Botswana: Has Khama Reached Sell-By Date After Poll Humiliation?

Gaborone — EMBARKING on the now all familiar path of prominent leaders quitting ruling parties and throwing their weight behind the opposition, former Botswana president, Seretse Khama Ian Khama, looks likely to be relegated to the Southern African country's dustbin of history after the governing party retained power in recent elections.

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), in power since independence from Britain in 1966, defied projections by doomsayers and infighting to retain power and increased its dominance in Parliament to 57,77 percent of the vote. This was from 46,5 percent.

Incumbent Mokgweetsi Masisi, was duly declared the winner of the election.

While it represented the 12th straight time BDP secured a win, the victory, with an increased margin, the ruling party's success was a slap in the face for the former president, Khama, who in the run-up to the poll had infamously resigned from the ruling party.

This was a culmination of a rift with Masisi, his handpicked successor who came to power last year in April.

In the wake of the fallout, emanating from Masisi's resistance to his predecessor wanting to wield influence despite the lapse of his reign, Khama threw his weight behind the new opposition, Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF).

While his former party, co-founded by his father, Sir Seretse Goitsebeng Maphiri Khama, in 1961, his new political home at BPF secured a meagre 4,27 percent.

It was anticipated the ruling party's prospects in the just-ended poll would be eroded by Khama's recent stunts.

"The Batswana have spoken. By voting immensely for the governing party, they have rejected Khama. BDP's win despite him calling for Batswana to reject it is his political epitaph," said analyst, Eric Setlhare.

Khama's quitting of the BDP and his calling for the electorate to do the same represents a radical shift in a political career that began in 1998 at his appointment as deputy to then-president, Festus Mogae.

Ten years later, he would succeed Mogae as the president, a position he relinquished with Masisi's coming to power.

Eric Mosweu, a political expert based in Gaborone, said Masisi had by quitting the ruling party and campaigning for the opposition, joined politicians such as former Zimbabwean leader, Robert Mugabe (now deceased), and ex-Tanzania Prime Minister, Edward Lowassa.

After his resignation in 2017, ahead of 2018 presidential election, Mugabe shocked many by endorsing the candidature of opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader, Nelson Chamisa, ahead of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa.

ZANU-PF triumphed with president Mnangagwa emerging victorious.

In Tanzania, Lowassa quit the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and entered the 2015 presidential race on the card of the opposition Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA).

CCM retained power with presidential candidate John Magufuli emphatically registering outright victory, a move that compelled Lowassa to return to the ruling party.

"This trend is testament that no individual is bigger than the party. Khama is the latest politician to learn this," Mosweu said.

Khama has remained conspicuously silent on the outcome, although sources close to the BPF said he would mobilise for the party ahead of the next poll and leading the Bamangwato tribe, of which he is the paramount chief.

BPF won three seats, behind BDP (38), Umbrella for Democratic Change (15) while Alliance for Progressives managed only one seat.

Mosweu said Masisi had an opportunity to re-establish unity within BDP following the rift emanating from his spat with Khama.

"It has been a bruising few months for the ruling party. The just-ended poll, won convincingly, was largely the source of the conflict. With elections out of the way, BDP has an opportunity to rebuild," Mosweu said.

BDP's campaign was premised on building a more inclusive economy and diversifying it from an over-reliance of diamonds.

The services sector has emerged as promising source of driving diversity and is tipped to contribute to spur economic growth projected at 4,3 percent in 2019 and 4,6 percent in the following year.

Poverty and unemployment remain prevalent despite the growth prospects.

"The overriding intention is to re-steer the economy in a new direction," Masisi said.

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