The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has just emerged from its tumultuous presidential election, which saw a first presidential challenger, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi chickening out of the race at the 11th hour. There is fear that the political centre might not hold post the Kang congress, Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE follows the story
FRANCISTOWN: It would have been a proper test of inner party democracy if Venson-Moitoi and her New Jerusalem political formation had contested the weekend party presidential race.
Emerging from a taxing case where she had taken her party to court citing bias and a plethora of irregularities against the party structures and its top leadership, presidential candidate, Venson-Moitoi is visibly not a happy person at all.
Whilst President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his campaigners are shouting at the top of their voices about their soft victory at Kang, the same cannot be said about the losers. Venson-Moitoi, credited for her bravery in the political circles as the first woman politician to challenge the sitting President, is currently playing her cards very close to her chest.
It can be very dangerous to the livelihood of the BDP, a party whose fortunes have been in decline as demonstrated by the below 50% performance it garnered at the last general elections.
There is a possibility of a split as articulated by pundits although others feel strongly that controversy is not a new thing in the BDP family, so it will be handled properly.
Certainly, Venson-Moitoi has anger, frustrations and has lost trust in many of her party colleagues including President Masisi after vicious political dogs were literally unleashed on her to undermine her candidacy. The political game was rough and threatened BDP internal democracy and simple tolerance of one another.
As for Venson-Moitoi, she is haunted by a traumatic experience meted on her by people like former cabinet minster and envoy, Tebelelo Seretse whom she accused of “insulting me.” She literally indicated that she would not be contesting for fear that insults will be hurled at her by some people.
On the eve of the presidential elections, some of Venson-Moitoi’s supporters were suspended from party activism; her team was refused access to the voters’ rolls, which left the Kang congress a one-sided affair.
To borrow the words of one politician this week, it doesn’t need a rocket scientist to notice the bias of the dominant Team Masisi otherwise known as Camp Dubai against the marginal New Jerusalem. Given what happened between Masisi and Venson-Moitoi teams, those in the know have discounted possibilities for a room for proper reconciliation in an elections year.
Perhaps, for lack of proper words to describe preparations for the Kang congress, an equally frustrated party insider described the whole affair as a ‘no-rules’ game.
Adam Mfundisi, lecturer, political and administrative studies at the University of Botswana (UB) concurs that there are many consequences or ramifications of the just ended congress adding that it has exposed the inadequacies of the internal structures and processes of the BDP.
“The structures and processes were not up to the challenge. They managed the processes of nomination and elections to the highest office in the party through trial and error,” he analysed and added that the structures made unpardonable commissions and omissions.
They deliberately made it difficult for the president challenger to present a formidable and competitive campaign.
He feels strongly that the dominant faction used all the tricks they could muster to deter Mma-V to campaign and be heard by BDP members on equal footing with the sitting President Masisi.
The Central Committee (CC) used its official position to overtly campaign for the incumbent President of the BDP and the country, observed UB don.
Mfundisi noted that BDP resources were mobilised to thwart the efforts of the challenge invoking tradition of the BDP and associated the challenger with the former President Ian Khama.
The regional structures were mobilised to reinforce the ideology of the central committee. Regional Congresses were use as launching pads for the President campaigns where regional leadership invited only one contestant (President) and unfortunate statements were made denouncing the candidature of Mma-V.
“Moreover, State institutions, processes, and resources were triggered to support the President Masisi bid and demonisation of the challenger.
Mma-V’s credentials were questioned and associated with Khama who they have been spreading malicious propaganda against describing him as evil and bent on destabilising the BDP and Government,” was Mfundisi’s analysis.
The political analyst pointed out that Mma-V was described as a stooge of Khama and therefore, must be rejected outright.
Worriedly, Mfundisi indicated that the DIS sleuths, the tax agency BURS, and corruption busting agency DCEC were unleashed to go after Venson-Moitoi and her associates.
“As if it was not enough demonisation of the challenger, they used extensively the government media to spread their narratives about the challenger and her backers. Furthermore, they used the private media particularly the Sunday Standard to give credibility to their narratives,” Mfunsisi observed.
He said in the process the Sunday Standard, “became a propaganda machinery for the President Masisi’s bid and Mma-V was described in unpalatable manner everything of hers was questioned. It became apparent that the road to Kang was an all-out war fought using all resources in the arsenal of the President CAVA faction of the BDP.”
Condemning the uncouth manner of Masisi Team’s campaigns highlighted Mfundisi: “Tribalism was also used to undermine the challenger’s bid for a higher office in the BDP. They invoked concepts such as ‘Batswana ba Sekei’ reminiscent of ‘Pitso ya Batswana’ ideology.”
With the above context of open verbal warfare within the BDP, the political analyst doubts if the BDP will come out of this mess intact.
“The CAVA faction will use all its arsenal in government and some media houses to propagate peace and tranquility. But these pronouncements are hallow to the core. The BDP image within the country and to some extent internationally has been dented.”What makes matters worse according to Mfundisi is that the President of Botswana did not call to order his dogs of war to stop vicious and vitriolic attacks against his challenger.
He argues that Masisi should have shown strategic leadership more importantly emotional intelligence to defuse the verbal warfare. He accused Masisi to have abated to the acrimony and thereby heighten this disharmony within the party.
He holds a strong view that in the final analysis, “It’s either the BDP will split or there will be an opposition to the CAVA faction dominance of the BDP and government. The Mma-V faction has been wounded but not eliminated.”
Certainly, they did not expect this level of toxicity from the other faction. They assumed that as professional politicians with long careers in political landscape, they will not engage in open verbal warfare against them. This was a learning curve for them and they are likely going to strike back mercilessly.
“The internecine warfare has begun and the endgame is unknown. There is no time for reconciliation. This could have come earlier when this tearing stripes off each other begun and the psychological warfare,” concluded Mfundisi.
Another UB academic senior lecturer in politics, Dr. Kebapetse Lotshwao says after the Kang congress, it is clear that President Masisi is the undisputed leader of the BDP adding that his challenger is weak and has no following in the party.
“As such, it will not be easy for her to attempt to destabilise the BDP. Because of Masisi’s efforts to address some of the people’s grievances and his decision to make peace with trade unions and the private media, the BDP is likely to win the next general election with an improved popular will.”
He said the BDP’s electoral chances are further boosted by the fact that its main challenger, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) is currently gripped by infighting and a court case.