No end to Botswana leaders' feud

Monday February 18 2019

Botswana's President Mokgweetsi Masisi (right) and his predecessor Ian Khama. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Botswana seems to be fast approaching a tipping point as President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his predecessor Ian Khama engage in a damaging turf war.

Mr Khama relinquished his position as the president of the renowned haven for peace and calm in April 2018, but his relationship with his former deputy, now number one, has broken down almost irretrievably.

Efforts to broker peace by the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) elders hit a snag late last year, and now gloves were off in a full blown fight.

President Masisi upped the ante at a weekend regional congress to nominate party candidates for the BDP annual congress due in July. The incumbent will, for the first time, be challenged for the party president's position by former Africa Union (AU) chairperson candidate Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi. President Masisi recently dismissed Dr Venson-Moitoi from his cabinet, after she publicly declared that she was contesting for the party presidency.

Tensions touched new highs on Saturday, when President Masisi publicly said Mr Khama was disrespecting him.

Mr Khama recently arrived late for a BDP retreat held in Palapye, in the central district, and President Masisi said such behaviour bordered on disrespect.


Disturbing meetings

"I do not want to be disrespected just because I am younger than you. I am the President of Botswana and no one is above me. People should stop coming late and disturbing meetings. It’s either you come on time or you stay home. There can only be one president at a time," a seething President Masisi told the weekend gathering, in his home village of Moshupa, 60km southwest of Gaborone.

President Masisi said he was tired of being disrespected and it was time he put his foot down.

He said Mr Khama was behind Dr Venson-Moitoi's challenge for the party presidency.

"She has been sent by someone to stand against me. She is not the real contender for the presidency. She should move aside and let me face the real contender," President Masisi said.

He added that it was surprising that Mr Khama would want to support Dr Venson-Moitoi now, when he failed to back her support for the AU chairperson's position in 2017.

"I was busy with former President Festus Mogae canvassing for support all over Africa for her, when Khama just wrote letters and never visited any country. Why is he supporting her now when he failed to do so in the AU campaign?" President Masisi asked.

My presidency

Mr Khama did not hold back in an interview with the weekly Monitor on Sunday.

He said President Masisi was the one who was being disrespectful, as at times he came late for meetings.

"I know for a fact and many of you know that he comes to meetings and functions late. So if he says, and I am glad he says it is disrespectful, he should not come late just because he is the president. During my presidency, I always made sure that I arrived on time," Mr Khama said.

He disputed President Masisi's assertion that he was behind Dr Venson-Moitoi's challenge.

"She came to me to tell me of her intentions to stand, and I assured her of my support. It is her democratic right to contest," Mr Khama said.

The Khama-Masisi feud comes as the country prepares for what could be a watershed election in October.

Mr Khama's close aides, including former spy chief Isaac Kgosi, have recently been raided by law enforcement agents, in what is seen as President Masisi's way of crushing rising dissent.