When he died in 1980, Sir Seretse Khama bequeathed a closely knit and water tight party. Factions were either unknown or not clearly visible. The serene and almost ideal political environment the party enjoyed at the time perhaps had to do with the universal respect and loyalty that the late president commanded from all the four corners of the country.
However, in the early 1990s perhaps sensing that president Masire was ageing, powerful ministers began to position themselves along factions to fight for the control of the soul of the party. The BDP has never recovered from the schism. Factions have become an integral part of the BDP and they continue to mutate and assume different forms at different times with different players. Party positions on offer are contested on factional lines. Of all the party positions available, the posts of chairperson and secretary-general (SG) are hotly contested. However, for a very long time Daniel Kwelagobe’s name had become synonymous with the position of SG. He was known in media circles as the BDP strongman and it took some with a nerve of steel to try and elbow DK out of his position. This explains why he has the record of longest holder of the SG position. Jacob Nkate tried not once to unseat him (DK) without success.
And whenever DK offered himself for election he was guaranteed a return to office. The position of the party chairperson has now become the preserve of the Vice President and therefore, spared for a while from attracting attention and fierce contests. Subsequent to the demise of Peter Mmusi, the post fell in the hands of Ponatshego Kedikilwe (PHK), one of the great communicators and influential leader the BDP has ever produced. For a while, the chairmanship position looked like PHK’s second home until the arrival of president Festus Mogae who plucked out Ian Khama from the army barracks to come and serve as his Vice President.
Little did PHK know that the arrival of Khama (Ian) meant the arrival of a challenger. Attempts to dislodge PHK from his position had failed before, but it was the Gantsi BDP elective congress that rewrote the history of the chairmanship. It was hotly contested and it was the one congress that further deepened the schism within the party and brought about irreconcilable differences.
When Khama expressed a desire to contest the chairmanship, Mogae made no secret of his stand and openly endorsed Khama as his preferred candidate. The PHK faction was stunned because the faction expected Mogae to have risen above factions and played his father figure role. Although Khama was a heavy weight in his own right, he proceeded to wrestle the chairmanship from PHK with the full backing of the president.
The tone for future contests in the party was set in the famous 2003 Gantsi elective congress. Since then, the post of chairmanship and others on offer are notoriously known for producing sparks. It is important to note the role that president Mogae played in deciding the outcome of the elections by swaying support towards Khama.
The BDP had developed, nurtured and sustained a culture of unquestioning loyalty to the President. Follow the leader culture is the BDP culture and it is not going away quite easily. The voice of the President is revered and honoured to the letter. Factions are well established and the BDP cannot escape the reality that party posts on offer are contested along factional lines.
Recently, it was reported in the press that President Masisi does not see eye-to-eye with SG Balopi. A tussle between the President and the SG brings to an end Balopi’s tenure and perhaps cut short his political career.
The President wields a lot of influence and power. Ideally, the President should observe benevolent neutrality when it comes to inner party democracy but the BDP leaders have over the years failed to insulate themselves from factions. Politics is a game of survival and self-preservation. The President has vested interests in the outcome of inner party elections for his own survival.
Former president Mogae was conscious of the fact that PHK harboured presidential ambitions and he was likely to use the chairmanship as a launching pad for his ambitions. So, he had to be stopped and his ambitions were frustrated. This might explain the rift that exists between the president and his SG. Following a series of paralysing presidential political blunders, the President is now besieged and no longer certain about his political future.
He needs as a matter of survival to embark on a staff reorganisation programme to weed out rebellious elements. Balopi might be sacrificed in favour of pro-Masisi elements that would ensure and guarantee perpetuation of the Masisi presidency.