While the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and the opposition collective are in full gear campaigning for the Bophirima ward by-election in the Gaborone Bonnington South constituency ahead of the crunch 2024 general election, a political analyst at the University of Botswana (UB) fears that the BDP secretary-general (SG) Mpho Balopi has scored an own goal by asking the presidential affairs ministry whether it is aware that several electoral pledges of the ruling party never make it into national development plans of the country and other related questions. Mmegi Correspondent LEBOGANG MOSIKARE writes
FRANCISTOWN: Some analysts are also of the view that there is also a cold war between President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Balopi, which the latter has denied.
Pundits also hold the view that the bickering between Masisi and Balopi may have led Balopi to resign as the Minister of Employment, Labour, Productivity and Skills Development. Balopi has nonetheless remained as the SG of the BDP and Gaborone North MP.
Balopi’s short resignation letter does not proffer any reasons why he did so save to partly say, “I will now move on to serving Batswana in other capacities... I will devote more time to the position of SG of the BDP, the organisation that I so dearly love”, read the letter.
This has reinforced assumptions that Balopi’s ‘irreconcilable differences’ with Masisi forced him to resign from Cabinet.
Although there is a plethora of historical evidence that shows that the BDP has been performing dismally in the by-elections only to pull a surprise during the general election, Masisi and Balopi’s differences are cited in some quarters as reasons that caused the BDP to recently lose many by-elections to the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and other opposition parties.
In 2020, the UDC entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) to cooperate in all by-elections (local or parliamentary) before the 2024 general election.
It remains to be seen whether the opposition coalition will sustain its by-election win momentum until the penultimate 2024 elections or will self-destruct as history can attest to in the build up to the crucial elections.
In addition, the BDP SG had also asked the presidential affairs ministry what measures, if any, are in place or in the pipeline to ensure that pledges against which the ruling party was elected into government are incorporated into development plans and whether the government will not consider setting up a permanent structure where the ruling party and government can occasionally consider areas where alignment of manifesto pledges and development plans can be made.
In response to Balopi, the assistant minister of presidential affairs, governance and public administration Dumezweni Mthimkhulu said contrary to Balopi’s assertions, most electoral pledges of the BDP are incorporated within the medium term and national development plans of the country...The junior minister added that there were, however, some pledges that did not make it into the medium term national development plans due to misalignment of cycles between the development planning and election processes.
Social media went into overdrive after news surfaced that Balopi’s questions were on the order paper of Parliament last week.
Some people even said Balopi should be asking himself the very same questions that he wanted to pose in Parliament because as the SG of the BDP, he was its heartbeat and was partly responsible for making sure that the BDP manifesto is incorporated into government development plans. Other Facebookers felt that Balopi’s questions show the widening schisms that are currently bedevilling the BDP since his fallout with Masisi.
Also, some sections of the public and Facebookers are of the view that by just asking the questions, Balopi has passed a motion of no confidence in himself, Masisi and the BDP.
Alternatively, some are baffled why Balopi did not take his concerns to the Chief of Staff in the Office of the President, Boyce Sebetela, who was appointed in 2021. Sebetela is a well-known former BDP operative who was at some point its MP for Palapye and Cabinet minister. The main purpose of the position of Chief of Staff is to direct and oversee implementation of national priorities in alignment with political pronouncements made by President Masisi.
The key outcomes of Sebetela’s job are: successful achievement of government priorities and alignment of government machinery and political interest of the government of the day.
Adam Mfundisi, a UB political analyst, posits that Balopi, who is the heartbeat of the BDP, has hoisted his own petard by asking the questions.
“What one may ask is why now when the SG has been in Cabinet until recently? This shows great division within the ruling party. The SG wants to present himself as a saviour of the BDP, which has been in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) since the 2019 general election. President Masisi has realised that he was not popular in the BDP hence his strategy to eclipse and hijack it by cultivating a personality cult. Throughout the 2019 general election, the President presented himself as the bastion of democracy and the rule of law, which he claimed has eluded the BDP under former president Ian Khama... Balopi was complicit in the Masisi strategy and behaviour because he benefited from such,” said Mfundisi, a lecturer in politics and administrative studies at the UB.
Mfundisi also stated that since Masisi ascended to the presidency with the backing of Khama in the aftermath of the Tonota elective congress, Balopi had adapted to the political rhetoric and gimmicks of his political grandmaster, Masisi.
Balopi is disassociating himself, Mfundisi said, from the Masisi administration and its operations. It worked for Masisi and Balopi hopes it will work for him too. Opportunistic politics is pervasive and upon us and it is growing through leaps and bounds in Botswana, Mfundisi added.
“Balopi and his cohorts want to distance themselves from the Masisi regime consumed by political suicide through its unpopular actions and decisions. The Masisi government is accused of many political pathologies, for example, undemocratic practices, corruption and maladministration, violation of human rights and freedoms and electoral fraud and rigging. Factionalism in the BDP and government is gaining momentum and would engulf both the party and the government sooner rather than later. Masisi and his government are under siege from within and without. It seems to have no viable and durable strategy to withstand this onslaught from within the party and from the opposition collective,” said Mfundisi.
The political expert is also of the view that Balopi has written his political obituary after he exercised his constitutional rights by asking the questions on Monday this week.
Mfundisi was asked this in light of the fact that the BDP leadership and its supporters have a history of purging all people within its ranks who may be somewhat holding different views to that of its leader. A good example related to the above is the purging of Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi when she wanted to challenge Masisi for the presidency of the BDP. Venson-Moitoi was in some instances subjected to verbal onslaughts, which included insults on social media platforms for democratically exercising her right to challenge Masisi to lead the BDP as a bonafide member of the party and as per its constitution.
“Personally, I doubt if Balopi will defend his seat within the BDP as well as in the 2024 national polls. His political future is bleak. The BDP leadership would do everything in their powers to remove him from BDP leadership. Firstly, it will make sure he loses his SG position and then finish him off in his bid to stand for the BDP in the 2024 general election (if he harbours such intentions)... He must calculate his chances for the SG position (or any position that he may be harbouring) as well as his future in the BDP... Knives have been drawn and the consequences are hard to fathom,” Mfundisi indicated.