Minutes after a political rally in Maun West, the mood turned from being cheerful to grim inside a large marquee at Tshwaragano Junior Secondary School.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) campaign team and President Ian Khama watched as enthusiasm for Tawana Moremi spiked and dejection for Mbulawa plummeted. “We are getting bombed on facebook,” one aide announced, watching a flurry of online criticism by some Batawana and Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) membership alike. When news media turns a penetrating gaze on Botswana politics, Maun rarely makes headlines. The northwestern town is best known for heart-stopping beauty and inoffensive politics. But Friday last week was different.
Khama ignored pertinent issues such as chronic water shortage, recurring foot and mouth disease and hunting ban that has spelled a death knell on Ngamiland Trusts and escalated unemployment. BDP campaign team led by Alec ‘Del Piero’ Seametso stormed Maun with an intention to drop a bombshell on Tawana. First in the queue was President Ian Khama who used his charm offensive to rally the electorate against voting for Tawana.
Unveiling Kgosi Tawana’s wife at Tshwaragano, Khama revealed in sensational detail how he takes care of Tawana’s children. He told attendants that their Kgosi was leading a troubled life. But he appeared to be realising the dangers of taking a jab at Tawana in his turf. “You know,” he scanned the 6 000 BDP followers who attended the rally. “We are left with few days to election and we need to talk about these things,” he said in between applause and ululation.
The two Friday star rallies sharply exposed BDP vulnerabilities and forced Khama and his team to work extra hard to defend their position. “The whole thing has blown in their faces and there is not time to repair the damage,” observed a Maun resident in response to the Khama and Seametso diatribe. After months of diminishing confidence- BMD leader Gomolemo Motswaledi's death is linked to overzealous state security agents – Khama and the BDP are suddenly confronting the possibility of a loss in the 2014 general election that could diminish his legacy and end a near five decade rule by a single party. BDP's desperation is not limited to embarrassing Tawana in Maun. The party has intensified its abuse of state resources thereby tilting the scales in its favour.
Recently the party failed to explain why its campaign team could not use party resources to travel to Ghanzi and instead flew at taxpayer’s money. But those who understand politics say BDP’s Achilles Heel lies in its campaign strategies. There is a school of thought in the BDP that Seametso’s appointment as national campaign manager was a gross mistake. He grew up under Kentse Rammidi’s arm at Kgosing ward and became his campaign manager. “I used him within his limits,” Rammidi would later say. Against rising thirst and a gloomy Ngamiland beef industry, the BDP and Seametso chose an easy way out: “Tawana is stubborn,” declared Seametso as he drew his hat to his face to break his sweat.
Tawana defected from the BDP in 2012 and later joined the newly formed Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). In 2009 he defeated Mpho Moaparankwe of Botswana Alliance Movement with a margin of 2316 under the BDP ticket. His strength as a politician lies in his independent thought and has been one of the few in parliament to strongly and openly criticise Khama’s leadership style. The unpleasant side of the BDP came to light when Seametso bragged about how his party participated in the barring of foreigners into the country recently. “We don’t allow actors and Satanists here,” he revealed in reference to US actor, Rick Yune and South African opposition politician, Julius Malema, who were asked for the first time to apply for Visa to enter the country.
At Bon Arivee bar in the late Friday evening, euphoria was palpable. One could easily mistake Tawana for a BDP politician. Sitting quietly among a small group of men and women clad in BDP regalia Tawana responded to the attacks with indifference. “Here, see, they are with me,” he said. “I don’t care what he says about me.” But his subjects have a big plan and are turning the backlash on the BDP. A meeting hastily arranged resolved to let sleeping dogs lie for now. Political scientists argue that voters have a propensity to symphathise with candidates who are unfairly attacked. To Professor Zibani Maundeni of University of Botswana, the BDP started on a wrong footing in Maun. “Instead of making friends, they are making enemies. It is some kind of a minus,” he observed. But Mbulawa does not see anything wrong with the Friday star rally.
“We did not go there to make any pluses or minuses. Every politician has an angle,” he said emphatically. Asked if Khama and Seametso handed victory to opposition by bashing Tawana, he responded. “Truth hurts, we were saying things that Tawana did.” The 39-year-old politician with vast interests in tourism believes that he will easily win Maun West. “I provide water to people. I build bridges,” said the owner of SKL camps that has lodges in Savuti. Maun has a litany of challenges that need immediate attention. The recurring foot and mouth disease has been a collective menace in Ngamiland. Maintaining and patrolling the buffalo fence has always been a challenge to the vet officers. “This is done half-heartedly,” observed a Maun veterinarian officer who did not want to be identified.
The fence is crucial to avoid a mix of wild animals - especially buffaloes that carry the foot and mouth virus - and livestock. Land is one of the most controversial issues in Maun with connected white capitalists finding ways to acquire prime land in the pristine Okavango Delta. But there are other challenges such as acute shortage of water and voters such as Thalogang Dimbo of Legotlhwane ward have been hoping to have a drink for months.