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The power feud shaping Botswana elections

Tuesday October 22 2019

Neo J Masisi

Botswana's First Lady Neo J Masisi (centre) arriving to join a Botswana Democratic Party election campaign rally addressed by Mokgweetsi Masisi, the President of Botswana and leader of the BDP, at his home village in Moshupa, on October 22, 2019. PHOTO | MONIRUL BHUIYAN | AFP 

By WENE OWINO

Botswana holds its 11th general elections on Wednesday (October 23) and the long ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) staring at the possibility of defeat.

Unlike before, the fragmented opposition has forged a united front and got a major shot in the arm from a self-destructing BDP which lost the support of retired president, Lt-Gen (rtd) Ian Khama, the main political figure in the country since 1998.

KHAMA FAMILY

Khama has thrown his lot with the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Chance (UDC) led by Gaborone lawyer, Gideon Duma Boko in a bid to get back at the ruling party top brass for mistreating him after he left power last year.

Though he is no longer the political powerhouse of yore, Khama still carries a lot of clout in the country’s politics as paramount chief of the influential Ngwato tribe and a son of respected founding president, the late Sir Seretse Khama.

The Ngwato inhabit the populous Central District, the biggest support block for BDP since independence.

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A vast majority of them still remain fiercely loyal to the Khama family and harbour decades’ long feelings of entitlement to the presidency.

With Khama fronting for his newly formed Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF), the BDP is no longer assured of the thumping victory in its bedrock of support.

That the race seems too close to call is a serious indictment on the BDP whose divisions were exacerbated by Khama’s autocratic style when he served as the country’s vice-president for ten years from 1998. In power a decade later, his strong-arm tactics, defiance of government and party procedures and heavy reliance on the security agencies to run the country alienated many important quarters.

In 2009, the BDP split handing the UDC significant gains in the 2014 polls won by Khama.

BDP would still have clearly swept to power this year were it not for Khama falling out bitterly with his successor President Mokgweetsi Masisi. After failing to oust him in an internal BDP coup, he formed a new party - the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) – effectively splitting the party again and making Masisi as the most vulnerable BDP leader in history in the face of a resurgent opposition. However, he may yet lead the BDP to victory given the power of incumbency.

In contrast, the UDC and its supporters are confident that they can achieve a rarity in Africa of removing an incumbent from power.

Among UDC’s hurdles in that quest are questions on its following outside Khama’s central district and organisational credentials UDC is an alliance comprising the Botswana National Front (BNF) and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) led by former legislator Dumelang Saleshando. Boko is UDC’s presidential candidate with Saleshando as his number two.

UDC has also lost one of its 2014 partners, the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), which has splintered with the formation of the Alliance for Progressives (AP).