previously thought. He faced pockets of resistance within the party. The second factor, which made him a suitable candidate to normalise the BDP was that as a newcomer in Domkrag politics, he was considered clean and not blemished by factional tendencies.
The third factor was that Khama had a successful career in the army. Together with Mompati Merafhe, the country's former vice president, they built the BDF into a credible and respected army from scratch.It was therefore, not much of a surprise that Khama was seen in many quarters as something of a Messiah.Until the recent elections Khama seemed to be failing in his mandate of neutralising infighting within the party especially during central committee polls. Under his tenure as the BDP leader, Khama had witnessed the worst ever internal squabbles fuelled by factions. The BDP went to the 2009 elective congress a polarised organisation.
During the build-up towards the congress in Kanye, Khama de-campaigned Kwelagobe casting him as sickly and old. This was after Kwelagobe would not budge when Khama demanded that those who wanted to contest party leadership positions should quit their cabinet posts. Khama urged BDP members to vote for Tebelelo Seretse of the A-team but he was to be disappointed.Khama threatened that if the people voted for Kwelagobe from the Barataphathi faction, he would not work with him and he kept true to his word. At the congress, Barataphathi swept the stakes. Khama's favourite candidates were whipped. Only he was re-elected unopposed.
Khama and the 2009 BDP central committee did not see eye to eye. Stories of Khama turning down overtures from his central committee to run the party collectively with him featured prominently in the media and within the BDP. The party was divided between the Barataphathi and A-team factions. The factions would later culminate in the formation of a splinter party, the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) -- the first ever major split experienced by the ruling party.Many pundits believe that history is likely to list the 2009 congress as the most controversial ever, mostly on account of Khama's actions. In 2004, as the party chairman, Khama was charged with the responsibility of reconciling the warring BDP youth factions led by Peter Meswele (Nkate-Merafhe) and Kefentse Mzwinila (Kedikilwe-Kwelagobe) when they went for a congress and election in Kasane.He failed.
He would later fail to reconcile the BDP factions when the main party met to hold elections in Serowe in 2005. His only credit was helping the women's wing to reach a compromise at the 2005 congress in Mochudi. The two women factions agreed on a compromise list and the process was peaceful. He would later be heeded by the party youth when they attended a congress in Bobonong whereupon a compromise list was endorsed. After about a year at the helm of the party and government, factional wars had grown to a level where Khama, it seemed, could not manage them.
The Kedikilwe-Kwelagobe factions regrouped and battled it out at the party's 2009 congress and elections.Khama's efforts to avert a contest did not enjoy the support of the Kedikilwe-Kwelagobe axis. On the other hand, the Nkate-Merafhe faction was ready to compromise and dance to Khama's tune. They would only contest if the other faction did not budge.The Kedikilwe-Kwelagobe faction's contention was that Khama's "no election" wish was unconstitutional.A decade elapsed without a sign that Khama would cleanse the party and exorcise it of its destructive factional demons. Many of his critics said that whoever thought Khama would be a panacea to the ills that bedevil the party either underestimated the problems or overestimated Khama's abilities.
Factionalism continued to rock the party. However, after the Maun congress, questions in the minds of many, especially in view of the seamless elections in many years, remain: Is Khama beginning to deliver the expected results as party leader? Is peace returning to the BDP? Is Khama proving his doubters wrong?" Some observers have said that Khama seems to have developed tact and diplomacy in his approach when dealing with party members. Publicly forgiving Moyo and admitting that he was misled to dismiss the latter may be a case in point. Prior to 2010 Khama was seen as a non-neutral figure. He was seen as part of the problem, allegedly fighting on the side of one faction - the A-team.
Whenever he tried to take action against some members, some read that as an attempt to annihilate the faction he did not like.Though this view to date has not been unfounded, it is chiefly informed by the fact that Khama, at some stage, was a factional leader in what used to be called the Khama-Mogae alliance. He would later sympathise with what metamorphosed into the Nkate-Merafhe axis before it was disbanded.Though he said that it was inevitable to eliminate factions, University of Botswana (UB) lecturer and political commentator Dr Emmanuel Botlhale, said that the president had made strides in managing factions within the BDP.
"The President seems to have realised that taking sides within the party like during the build-up to the Kanye elective congress in 2009 where he openly backed the A-team can fuel instability."Since the party's retreat in 2010, following the break-up of the party that led to the formation of the BMD, the President and some members of the party leadership have been diplomatic when dealing with party members. "It paid off in Maun because the elections were peaceful."Khama's decision to do away with the party's traditional elections at the 2011 congress opting for compromise has worked wonders for the party," said Dr Botlhale. He said that it allowed the party to introspect and reconcile warring factions."The BDP will enjoy peace provided Khama and other members of the leadership do not take sides when dealing with party issues," he added.
In Maun, Khama even agreed that after years of internal squabbles within the party, the BDP was regaining its stability and members were tolerating each other. He also acknowledged that in the past, factions were the major reason the party did not enjoy stability for years.It showed, even as he mingled with red-shirted party members, signing autographs on the arms of "fans" who had queued, that he was a man bubbling with confidence that he has, this time, made it.