Tshekedi Khama defected to the Botswana Patriotic Front on Wednesday. It should serve as a moral victory for the BDP splinter group, but may do more harm than good to both the new party and its allies in the opposition. With its national reach the BDP may have the ability to survive the BPF ground zero, that is Serowe and 250km around it, while harnessing a rising southern Botswana goodwill to re-enter the strategic Gaborone urban and peri-urban areas. In that sense the Khamas may have inadvertently opened the door to the revival of the historically electorally besieged red brigade in strategic areas of the electoral map observes TSHIRELETSO MOTLOGELWA.
There are about 14 constituencies in and around the Central District, a region seen as largely within the sphere of influence of the Khama family within the ruling Botswana Democratic Party. The secret of the Khama defection, according to those opposed to the Masisi faction and some elements of the opposition that is aligned with the Khama-led BPF is that the sheer scale of the Ngwato royals’ influence in that region should win the opposition some strategic constituencies. To understand the possible impact of the Khama defection, particularly, the TK effect on the possible results for that region, one has to first look at the layout of the region electorally, looking at the results from that last time, the Khama effect in the region, and even nationally, the TK brand in these regions, and ultimately the importance of the BPF, together with its self-claimed ally UDC in the coming general elections.
Firstly lets study the electoral dynamics of a faction. In political science in general, when a faction leaves a party, it is never true that when a faction leaves an existing party the totality of the people who leave it immediately go straight to the voting booth and vote for the faction. In other words if a faction splits and leaves with a cow, when they arrive at their new home, more often they have but a goat to show for all their troubles. Factional events cut both ways. What often happens is that, the people who leave the party, some of them become demotivated and actually end up not coming to the voting booth, they kind of face sit. This phenomenon was true of the BCP split from the BNF as well as the BMD split from the BDP. The BDP purely statistically speaking if you look at its numbers constituency by constituency did not experience a collapse in votes as it was expected, rather what happened was that, the BMD and UDC, brought numbers perhaps from the originally non-aligned. Take the famous 1998 departure of the BCP from the BNF. For one to understand how badly the BCP damaged BNF one has to study the popular vote of the BNF before the BCP split and after, therefore the performance of the BNF in 1994 and in 1999 just after the split. In 1994, BNF had a popular vote of 105 109. In 1999 the party got a popular vote of 87 457, a reduction of just 18 562. It is very incongruent with the numbers that the BCP pulled, a whopping 40 096, nearly half of the BNF’s 1994 votes. What does that mean? If we are to assume that the 18 562 largely came from the BNF to the newly formed BCP, then how do you account for the extra 21 534 that the lime party added to make the 40 096. Furthermore given the acrimonious split, the size of the split, with BNF split exactly in the middle one would have expected at the least for that 40 096, to have left an equivalent or near equivalent hole in the BNF’s popular vote. What it means is that BCP got less than half of its vote from the BNF and the rest from other voters who were not necessarily BNF voters. Take the departure of the BMD, which left after the 2009, in which BDP got 290 090. In 2014 surprisingly minus BMD, the party still increased its vote, by a substantial 30 559, to 320 647. This is a substantial increase even if one factors in the increase of voters from 2009 to 2014. This is not to argue that BMD did not have an impact politically, it did, but that was more at the UDC than necessarily at the BDP. The UDC in 2014 was voted in by a whopping 207 113! This was nearly double the BNF 2009 vote of 119 509. In other words the UDC added 87 604 from the BNF’s 2014 vote. When goes searching for that 87 604 in the BDP vote of 2019, he is surprised to find an increase, of more than 30 000.
But the other thing to notice about the Khama faction is that it has quite a localized footprint, being located in and around Serowe, Palapye and Mahalapye, the impact perhaps reducing in intensity the further you get away from those regions. The other fact is that because of the specific tribalist identity of the faction, which in turn has aroused an equal ethnic based blowback, it has split the BDP regionally from Dibete down and upwards. The fact that the launch of Tshekedi was in Serowe, indicates a party that does not realise that it is painting to the electoral corner from which it will struggle to get out. In a way by remaining in Central the Khamas are limiting their national impact on the very party which they seek to unseat, which has a substantial national footprint. The Khamas believe that perhaps Central is the very heart of the BDP, they are right it is, but its more a spiritual home than an electoral one per se. Both BDP and UDC/BCP with their national reach should have careful thought as to the true value negative or negative of a somewhat regional faction. Any careful study of the nature of the BPF would have caused any serious strategist of a national party like those two to seriously consider the opportunities versus the threats such a party presents and in particular the UDC ought to have seriously considered the potential threats such a specifically ethnic focused party potentially does for its multi-ethnic and multi-regional position. While BCP split the BNF nationally more or less, and the BMD the same, the BPF is a party limited to a region whose ground zero is no wider than 200km from Serowe. It is difficult to gauge how for example the BPF could damage BDP, or strengthen UDC, in such a constituency as Kgalagadi. While the UDC would gain from any departure of any faction from the BDP given the two-party position of our electoral map after the BCP joined UDC, the opposition gains do not increase whether Khama endorses or dis-endorses UDC because the UDC benefits from the split rather than any extra vote from the Khama supporters. In fact it is questionable whether of the BDP from its traditional base, could vote for the opposition.
The other fact is that the Khamas have become divisive characters in the politics of the country with TK himself a weak political candidate. TK no more enhances the strength of the BPF especially nationally if anything he further enhances the belief that the BPF is nothing but a vehicle for the Khama’s return to political relevance. TK himself is not even a strong candidate, nor a popular Khama compared to his older brother let alone his father Seretse Khama. In fact often the older brother often has had to exhaust copious amounts of political assets to save his own brother.
Going back to 1965, no Khama has been challenged in the Botswana Democratic Party primary elections but as a sign of the times, Keletso Rakhudu and Moemedi Dijeng challenged TK and in fact nearly caused an upset. Seretse Khama stood unopposed in the 1965 BDP primary elections as did his son, General Ian Khama in 1998, 1999 and 2004. In 2008, then Vice President Khama became president and Tshekedi replaced him as MP. The latter has himself never been challenged as a primary elections candidate. Rakhudu and Dijeng ran against TK in Serowe North West and made enough inroads in the constituency to cause the latter to enlist the support of his brother General Khama. Typical of his norm-busting style, the elder Khama, who is the Bangwato Kgosi, used the kgotla to campaign for his brother Tshekedi. The older brother took his younger sibling on a ward-to-ward tour of Dimajwe, Malatswai and Mmashoro in a last minute effort to save him. Tshekedi was criticized for neglecting his constituents who wanted to change their parliamentary candidate a matter that led to the senior Khama pleading on his sibling’s behalf. Not only, TK’s electoral performance has been weaker than even non-Khamas in a region in which the royal family has what is a blank cheque to electoral support. Serowe West constituency voted in Mr Tshekedi Khama favour and he won five out of six wards gaining 2 797 votes against Dijeng and Rakhudu, who gathered 1 594 and 462 respectively. This was a margin of 741 from the total of both Dijeng and Rakhudu. In fact in the last General Elections it was in Khama’s constituency that the total turn-out was lowest in real terms, with a mere 8500 galvanised to cast their votes, while for example in Serowe South, Venson-Moitoi was voted by a 7,833, a number less than 700 from the total voters in TK’s constituency. The people who voted Kgotla Autlwetse alone in Serowe North, were 1 111 more than those who bothered to turn up to vote at all, in TK’s constituency! In fact Autlwetse himself was voted by nearly double the people who voted his Kgosi. The weird thing about this whole thing is also that the BPF, for all its huffing and puffing, provides no threat to the BDP within Serowe proper. If there was a threat, it would have come from Venson-Moitoi’s influence were she to disendorse the ruling party. She is herself a colossal in the constiotuency having won it with the country’s widest margin in the last election when she pipped UDC’s Iphemele Kgokgothwane by an eye-watering 6368 margin. It seems the BDP has managed to bring her onsite. Without Pelonomi-Venson, the BPF has no chance of clawing back the margins the red brigade had in the last elections.
At the very best Khama’s influence would therefore tip over constituencies where either the UDC had lost by a slim margin or the totality of both UDC and BCP votes against BDP votes were closer to winning, or indeed had more numbers. In that region only Selibe Phikwe East (where BDP’s Nonofho Molefi won by 242 margin), Bobonong (where Kgathi won by a margin of 120) and Mahalapye where Tshireletso’s 4 406 runs short of a combination of both BCP and UDC votes by 220. Otherwise that whole region consist of constituencies where the BDP had won by margins of more than 1500 which puts to the test the idea that Khama’s influence could overturn such differences. Mzwnila won Mmadinare by a margin of more than 4 000, while Autlwetse’s margin was more than 8000. Even Gobotswang lost to Malesu by a margin of around 1500, a gap that remains wide even with the intervention of Khama. At the very best Khama becomes important in constituencies where the gap was less than 1500 in those constituencies, but those are no more than five constituencies, namely Selibe Phikwe East, Bobonong and Mahalapye where Mothei and Nthobelang could outstrip Tshireletso by 220.
The BPF dynamic brings into orbit for the UDC in Phikwe East, Bobonong, Mahalapye, and Shoshong, Tati East because of the Guma Moyo’s impact, perhaps Tati West and Boteti West. That is 7 constituencies in an election where the opposition needs to bridge a 13 constituency margin to be within striking of government.
The problem with UDC is that by aligning with Khama, while they place their strategic cadidates such as Taolo Lucas and Gobotswang within the Parliament door, and indeed threaten to dethrone strategic BDP candidates VP Tsogwane and Kgathi, the Khama outfit threatens to derail the national appeal of the opposition. The UDC of 2014 won 17 constituencies nationwide. But when one looks closer at its performance a new pattern emerges, the party won 80 per cent of its constituencies around 200km from Gaborone. Only Salakae, Wynter Mmolotsi and Kgosi Tawana who won under UDC won in constituencies that are more than 200km from Gaborone. Only 3 constituencies that the party won were more than 200 km from the capital city. Furthermore where the party lost with a margin of less than 1000 more than 70 per cent of those constituencies were in and around 200km radius of Gaborone. The constituencies in which it which it lost with a margin of less than 1000, only Ghanzi, Kgalagadi North, Boteti and Shoshong were out of the 200 km Gaborone radius. Otherwise all other constituencies were within that radius being Gaborone South where Dipate lost to Molatlhegi with 243, Thamaga-Kumakwane where Rannatshe lost by 772 to Mabeo, Letlhakeng-Lephepe where Mokgwathi lost to Kably by 552, with a margin of less than 1000, Takatokwane where Nagafela lost to Ngaka by a mere 130, Lobatse where Modubule lost to Kebonag by 489 and Kanye North where Gaseitsitwe lost to Ralotsia by a mere 72.
The impact of the UDC’s dalliance with Khama has the inadvertent result that suddenly these constituencies are within striking of a BDP resurgent in the south of the country. In a way the emergence of the faction serves to enhance the BDP’s chances within these constituencies, perhaps other than Lobatse which is no closer to the UDC either because Khama supports an independent there. The BDP itself faces the problem of a number of incumbents who are disgruntled from losing their primaries but equally has a motivated group of activists especially in the southern part of the country galvanized by the party’s recent troubles. The other impact which will be critical to the southern results will be the departure of the BMD/AP group from the UDC vote. It is difficult to compute exactly how much of the 2014 UDC vote will not vote for UDC, voting AP or BDP, as a result of the departure of the BMD. One could argue that BDP chances have been enhanced by the UDC’s tacit support of Khama especially in the southern part in particular urban and peri-urban areas of Botswana.
The result may be that ultimately a galvanized BDP which has been running scared in the southern Botswana especially urban and peri-urban southern Botswana, might emerge with a total national presence. In that way the Khama’s may have served to salvage the party from the brink of annihilation.
Initially published on 27 September 2019