The usually quite Motebejana ward in Kanye village was turned into a battlefield of sorts on Thursday morning when Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) stalwarts President Ian Khama and former secretary general and chairman Daniel Kwelagobe clashed before thousands of mourners gathered for the burial of Sir Ketumile Masire. The long standing animosity between the two democrats, which has been widely publicised since Khama assumed state and party presidency in 2008, finally exploded when the two traded salvos before the masses.
To an untrained ear the exchange between the two on the podium to eulogise Sir Ketumile was just advise rendered by a veteran politician to those who succeeded him, and a response. But alas! Those who have watched the rivalry between the two unravel over the years read between the lines, and see Kwelagobe exploiting the opportunity to take on the Khama administration. DK must have pre-warned mourners that his speech would be loaded when he said Sir Ketumile's funeral is that of a larger than life national hero and not matlhogojane.
"Mo phitlhong ya matlhogojane nkabe kere nne a tsholwa, abe a swa ebe go hela. Gompieno re bua ka mogaka". What was to follow was a moving eulogy of a man Kwelagobe admired and revered for his "indefatigable energy, who lived and breathed democracy". A politician, statesman, farmer, teacher and a journalist who believed in sincere exchange of ideas, said DK in a speech pregnant with figurative speech and wisdom.
As the crowd warmed up to his delivery, and premising veiled criticism on a Biblical citation Kwelagobe tactfully switched from English to a language he is more comfortable with, Setswana. The scripture is from Jeremiah 6 vs 16. "Jeremiah 6:16 (NIV): This is what the Lord says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls."
In vernacular Kwelagobe implored the current rulers to heed the scripture, and go back to the drawing board to introspect their mistakes and seek guidance from wise counsel. He said although veterans like Masire have departed the world, the current leadership of the country should take advantage of the few left to seek advise on how they used to overcome challenges facing them.
Specifically citing the turbulent diamond prices and the closure of BCL mines (which are signs of economic crisis), DK's message was that government has lost the plot and should go back to the crossroads where they will find people who have ruled before them and seek guidance. "Ha rele mo tseleng re bona go hihala ha pele ga rona, are boele ko marakanelong a ditsela, re e go simolla tsela gape," he said, to cracks of laughter from the mourners.
Before the free advice Kwelagobe had churned out numerous examples of how Sir Ketumile had managed to find success working under very difficult conditions but managed to cement himself as an exceptional leader, "A le tsebe ntlha go utlwa, a rera, a reetsa, a tsaya dikgakololo mme segolo bogolo, a rekegela madi a sechaba!". Kwelagobe therefore complained that even after leaving the presidency 20 years ago Government has failed to give Sir Ketumile a proper recognition deserving of a statesman of his stature.
He called on Government to review the Honours policy to recognise local heroes even when still alive. At the height of his political career Kwelagobe, then BDP Secretary General, used to hold audiences spellbound with exceptional oratory skills while traversing the length and breadth of the country. He was a feared politician who dissected his opponents without mercy, and remains among the elite league of exceptional Tswana speakers that includes the likes of Sir Ketumile, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, and the late Gomolemo Motswaledi.
No sooner was Khama - who never shies away from a challenge - on the podium than he was hitting back at Kwelagobe. He berated Kwelagobe for leaking internal matters, before revealing that he recently had discussions with BDP secretary general, Botsalo Ntuane about honouring Sir Ketumile. Khama closed the debate by promising that the next cabinet meeting will further discuss the issue to form a position on honouring national heroes. The current Honours Policy stipulates that leaders who contribute to the development of the country can only be honoured posthumously.
About going back to the crossroads, Khama readily admitted that they will go back to the drawing board to introspect but added that; "We will go back to the crossroads, re ya go batla tsela e tlhamaletseng, mme ke tla tsamaya le wena (referring to Kwelagobe). Ga ke batle go tlogela Kwelagobe. O rata go tswa mo tseleng". Although they have never seen eye to eye, President Khama and Kwelagobe sit together in the BDP central committee. Soon after the surprise inclusion of Kwelagobe as additional member at the Mmadinare congress in 2015, Khama is alleged to have tried to purge his nemesis without success. "Khama appointed Kwelagobe the MCC for Gantsi Region
. When the latter protested being posted to too far off places citing old age and ill-health, Khama warned that if he cannot perform his duties he should pave the way for a replacement," a source said. Previously a taboo in the BDP, Khama - a sitting BDP President - openly campaigned against Kwelagobe ahead of the Kanye congress in 2003 but against all odds, the latter triumphed.
Ever since then, the die was cast. Earlier, shortly after taking over state power Khama had removed Kwelagobe from his cabinet through a devious strategy that called on all cabinet ministers holding positions in the party to relinquish one. From the onset DK, a seasoned politician of note, read the move and chose party chairmanship over a cabinet post as the latter had no guarantees because the President enjoys the prerogative to reshuffle anytime he chooses.
The President does not account to anybody and is not obliged to give reasons for reshuffling cabinet to pick and choose his ministers. Flawed as it was, Khama's reasoning was that ministerial duties are too demanding to be paired with responsibilities at party level and therefore will deny those in the BDP central committee to focus their energy on working for the party. Ironically the state president also doubles as the party president, and current vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi is the BDP Chairman.
More interestingly, Kwelagobe's jab is not an isolated observation about the state of democracy within the ruling party and the country in general. Under Khama's rule the BDP split for the first time in history giving birth to its splinter, the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). Against a plethora of challenges, both internal and external the BDP popular vote dropped to just 47% at the 2014 general elections for the first time since formation. More democrats have recently criticised their own government.
Former President Festus Mogae has publicly voiced displeasure at the deteriorating governance, the rule of law and democracy in the country. Before he passed on Sir Ketumile Masire had grown more and more disillusioned about the direction the party he helped form has taken in recent years. He openly expressed disappointment at regression in democracy, lack of consultation and decision that threaten to destroy Botswana's democratic credentials.
Shortly before his death Sir Ketumile cautioned the current administration against destroying local democracy by introducing the controversial Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), which has been rejected by the public, into the electoral process. Tebelelo Seretse, a former cabinet minister has lately been vocal almost to a point of defiance never seen in the BDP of yesteryears.
Other former BDP stalwarts who have openly talked about being persecuted include Major Gen Moeng Pheto, Dr Margaret Nasha, Pono Moatlhodi all former BDP MPs. They have since jumped ship to join the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).