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Botswana: Governing party elections a test for stability

This weekend’s elective conference of Botswana’s governing party could change that country’s glowing reputation as the region’s most stable democracy.

Botswana flag. Picture: Wikimedia Commons.

JOHANNESBURG - This weekend’s elective conference of Botswana’s governing party could change that country’s glowing reputation as the region’s most stable democracy.

Botswana Democratic Party is holding a conference in Kang, 400km outside the capital Gaborone, to elect its national executive.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi is facing long-time Foreign Minister, Dr Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, the first woman to contest the position since Botswana gained independence in 1966, and she has the backing of former President Ian Khama.

No BDP President has ever been challenged in the party until their term expired, but last year Moitoi announced that she would run, and the following day Masisi fired her from cabinet where she had been re-shuffled to the Local Government portfolio.

Prior to his ascend Masisi was virtually unknown in international circles, while Moitoi was the face of the country for many years, and even contested the African Union Commission Chair race that was won by Moussa Faki Mahamat from Chad.

In 1996 late former President Ketumile Masire initiated a constitutional amendment to allow Presidents to serve a maximum of two 5-year terms. That amendment is credited with ensuring smooth transitions, economic stability and making Botswana one of few countries in Africa with no dictators.

After 10 years as BDP leader and President, Khama handed the reins to Masisi first in the party in 2017, then as President in March 2018.

A year later, and 6 months to the country’s general elections this October, instability is a concern in Botswana.

Prior to Moitoi’s sacking, Masisi’s cabinet re-shuffles had been a mere changing of the guard, but it became clear that there was a rift in the party, and he was consolidating power.

Khama’s endorsement of Moitoi has caused a further rift between Masisi and his predecessor. The President, who has no military training has also been on a crusade to appear in charge of the army, wearing military fatigues, while Khama, a former army commander continues to enjoy loyalty in the ranks.

Masisi has also sacked another Khama loyalist and long-time head of intelligence, Isaac Kgosi, who was arrested in public by the revenue authority on allegations of tax fraud at the capital’s international airport on arrival from a trip to Dubai.

Last week Khama told local newspaper Botswana Guardian that “Masisi’s administration is a dictatorship which undermines the rule of law for personal benefit.”

Guardian says the former premier had attended a caucus meeting with BDP councillors in Serowe accompanied by Moitoi.

He also criticized the party’s Secretary General Mpho Balopi of favouring one candidate (Masisi) over the other (Moitoi).

Two weeks ago local newspapers reported that Botswana Defence Force head of military intelligence Brigadier Modise Tlhage, said the army was on red alert in anticipation of a coup following a tip-off from the South African National Defence Force and the United Nations, but the SANDF was quick to “reject the reports with contempt”.

Botswana Pula is the only currency in the region stronger than rand, and its diamond deposits are the highest in Africa, and the second highest in the world after Russia.

It is also home to the headquarters of the Southern Africa Development Community – SADC, tasked with overseeing regional cooperation, economic growth and stability in the region.

As a shining example, this weekend’s events in Kang have attracted attention from many quarters.

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