& BAKANG TIRO
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) goes to the Tsabong elective congress next week a house divided, with some diehard democrats unhappy with the leadership style of President Mokgweetsi Masisi.
Although Masisi hasn’t declared support to any candidate, it is common knowledge that he is supporting the lobby list led by Vice President Slumber Tsogwane. Some BDP old guard feel sidelined by Masisi since he assumed the party presidency.
Therefore, political analysts could not rule out a potential split if factions cannot make peace after the congress. BDP suffered a split after the controversial 2019 special congress held in Kang. At the Kang congress, former minister of foreign affairs Pelonomi Venson- Moitoi challenged Masisi for the party presidency, enjoying the support of former President Ian Khama. Later on after Venson-Moitoi was humiliated and pulled out of the race at the eleventh hour, disgruntled BDP members who felt unwanted left to form the opposition Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF).
Fast forward to 2022, Tsogwane -the incumbent BDP Chairman will be facing former cabinet minister Nonofo Molefhi in the battle for the Chairmanship, with their campaigns intesifying in the remaining few weeks.
Political and Administrative Studies lecturer at the University of Botswana (UB), Mokaloba Mokaloba, said although it is difficult to predict which camp will win, aspects of incumbency will come into play. Tsogwane and his team are going to congress enjoying the chairman incumbency he holds.
According to Mokaloba, ahead of elections the incumbent usually has a better chance due to resources and continuity, hence Tsogwane will have an upper hand. “However, due to the poor performance of the BDP recently, democrats may want change, which Molefhi may offer. So it is a tight race. The winner has one mandate, which is to unify the BDP and ready it for 2024 general elections,” said the UB academic in an interview on Thursday.
The congress is of great importance to Tsogwane as a victory will cement his authority and position to succeed Masisi as president. He is also looking to take control of the BDP’s key Secretariat office through Kavis Kario who is contesting for Secretary General Position against former minister Shaw Kgathi under Molefhi’s lobby list.
Former Selebi Phikwe East MP recently surprised many when he declared his candidacy for BDP chairmanship, to second time around. It is not the first time that Molefhi challenges a sitting vice president, after he did the same against Masisi during the 2017 BDP Tonota congress where he lost. Key members amongst his lobby list include former Bobirwa MP Shaw Kgathi who wants to be party Secretary General while former minister and BDP campaigns manager for 2019 general elections, Tebelelo Seretse has also declared interest to become the new party Treasurer. Dr Unity Dow has also become the latest addition in the MOlefhi camp contesting as Deputy Secretary General.
Molefhi’s campaign has not been smooth sailing, after the Northwest Region of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), through its Chairman Reaboka Mbulawa openly rejected him last weekend. The two branch held their elective congresses in Maun, where the leadership took turns to tell Molefhi in attendance that their minds were made up and that he was not their preferred candidate.
Before a well orchestrated elective congress at Maun East which had only one agenda- the election of delegates ahead of the BDP National elective congress scheduled for the 26th-28th August in Tsabong, Mbulawa openly rejected Molefhi, cutting short his attempt to solicit support from BDP members.
Molefhi was given the podium first, and in the haste to campaign pounded reasons why he believes he is the best candidate. He sounded convincing until Mbulawa took to the podium and crushed him. Mbulawa said it is of essence that all democrats live the pledge of allegiance to the BDP leadership, which has always been the pillar of the BDP and ensured endurance.
“I want to plead with all of you here not to be enticed or lured into voting for the opposing camp. Remember the pledges you made some two months ago at our last meeting and stick to them. We have only one mandate, which is to go and elect a Central Committee led by President Masisi and VP Tsogwane. I also totally believe that Kavis Kario -as Secretary General, can work hard to rebuild the party to what it used to be,” blurted out Mbulawa, reiterating that Tsogwane should be accorded a chance as party Chairman, to work closely with Masisi for continuity.
Humiliated, Molefhi sneaked out just as Mbulawa was about to end his speech, which was followed by the election of eight delegates and four observers. Mbulawa warned members not to fiddle with the BDP tradition that has kept them going for many years. He appealed to fellow democrats to vote for Kavis Kario as Secretary General, considering that the region needs to be restored to the BDP after losing heavily in the 2019 general elections.
Molefhi later told The Patriot on Sunday that he was not shaken by a handful of people with no foresight as they do not even know what liesinstoreforthem at congress next week. He said although the bad reception was unexpected, he is confident of a win.”I still stand my ground that we have a duty nurture the BDP now than ever before. Once elected, I will first and foremost work tirelessly to recruit back members who defected to the opposition for various reasons, as well as working closely with all party structures to resuscitate the BDP. I am of the view that if government is nurtured more than the party, there is likely to be a collapse of the party,” declared Molefhi.
He dismissed as a lame excuse, Mbulawa’s perception that Tsogwane should be given preference for the sole reason that he should always work alongside Masisi. He said it is a known fact that at some point in the history of the BDP, some party heavyweights who were by then not Vice Presidents served as chairpersons and performed extremely well. “I don’t know now why people have issues with me stepping into the same position.Tsogwane must be shown reason to focus on issues at government level and allow me to focus on party matters at a different level. This way he would have saved himself from losing focus on what is expected of him as VP.There is no way that he can undertake two assignments of that magnitude, otherwise the other one is bound to suffer,” Molefhi said, firmly.
Political analyst Kitso Morekisi said the congress is very critical for the BDP ahead of 2024 polls. Morekisi predicts that the party would come out of the congress a divided BDP than united one. He indicated that the two lobbies led by Tsogwane and Molefhi respectively differ in terms of quality. “The fight is between the new BDP and old BDP. Tsogwane’s lobby is mostly made of the new generation of BDP while that of Molefhi is made up of the BDP diehards. The congress is key in number of aspects, with paramount one being that Tsogwane’s lobby demonstrates Masisi’s keen interest to build a complete new BDP with new blood. Molefhi is countering that,” he said.
In addition, the political commentator said on paper the lobby list of Molefhi looks very experienced. He noted that the coming in of former cabinet minister Tebelelo Seretse to join Molefhi’s lobby on the last days just before the congress indicates how the fight for control of BDP is getting hotter.
“This congress is very key moment to the BDP and it could inform Masisi who is loyal to him and who is not as he builds BDP up for 2024 general elections. He is a man who is in charge of the party that is losing popularity. The congress define his future too,” said Morekisi.
Furthermore, Morekisi said the stakes are higher given that BDP goes to congress divided. He indicated that it was important for the party to settle out all pending disputes inside BDP. “There has been reported fallout between the leadership and some of MPs such as Thapelo Matsheka. So it’s a high stakes game for the party. A potential split cannot be ruled out. BDP is prone to factions and it will be unfortunate if the congress can come out with a new party,” he said.