-National Council approves the party’s Constitutional Review Commission to dismantle the district -Sub-districts to be fully fledged districts -Target is to neutralize Khama’s influence both politically and in Bogosi -Serowe to lose control of the vast area stretching from Dibete to Makalamabedi
In what is widely considered a strategic move to end Former President Ian Khama’s dominance over the Central District, the 58th National Council of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) last week resolved to push for the declaration of all existing sub-districts into full districts.
The National Council resolution is viewed by many as an indirect ploy to dismantle the Central District and appease many who have been agitating for independence from the Khama dynasty.
Widely known as GaMmangwato, the Central District is the largest in Botswana, with a population of over 575 000. It is the traditional homeland of the BaNgwato.
The Serowe Administrative Authority lords over the whole Central District and supersedes all other minority sub-districts like Bobonong, Letlhakane, Mahalapye, Tutume, Tonota, and Palapye.
In the latest developments, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and the BDP have launched a raft of public service reforms and decentralisation initiatives that they argue are not meant to dissolve the Khama dynasty, but rather to facilitate efficient delivery of services.
When submitting its aspirations to the Commission of Inquiry into the Review of the Constitution, the BDP National Council unanimously agreed that the envisaged constitutional review was enshrined in the party’s 2019 electoral manifesto.
It further submitted that the constitutional review should focus on among others the declaration of all existing sub-districts to full districts.
The ruling party also demanded in the resolutions that “all the land within such districts should not bear names that confer or intimate ethnicity in their naming and or administration, as a way of buttressing national unity. The same should be extended to existing districts.” Politicians and civil society have repeatedly hailed decentralisation as a participatory means to development and an enabler of good governance and democracy.
“The poor performance of Botswana’s public service could be solved through decentralisation – the transfer of authority from central to local government,” argued Civil Society in their submission to the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) last year.
Those at the National Council which was held at Maharaj Hotel in Gaborone argue that President Masisi delivered on his electoral pledge by appointing a Constitutional Review Commission in December 2021.
This is said to be supported by the decision by the Government to also propose a national decentralisation policy that seeks to improve coordination of service delivery by giving councils more autonomy.
While Botswana operates a two-tier system that comprises central and local government, the local government is not provided for in the constitution but is rather established by the Local Government (District Councils) Act (1965) and the Township Act (1965).
There is general consensus that upgrading sub-districts into fully-fledged districts would enhance service delivery and empower local governments through devolution. The guiding principle of the draft decentralisation policy is to give autonomy to councils, remove red tape, strengthen revenue collection and reform the law.
However, political pundits view the resolution as a strategic move by the BDP to ease Khama’s stranglehold on the Central District and dissolve his political threat ahead of the 2024 general election.
In 2019, just a few months after the birth of the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) Khama launched an onslaught on the BDP and managed to root out the party from the Central District which has been its stronghold for many years.
This sent the BDP into panic and its leader- President Masisi and some of his cabinet especially from the local government portfolio suggested on various platforms the need to dismantle the central district for efficiency in service delivery.
This was however said to have been triggered by the upset caused by the BPF and its alliance with the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). This was also an alliance that did not entirely receive support from some of the UDC members, especially from the contracting partner Botswana
Congress Party (BCP), which ironically had been the biggest beneficiary of the coalition’s electoral fortunes.
BPF and UDC also had a gentlemen’s agreement not to challenge each other in some of the constituencies and wards. It is this influence that observers believe that the BDP wants to break, through decentralisation and a comprehensive constitutional review.
Most likely, the BDP will have support from some tribes who have over the years laboured under the authority of Bangwato; among them Bakaa, Baphaleng, Batswapong, Bakhurutshe, Babirwa, Bakgalagadi, Bakalanga, and Batalaote.
These are some of the tribes that have asked to be let loose from the grip of Gammangwato.
In the build-up and post the 2019 general election, this publication reported on the tussle for the influence of Bogosi in Gammangwato between Masisi and Khama when it was time for the appointment of Dikgosi and renewal of contracts for some.
This resulted in the division within Bogosi in Gammangwato as some fell for Khama while others opted for the Masisi regime under the leadership of Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Kgotla Autlwetse who at the time was assigned the portfolio for Bogosi. BaNgwato consider themselves the largest and historically known of all Botswana tribes.
They attribute this accolade to Kgosi Khama III, who attained global prominence by converting to Christianity and campaigning for Botswana to become a British protectorate.
Some 53 years later, Khama III's grandson and heir to the Bangwato throne, former President Seretse Khama, hyped BaNgwato’s international recognition by marrying a white British woman, Ruth Williams.
Seretse Khama later founded the BDP and became the founding president of Botswana. Years later, his son would break ranks with the party that his father founded to lead a spirited fight against it and its leader, President Masisi.
This is said to be one of the reasons why the ruling party will not take this lying down and has now aimed their missiles at the very core of Khama’s strong base, GaMmangwato.
Even though he has been out of the country since last year, Khama still commands a large following in GaMmangwato through BPF, a party where he serves as Patron. The BPF is seen as the latest threat to the BDP after the UDC and is feared could bring further harm.
The National Council has expressed its support for Masisi and resolved to “applaud the Party President for his explanations pertaining to the protracted dispute with Former President Khama.”
The BDP resolved to support Masisi in his efforts to guard Botswana’s republican values and promote national unity and the rule of law.