Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi will quit if, under his watch, the Botswana Democratic Party does not perform well in the upcoming elections.
Masisi, who said this while on a state visit to the US this week, wished his predecessor Ian Khama luck on his new path.
He added that now that the former pesident had chosen to cut ties with the party his father Seretse Khama co-founded in 1961, they would up their campaign momentum ahead of the October national elections.
The president of the landlocked country touched on the Khama departure subject after one of Botswana’s citizens living abroad asked for his reaction in San Francisco on Monday.
“It’s not nice to have lost him but was it avoidable? I guess not given what has happened and … we have to live with it,” he said in a video posted on Botswana government’s Facebook page.
Although Masisi had given Khama the impression that he would continue his legacy when he took over, he started undoing most of Khama’s policies and decisions once he assumed the position of president.
Some of his more controversial decisions include lifting the ban on wildlife hunting that was put in place by Khama, who is a known conservation enthusiast.
Masisi argued that his government was not going to allow people to suffer while the number of human-wildlife conflict cases is on the rise.
Khama – a qualified pilot and aviation enthusiast, who has been accused of being a dictator who made unilateral decisions – was also not happy that Masisi has reviewed his retirement benefits as a former president and restricted his access to state aircrafts. Khama has often been seen flying himself in state-owned planes.
The former president, whose father led Botswana when it gained independence in 1966, has also expressed concerns that Masisi was targeting those who were close to him. The former statesman has accused Masisi of purging his people – including his favourite candidate for the BDP presidency, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, as foreign affairs minister after she announced her intention to contest for party leadership.
Internal efforts by the party to reunite Masisi and Khama has yielded no desired results.
Masisi appeared to believe Khama would leave the BDP at some point.
“Look at it from the position of … what was the alternative? What did we need to do to retain him?,” he asked earlier this week.
“Politically speaking, it’s a cost I wasn’t prepared to bear for the party.”
He said in the wake of Khama’s departure, it was now left for them to work even harder for the party. Khama is a traditional leader of the Bangwato tribe from areas known to be BDP strongholds, and he has the Bangwato’s allegiance. Khama has been tipped to join a new party, the Botswana Patriotic Front, which is still going through the registration process.
In an interview with City Press last week, Khama said it was possible he would join the new party, but he didn’t want to rule from the grave.
“If I see that it would be the best chance of ensuring that we don’t have this current leadership coming back into office, and the way to go would be to be part of the new party, certainly I would take that and, after the elections, see how we tidy up things,” Khama said.
Masisi on the other side, appears to be ready for the showdown, given Khama’s departure with some BDP support expected to follow him. He said they would “try and compensate by recruiting as many as possible by campaigning”.
“Now that he’s left us and is promoting the opposition, we’ll have to be more vigorous in promoting ourselves. We will clarify to the people who we are and who we are not,” Masisi said.
“The person who is most popular and the party that is the most popular will win.”
Masisi added: “It’s fine, if people are attracted to that, they’ll go and vote for that.”
If that happens and the BDP loses power, then Masisi commits to let go of the leadership role.
“If they don’t vote for us and I am the leader then I should think for me not to do further injury to my party, I will quit leading the party … and a new leader will emerge and they might be compelled to change the course and improve the fortunes,” he said.