The vice president Ponatshego Kedikilwe is now back as the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) chairperson after a decade on the sidelines of BDP active politics. A factionalist who was an instrumental figure in the BDP factions, Kedikilwe’s second coming at the behest of his former rival is a clear indication that he is ‘a conquered man,’ Botswana Guardian has established.
Aged, beaten, feeble and to a certain extent an ineffective party factionary, Kedikilwe now finds himself as Khama’s second in command within the party hierarchy and in government. While it is true that he has achieved what his predecessor and one time archrival Mompati Merafhe failed to achieve in politics, Kedikilwe appears to be a beneficiary of circumstances and misfortunes of other politicians. Kedikilwe was appointed vice president by Khama in 2012 following the retirement of Merafhe due to ill health. This week he was appointed party chairperson following the resignation of the disgraced BDP chairperson Samson Moyo Guma.
Decades ago, Kedikilwe was on top of the game, as the BDP chairperson and destined for greater things. He was hailed as the BDP’s next big thing. Intelligent and shrewd are some of the adjectives that defined the man who was known in political circles only as PHK. Together with Daniel Kwelagobe they were in charge of the ruling party structures – Kwelagobe as the kingmaker and Kedikilwe as the ‘King in waiting’. Kedikilwe, people said then, had the cut and design of the country’s presidency. In his autobiography former cabinet minister David Magang described Kedikilwe, “…PHK for one was intellectually fecund and talked soberly, maturely and even confidently – even though he sounded a tad too high flown on occasion (His verbosity at times obscured the substance of his argument, in effect achieving the counterproductive result of communicating only to himself).”
Kwelagobe/Kedikilwe faction was the dominant faction within the party, until it was extinguished by Mogae in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The faction tormented former president Sir Ketumile Masire for years and nearly frustrated his succession plan.
Masire’s successor Festus Mogae was able to ascend to the presidency through the automatic succession plan engineered by Masire. The recruitment of Khama from the Botswana Defence Force by Mogae and other invisible forces behind the party ended Kedikilwe’s chances of ever realising his dream of becoming president. In 2000 Kedikilwe resigned from cabinet allegedly because of his strained relationship with president Mogae. Mogae was not finished with Kedikilwe. He encouraged Khama to challenge Kedikilwe in 2001 but he chickened out. It was only in 2003, five years after he was roped into politics that Khama with the support of Mogae challenged Kedikilwe for the only political position that Kedikilwe was left with - the BDP chairmanship. Khama eventually won the elections against Kedikilwe at the Gantsi congress in 2003.
Stripped of his influence and alienated, Kedikilwe retreated and continued to be the leader of the now marginalised Kwelagobe/Kedikilwe faction that was to be known as Barataphathi. He however remained a BDP backbencher and constantly differed with his party policies. Although many in the party and even in opposition applauded him for his decision to face Khama in a contest for the party chairmanship Kedikilwe’s political career appeared then to be over.
He would later reduce his participation in factions the moment he was reappointed back to cabinet by Mogae in 2007. In cabinet Kedikilwe gradually became a technocrat ands less of a politician. When several BDP members left the party in 2010 to form the Botswana Movement for Democracy many thought that Kedikilwe and his long time ally Kwelagobe would also follow suit.
Kedikilwe continued his duties as Minister of minerals, energy and water resources with little interest in the newly formed party. By remaining behind when his comrades formed the new party, Kedikilwe earned Khama’s respect, but not trust observers have said. It was no surprise that when Mompati Merafhe resigned as vice president in 2012, Khama appointed Kedikilwe as his number two. Insiders say that Kedikilwe was elated by this appointment. “…besides he has always wanted to be president and the vice president position is now the closest that he can be to the throne. I am sure he is happy with the post and he will retire a happy man,” said one source.
Sources within the BDP say that despite their earlier rivalry, Kedikilwe has since sold out to Khama in many ways. He is not necessarily Khama’s personal friend but his subordinate, sources say. One senior BDP member this week said it was no surprise that Kedikilwe was this week appointed the party chairperson. Kedikilwe of 2013 is different and would do everything that Khama asks him to do, the source alleges. Kedikilwe has indicated that he will be retiring from active politics after the 2014 general election, but his appointment as chairperson following the fall of Samson Moyo Guma now means that he will retire from active politics in 2015 not 2014 as he initially planned. Political commentator Ndulamo Morima says that Kedikilwe’s appointment is a reward for having been ‘a good loyal tamed politician.’ “How is it possible for a party that is going through turbulent times to appoint an ageing, tired and retiring politician to lead it? The logical conclusion is that this is a reward for him for having agreed to be tamed,” said Morima.
A senior party member agrees with Morima, “At this moment Kedikilwe is harmless to the president and does not have any presidential ambitions. Don’t be surprised when he continues as the party chairperson after his term ends in 2015.” With Kedikilwe as party charperson it is difficult to see him wielding any significant power within the ruling party. Will he have power to influence party decisions? Will he challenge Khama? Will he unite the party? The 2013 Kedikilwe no longer has the sympathy of the opposition, as it was the case more than 10 years ago. His recent decision to postpone the Francistown West bye-election following a fraudulent petition by some BDP members is viewed by many in the opposition as a clear sign that Kedikilwe has sold his soul to Khama. Kedikilwe who appeared to have lost his steam and power refused to address the Francistown West bye-election matter in parliament when probed by opposition MPs.
“The Kedikilwe we knew and have worked with for many years wouldn’t take such a decision,” said a BMD activist. Morima agrees: “That marked the death of Kedikilwe as a liberal thinker. In the past he wouldn’t accept to make that pronouncement but now it is clear he is a tired politician who is just following the master’s instructions,” he says
Not everyone sees Kedikilwe as a spent force. Former cabinet minister and BDP veteran Ambrose Masalila hailed the appointment of PHK as the chairperson, postulating that: “…it will bring stability in the party.” He said that BDP members were worried by the sorry state of the party and that someone senior, mature and experienced was needed to restore order. University of Botswana political analyst Professor Zibani Maudeni is of the view that while it is possible for Kedikilwe to bring stability within the party, he has a short period to do so, because he will be retiring in 2015. “The BDP is a long time project and need to groom leaders who can take it forward,” observes Maudeni.