18 March 2019

Botswana President Secures Crucial Party Backing

Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Wikimedia Commons
Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi in London in 2018.

Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi secured key nominations over the weekend in his race for the party presidency against former cabinet minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi.

The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) will hold an unprecedented election on April 5, where the incumbent is being challenged, for the first time, in the party's 58-year history.

President Masisi sacked Dr Venson-Moitoi in December, immediately after the former Africa Union chairperson candidate, indicated that she was running for the presidency.

The president has accused Dr Venson-Moitoi of acting as former President Ian Khama's proxy.

The delegates

President Masisi and his predecessor are involved in a damaging fight for the control of the party.

It is unclear what the bone of contention between President Masisi and Mr Khama was about, but it has escalated ahead of the BDP's crucial elective congress.

Mr Khama has openly backed Dr Venson-Moitoi, but after a weekend of key nominations across the country, President Masisi has surged ahead.

President Masisi has managed to get backing from 11 of the party's 14 regions, but it will be down to how the delegates vote on April 5 in remote Kang, about 500km west of the capital. Nominations in the remaining three regions, expected to back President Masisi, will be held over the weekend.

While President Masisi has firmly put his nose in front, Dr Venson-Moitoi's citizenship dominated weekend headlines.

Dr Venson-Moitoi told delegates in Botswana's second largest city, Francistown, while on her campaign trail, that the current government had questioned her citizenship.

Her father was a Malawian immigrant and Botswana forbids dual citizenship.

Dr Venson-Moitoi said she sensed sinister motives as the issue of dual citizenship had curiously cropped up just weeks before the election.

"After so many years of my life, I was recently told I should go to Malawi and renounce my citizenship, which has never been an issue when I was in office serving this government for 40 years," she said.

"Do they think they can confuse me with such allegations? There are many Botswana nationals who live along the border with other countries, and have relatives across such borders. Who is going to speak for such ordinary people when the government starts wild accusations regarding citizenship?"

A regional congress

The 67-year-old also dismissed allegations that she was 'fronting' for Mr Khama, saying she had every right to stand for any leadership position in the party, "as a member in good standing".

President Masisi, addressing delegates at a regional congress over the weekend, refrained from making direct attacks on the opposite camp, as he had done in recent weeks.

Instead, he said party faithful should chose wisely in Kang.

"I speak for myself, alone. If you choose bondage, don't elect me," he said, in what was seen as a direct jab at the Dr Venson-Moitoi's Khama allegiance.

Botswana's much vaunted image as a beacon of peace and tranquility was being severely tested as the feuding threatens to disrupt the government's running.

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