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Botswana’s Election in Focus: Khama Brothers In Opposition For the Soul of The Country
Botswana’s Election in Focus: Khama Brothers In Opposition For the Soul of The Country

By - Tobi Idowu

Posted - 23-09-2019

In October this year, precisely on the 23th, Southern African country, Botswana will go to the polls in a general election in order to elect new leaders that will steer the course of the country. Ordinarily, this is a routine civic exercise that has long been held generally peacefully in the country; however, there is some extra gloss added to this year’s exercise not least the growing tension between Botswana’s President, Mokgweetsi Masisi and his predecessor, Ian Khama on the one hand, and then the attempt by Khama to lure his biological brother, Tshekedi Khama from the ruling party to his own new party.

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The Khama brothers’ father, Seretse Khama led the southern African country to independence in 1966 and his party – which he co-founded in 1958 – Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has been at the helm of the Botswana government for 53 years. It was on the platform of the BDP that Ian Khama ruled the country for two terms (2008 to 2018) and he was influential in the emergence of the current president, whom he now accused of becoming an autocrat and threatening the country’s reputation as a beacon of stability in a troubled continent.

Why did godfather and godson fall out?
While announcing his exit from his father’s party, for whom he has been associated with for all his life, embittered Ian Khama had said, “The person who I nominated to be my successor, as soon as he took office became very autocratic, very intolerant and it has led to a decline in the democratic credentials that we have a reputation for.” News24 reports that since coming to office, Masisi changed several key policies adopted by Khama – the most high-profile being the lifting of the wildlife sports hunting ban imposed in 2014. Botswana has the world’s largest elephant population with more than 135 000 roaming freely in its unfenced parks and wide open spaces.
He thereafter left to form a new party the newly-formed Botswana Progressive Front (BPF) ostensibly to teach his estranged political son some lessons. But could he achieve this outside his ‘patrimonial’ party?

He wants his brother’s help
Since his own departure from the ruling party, Khama has not been happy that his brother remained with BDP. He has publicly expressed his desire to have him join BPF as well. This is a bit complicated as the brother, Tshekedi is part of Masisi’s cabinet as minister of youth and sports.

Khama, being the chief of the Bangwato tribe which falls under the Central District of Botswana, known as the stronghold of BDP, believes with his brother in his rank it will be easier to check the growing wings of the sitting president. He recently visited the Bangwato area including Serowe West – which is Tshekedi’s constituency – and told them that he wants his brother to follow him at BPF.

He had been there a few months ago to announce that he was leaving BDP before the community members vowed to follow him with some literally throwing away their BDP membership cards. After getting the community to support him, Khama has now been rallying for their support to get his brother to join him. “You previously voted (Tshekedi) as BDP. Do you now want to vote for him again as BDP or BPF? As for me, I want him at BPF,” Khama said in a video he shared on Facebook.
He didn’t stop short of revealing the alleged plans of the president to rid his government of his younger brother. “There was a time they wanted to get rid of Tshekedi as a minister, but they were warned that such a move will cost them votes in his constituency. Now he is being paraded at BDP gatherings to show people that he is still there even after I left for BPF.”

BPF president, Biggie Butale, told City Press this week that they were also in support of Tshekedi joining them. “We are much interested to have Tshekedi, and his constituency in Serowe West wants him to join us,” he said. But according to local reports Butale was worried though that time was not on their side to convince Tshekedi to join them. “The deadline and cut-off date with the elections commission is September 26. We hope we do not reach that point and he is still not with us but the last thing we want is to divide the royal family.”

Tshekedi Khama’s move
While those who want him with BPF have started pasting campaign posters with his photos on them, his general body language has not suggested he is keen on his brother’s new political move. Moreover, there are only three days before the expiration of the cut-off day set by the elections commission. Meanwhile, according to a Botswana news outlet, Citypress, Tshekedi has generally been evasive on the matter and was heard saying on a social media video when a journalist asked him about his brother’s bid to recruit him to the new party: “That’s what he is saying, that’s what he is saying”.

The outlet further reports that, a political analyst in Botswana, Professor Zibani Maundeni, does not see the younger of the Khama brothers moving, explaining that their political differences have got nothing to do with blood. “I don’t think Tshekedi will go to BPF. One reason is that he does not like the people around Ian Khama … he doesn’t like his brother’s associates,” Maundeni said.

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Father Khama legacy and toughest elections for BDP
Botswana has been ruled by the BDP since its Independence from Britain, and the country has been synonymous with Khama, its first president and father of Ian (also a former president) and Tshekedi. The forthcoming election represents a test on the senior Khama’s political legacy. Interestingly, his two sons are arrayed on different political divides that will shape their father’s legacy.

CityPress reports that Ian Khama’s BPF is now in bed with Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), formerly Khama’s biggest critic as an opposition party during his presidency. “The BPF is on its own but we were brought together by our common agenda which is to unseat BDP,” said UDC spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa.

Professor Maundeni believes Ian Khama’s departure from BDP will impact on the electoral strength of the governing party. “Khama took a chunk of supporters away with him, especially those from Central District where he comes from and is a chief. BDP is likely to suffer defeat in Central District as a result if people there express loyalty to Khama when they vote,” he said.

Meanwhile, BFF’s Butale is sure his own party will profit from the schism. “BDP won’t be able to get 29+ seats needed for outright power. They won 35 seats in the last elections and 12 of those seats were from Central District which is where Khama comes from and where we’re hoping for 17 to 18 seats out of 19 there,” he said.

The question is, who will profit from the Khamas political division? It is hoped that it will be the people of Botswana ultimately.


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