/ 2 September 2011

Alienated leader criticises Khama’s ‘iron-fisted’ rule

The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is in crisis following the recent resignation of its flamboyant secretary general, Kentse Rammidi, who cites as his reasons a lack of internal democracy and the “one-man-show” style of its leader, President Ian Khama.

Rammidi’s resignation, barely a month after he was elected to the post at a party congress, has fuelled speculation that more BDP MPs could quit the party.

He is the first senior BDP official to resign since the party split last year to give rise to the Botswana Movement for Democracy, the main opposition party. Eight MPs, dozens of councillors and other senior officials also left the party.

Rammidi has publicly criticised Khama’s leadership style on several occasions. During the recent public-service strike he supported the strikers, while the government pulled in the opposite direction.

He also resigned from a lucrative Cabinet position before the BDP’s May elective congress, after Khama asked him to choose between a ministerial and a party position.

But he was never at peace in the BDP and the tipping point was a move by the minister of labour and home affairs, Peter Siele, to declare teaching, veterinary service and diamond sorting to be essential services, barring workers from striking in future. The move was condemned by trade unions and opposition parties.

Shortly before the measure went through, Rammidi stepped down.

Addressing his first political rally in Francistown last Saturday, Rammidi told thousands of opposition followers that the BDP was a one-man show and Khama’s iron-fisted rule was the reason he had resigned from the party.

“I have tried to fight [Khama] from within, but I have failed. The party [under Khama] has lost direction,” said Rammidi.

Rammidi, considered the “darling of the grassroots”, has not yet announced his next move. However, there are indications that he will join the BMD, where many of his former political colleagues have found refuge.

Log Raditlhokwa, a political analyst at the University of Botswana, said that under Khama the BDP had not allowed dissenting views for some time.

Raditlhokwa said that many party members were disgruntled about Khama’s leadership style but had remained quiet. “Many people, including those close to Khama, are not happy with his leadership style, but most of them are not as brave as Rammidi.

“Some are not speaking out against Khama because they are protecting their interests, including positions in government,” he said. Raditlhokwa said the BDP’s instability presented an opportunity for opposition parties ahead of the 2014 general elections. He advised the opposition to prepare itself thoroughly by presenting radical programmes to the Batswana.