As the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) delegates congregate in Tonota for the 37th elective congress, President Ian Khama will be the cynosure of all eyes as he accounts for the party’s dwindling fortunes under his stewardship at his last elective congress at the helm. Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE reports that even the much-touted Khama magic has been in the wane as the party fortunes continue to plummet
FRANCISTOWN: When President Ian Khama and his ruling BDP top leadership descend on Tonota for the elective congress, they will be frustrated by the continued elusive peace in a party that is standing on slippery grounds.
The BDP’s congress is Khama’s very last party major event at the helm as both party and state President. For a man recruited into a party brought to its knees by bitter factionalism about 19 years ago, he may be troubled in his heart about the direction the party has taken under his stewardship. The legacy he is leaving behind as he steps down next year April 1 is tortuous.
Banking on the recommendations of the late South African political consultant professor Lawrence Schlemmer, former president Festus Mogae retired then army commander, Khama to protect his (Mogae’s) presidency which was under threat (perceived or real). Khama was also brought in to help in turning around the fortunes of the party, which were experiencing a downward spiral.
One of Schlemmer’s recommendations was that Khama, who at the time was Mogae’s deputy, was perceived to be more popular than the party itself as the son of the party’s founding father, and first state president the late Sir Seretse Khama. At the time, he was not immersed in the BDP factional fights.
Mogae and the entire BDP family tended to believe blindly in the ‘Khama magic’ than subjecting their man to a stern test of his political strength and leadership prowess. Khama has partially achieved his assignment. He has succeeded with aplomb in protecting Mogae’s presidency but seems to be having a mammoth task in keeping the fortunes of the BDP intact. Besides the party’s factional formation previously known as Barata Phathi morphing into a fully-fledged party under his stewardship in 2010, the BDP has also recorded one of the lowest popular votes at 46.7% in the 2014 general election under Khama.
As he bids the congress farewell in Tonota, today (Friday), there will be more questions than answers in the minds of the party faithful that are worried by the future of their party as it continues to lose ground under Khama. Fear is generally mounting in the BDP family that the party that the late Sir Seretse Khama founded amongst others with the late Sir Ketumile Masire and other stalwarts is fast losing its appeal to the masses. The elective congress will witness a bare-knuckled fight as the party’s main factions of Mokgweetsi Masisi and Nonofo Molefhi battle it out for the soul of the BDP.
It is the more conservative Masisi axis that seems to have a lot of resources in its re-election bid to continue where their man Masisi had left. On the other hand, the Molefhi group is set to make buy-ins into its secretary general Botsalo Ntuane’s proposed reforms whose motive is to assist the BDP become more relevant in these trying times where the Umbrella for Democratic Changes (UDC) is heavily breathing fire on the neck of the BDP ahead of the 2019 general election. The Tonota BDP elective congress will therefore, be a case of the conservatives (Masisi) versus the progressives (Molefhi’s). Both sides of the party factional divide hope they can turn around the fortunes of the ailing BDP.
A damning report from Selebi-Phikwe last year alleged Masisi had bought the former mayor and nominated councillor Amogelang Mojuta a motor vehicle to strengthen his endeavours to decampagn Selebi-Phikwe East MP and his (Masisi’s) main challenger Molefhi. There were also reports that Masisi had approached some opposition Botswana Congress Party (BCP) operatives to support him in his bid to oust Molefhi from the constituency come 2019 general election. Indeed, these are desperate political measures
Whilst Masisi dismissed the plot to unseat Molefhi in a full page advertorial carried in a local weekly, it was not in dispute that he had bought his ally (Mojuta) a motor vehicle. To an ordinary BDP diehard, that is how dirty the BDP chairmanship race has been. Intrigues, lies and deceit are apparently the name of the game. Under Khama relations in the BDP have festered to an all time low. Preparations for the elective congress have interestingly been preceded by factional fights, which have seen some party operatives exchanging fists at regional elective congresses out of frustration. President Khama and his senior leadership including regional party leaders have intervened in their quest to contain some of the explosive situations without help.
There is a group in Francistown that includes nominated councillor James Kgalajwe who have protested the regional congress elections’ results and threatened going to court to seek redress if the matter was not amicably resolved internally. Kgalajwe is pro-Masisi and they have since written to the BDP Francistown region chaired by Baemedi Medupe of their intention through their attorneys. Some party members have been suspended from the party activities as a result of these factional fights whilst others are still waiting for their fate from the party’s senior most body, the Central Committee.
There is general hullaballoo in the BDP that some party faithful have been unduly denied by the party system to be part of the congress delegates. In Francistown, for instance, supporters loyal to Masisi have reported to the party that they were literally robbed of an opportunity to be part of the delegates to the congress. Fingers are pointed at the Francistown West MP Ignatius Moswaane, in one case in which the party’s known operative, Otto Masogo blamed the MP and his team to have disadvantaged him. Masogo’s quest for inclusion in the list of delegates resulted in a fight that ended up reported to the police and the party leadership.
Moswaane has dismissed some of the allegations leveled against him simply as “hogwash.” He has however, maintained that the three suspended young men who had beaten up Masogo are some of his closest allies. As for Masogo who has laid charges against Moswaane’s men and reported to the BDP he maintains: “I have been beaten and denied a chance to partake in the elective congress whilst I qualified”.
Masogo is pro-Masisi whilst Moswaane and his team are pro-Molefhi. Masogo’s case could represent the frustrations of many party diehards who continue to be left in the lurch ahead of the elective congress. These are typical of factional fights that dominated the news headlines recently across the party regions.
As he will be addressing his last BDP elective congress, Khama has a huge task of convincing the party diehards that he will be able to ‘reverse’ the negative developments accumulated in the party almost 20 years at the helm as both Vice President and President.
He leaves the party that he inherited from his predecessor, former president Festus Mogae at war with itself. Medupe is hopeful that Khama will address the party’s factional fights and the elusive peace in Tonota as a way of encouraging party diehards to return the much-needed peace to the party. As the chairperson of a volatile region and probably the party’s most troubled hotspot, Medupe believes that since the congress attracts a lot of party faithful, the message of peace will sink.
Everything else aside, Medupe is positive that Khama exits the party a respectable leader who no one ever stood to challenge his presidency. He remembers his leader for his astuteness, robustness and stringent leadership.