FRANCISTOWN: Ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) secretary general Mpho Balopi is least worried about rumours of strained relations between him and President Mokgweetsi Masisi.
In his response this week, Balopi explained: “I am a member in good standing… a member who served only the BDP in my entire life”.
Reports have been abound that Masisi has fallen out with his blue-eyed boy, Balopi preferring the party spokesperson Kagelelo Banks Kentse ahead of the incumbent at the party’s impending elective congress traditionally billed for July.
In an interview with Mmegi this week, Balopi emphasised that he abides by the dictates of the party constitution, the code of conduct, party rules and regulations.
Quizzed about his alleged strained relationship with Masisi, he was quick to say: “I believe in the ideals and values of the BDP. I am always willing to serve the party wherever and whenever I am required to do so. I served the leadership of the BDP to the best of my ability and will continue doing so.”
Added Balopi who is also the Minister of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development: “I am even privileged to be serving President Masisi as Minister and very much geared up to contributing to the much-needed transformation which will yield jobs and economic growth.”
In further declining to talk about his reportedly strained relationship with Masisi he said: “I am not in a position to discuss anyone or any position in the party except that I am serving the party as its secretary general currently.”
Yesterday, Kentse was also cagey about his availability to contest for the coveted party position. He told Mmegi that he was not interested in contesting for the position of secretary general.
“Masisi has not even asked me to stand and I don’t think he will. He is the unifier and father figure of the party. He should be viewed as such. If Masisi endorses someone for a central committee position in the BDP that would be the end of the BDP,” he said, noting that such move could cause disharmony within the party.
Kentse’s thinking was that Masisi will allow party members to elect their preferred candidates for executive positions and thereafter work with them.
According to recent media reports, Masisi and his (Balopi’s) adversaries want the secretary general to be replaced with Kentse. Insiders say that, because of his closeness to President Masisi, Kentse seemed favoured by circumstances.Balopi was a key figure in the ruling party campaigns and other vital activities leading to the 2019 general elections.
During the build-up to the general elections, Masisi globe-trotted with Balopi. As a sign of trust, Masisi even tasked Balopi with mobilising resources for the ruling party ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Those who want Balopi to stay argue that despite criticism levelled against him, by virtue of being the main supervisor of key party activities, he contributed handsomely to the victory of the BDP at the last general elections.
They hold a stern view that the party performed better at the polls than anticipated though it faced a stronger and well-resourced opposition than before.
Although the party lost its strongholds in the northern part of the country, it managed to appeal to a cross-section of middle-class voters in the southern part of the country.
For years, voters in the southern part of the country have been totally shunning the ruling party.
For the sake of trying to attain consistency and building
They are views that party structures may feel that Kentse is being imposed on them. This could ultimately ignite disharmony in the party.
on the contrary, those who believe that Balopi has a weaker case for re-election, argue that under him the party has been plagued by maladministration especially during the primaries leading to the general elections, which is also probably why Masisi reportedly wants him out.
Others have speculated that Balopi is widely not seen as a charming and appealing character within the party, which is why he is wanted out. They believe that in the past, he leveraged on the influence of key party figures to win BDP executive elections.
It has even been averred that Masisi could have removed Balopi before the general elections but felt that the timing was not suitable.
Now, given the history of the BDP should it become clear that Masisi is backing another candidate other than Balopi this could throw the party into serious trouble. There might be serious ramifications emanating from Masisi’s decision. If it becomes clear that Masisi is backing Kentse, Balopi might not have a sense of restraint. He might fight back in defence of his position.
Can Masisi really drop Balopi?
Political analyst and University of Botswana (UB) senior lecturer Dr. Kebapetse Lotshwao has said that it’s possible for President Masisi and the BDP to dump Balopi from the position of secretary general. Lotshwao however, cautions that if the removal of Balopi is not made to look like it is meant to serve the interest of the party, it may create a feeling of resentment and ignite unrest (in the party).
“The BDP as an organisation has grown tremendously since its formation. It now needs a secretary general who is not in Cabinet. The position of secretary general is very demanding. The secretary general often has to traverse the whole country in a bid to solidify party structures. The secretary general is also tasked with a lot of administrative work. That is why I believe that it is not ideal for Balopi to double as a minister and secretary general.”
Although he did not want to dwell directly on the alleged feud between Balopi and Masisi Lotshwao added that Kentse might be a suitable candidate for the position of secretary general.
“Kentse is very young and energetic. He is also credible to some extent. These are some of the key attributes of a secretary general.”
He explained that the main challenge with Kentse is that he does not seem to be commanding a lot of following in the party. For this reason the UB senior lecturer said that he might face resistance from the party diehards once he has been elected.
“The fact that Kentse rejoined the BDP from the opposition not so long ago could also spell danger for the party if at all he is elected secretary general. Some in the party may not accept him. They might view his ascendance as an indication that the party is rewarding those who have the past exhibited lack of loyalty and left the party for the opposition,” he explained.