As President Ian Khama sits back and ponders the strategies of securing a second term in office, he may also want to consider some of the challenges ahead. One such challenge is choosing a successor. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) heads to its elective congress this July and the issue of Khama’s successor is being discussed in hushed tones within the party.
Speculation has now heightened and is focusing on the first critical decision Khama will have to take post 2014 general elections, which is choosing his successor. Section 39 of the Constitution gives the president powers to appoint a Vice President, which appointment shall be endorsed by parliament. With the current Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe being out of the picture after announcing his intention to retire from active politics, it is now down to four candidates Botswana Guardian understands.
But unlike his predecessors Khama is not predictable. He has kept his possible successor or lack thereof a closely guarded secret. Observers say that this might be BDP’s lack of a clear succession plan playing out in the open. “BDP’s lack of a clear succession plan is eventually going to damage the party,” said an observer. And Khama does not seem to mind. “No, this (the BDP) is not like a company where there are succession plans. I do not have one. Those who are interested in taking over when I go, will express their interest at the appropriate time,” he told a local newspaper. However, this has not stopped the media and people within the ruling party from speculating and some names frequently crop up as likely contenders. This had led to some MPs falling all over themselves trying to outdo each other to please Khama.
Some of the runners AND frontrunners include: Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi- a close associate of Khama-though there is a belief that they belong to different factions within the BDP. There is a school of thought that peddles the idea that BDP chairmanship is a stepping stone to the vice presidency, this becomes true when you exclude Daniel Kwelagobe. Even within the party, some are already referring to Venson-Moitoi as “Transitional Chairperson.” This refers to the July congress where Venson-Moitoi will face Moyo Guma and Patrick Balopi for the chairmanship of the party. Her supporters believe should she win, she will be in a good position to succeed Kedikilwe.
Tsholetsa House insiders will tell you that Khama was at one point chairman of the party and then elected VP, as well as Ponatshego Kedikilwe. Khama is said to be considering 62 year-old Venson-Moitoi to silence the gender equality critics. By Khama’s admission, Botswana women are capable to lead just like those in other countries. Onkokame Mokaila is also one of the contenders. Mokaila who will be turning 55 years this November falls within the Khama cycle of close associates from their days at the Botswana Defence Force (BDF). Mokaila’s father also worked for Seretse Khama (Ian’s father and first President of Botswana). Khama’s blue-eyed boy Mokgweetsi Masisi’s name also pops up in many instances. He has been at the forefront of defending and publicising Khama’s pet projects, many of which are a fodder for ridicule within the opposition cycles. Ramadeluka Seretse Minister of Defence, Justice and Security is Ian Khama’s cousin and they were both groomed at the BDF.
When Seretse faced corruption charges Khama refused to appoint a substantive replacement. First Lesego Motsumi acted on Ndelu’s behalf and later Edwin Batshu. Khama recently revealed in an interview with the Botswana Guardian that he had deliberately reserved the position for Seretse. Many view this as a hint that Seretse remains a central figure inside Khama’s succession plans. To understand Khama better and how he will likely choose his successor, the Botswana Guardian spoke to some of his former colleagues in the army where the president spent over 20 years. He rose through the ranks until he became Commander for nine years. As commander he was Board Chairman of Promotions Board. There are some who say that while at the BDF Khama was strategic about his promotions. While he had his close associates that included Onkokame Mokaila, Thapelo Olopeng, Ramadeluka Seretse, Isaac Kgosi, when it comes to awarding officers, Khama considers merit more than patronage.
“He always had his guys close by but they were never promoted to very senior positions, while those who were not so close to him such as Fisher (Matshwenyego) and Mokgware (Pius) got high positions. He had his batmen and technocrats on the other hand. The technocrats were getting the positions,” said a source. Fisher eventually succeeded Khama while Mokgware became Commander of the Ground Forces. Some in the ruling party are already using this analogy – and rightfully so. They believe that of the four frontrunners for the VP position, Venson-Moitoi stands a better chance and that Khama will keep the others around as cabinet ministers. But there is one former senior BDF officer who does not agree with the analogy. “”I don’t agree with it to a certain extent,” he said preferring to be anonymous, adding that Khama always took care of his batmen including giving them promotions. “Fisher and Mokgare were promoted by Merafhe (Mompati) who was then Commander.”
The former army man said when Merafhe left and Khama took over the latter had no choice but to appoint Fisher as his second in command. Fisher was competing with Moeng Pheto but according to the source Pheto and Khama along the way crossed paths. But as one former BDF officer puts it: In the military promotion is mainly influenced by seniority, leadership skills, technical proficiency and competence but in politics it is a maze and web that defies simple logic. One former officer believes that Khama will likely appoint someone whom he will have control over even after he (Khama) has stepped down. “I tell you his first priority is Ndelu, but it will be politically suicidal to appoint him so he will likely appoint someone who will then appoint Ndelu as his VP.” Botswana Guardian understands that while at the BDF Seretse was viewed as a thoughtful guy. “Unlike Mokaila, Seretse was a dreamer he had plans for the BDF and he never gave up,” said a former colleague.
Khama’s boys in parliament As he will eventually name his successor probably after next year’s general elections, Khama will need parliament’s backing. Observers note that that is why a lot of people associated with the president are running for parliament. Olopeng (Thapelo) will challenge Pono Moatlhodi in Tonota South, while Duke Masilo has also gone into politics. After the 2014 elections Khama will only be left with three years to hand over the baton in 2018.