BDP’s purging of secretaries-general

BDP secretary general Balopi
BDP secretary general Balopi

The reality of BDP politics is that, if Balopi could be purged, he will not be the first party secretary-general to be chucked out. He will probably be the sixth secretary-general to be smartly pushed out. Sometimes the BDP can be very ruthless if the powers that be feel strongly that someone has overstayed his/her usefulness.

During former president Ian Khama’s tenure as State and party president, the BDP tamed former strongman, Daniel Kwelagobe, the late robust Gomolemo Motswaledi, Jacob Nkate and Kentse Rammidi. When Masisi was the Vice President and party chairperson, Botsalo Ntuane, once a rising star of the BDP, was the first to be pushed out and now it seems hell has broken loose again with Balopi. Whilst Kwelagobe, popularly known as ‘DK’ in his heydays chose to lose his Cabinet position in favour of the secretary-general post, he would later relent when he chose to become the party chairperson. At the end of the day, he was pushed out just like Nkate who was forced to choose between the secretary-general position and a Cabinet position. Nkate would settle for the latter.

As for the late Motswaledi and some of his colleagues who had freshly won party positions at an elective congress in Kanye through the Barataphathi factional ticket, they were never recognised in the BDP until they were forced to leave the party to form their own, the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) in 2010.

Rammidi had won the secretary-general position at an elective congress held at Madiba Senior Secondary School in Mahalapye, but the committee of that year would be diluted by Khama who insisted on a compromise, something that did not augur well with Rammidi who would later leave the BDP out of frustration. Ntuane’s tenure was the worst as Masisi, who was the party chairperson and Vice President made life difficult for one loyal party operative, Ntuane, who had sacrificed a lot. Masisi ensured that he kept Ntuane in total obscurity. When the party held regular press meetings, Masisi would tag Thapelo Pabalinga along leaving Ntuane in the lurch. The writing was always on the wall that Ntuane was not the favourite although he was elected by the people for the party position.

It goes without saying that the Masisi/Balopi fallout has precedence, as it is common cause that other powerful secretaries-general before him were simply purged in favour of new faces. Interestingly, the Balopi saga has apparently reached his family whose story has been that the businessperson-cum-politician (Balopi) should simply throw in the towel. They feel Balopi should pay more attention to the family and his businesses, which are reportedly suffering because of the attention given to politics.

The repercussions of the fallout already threaten inner party stability and have potential to reverse the party’s hard-earned gains. To his credit, Balopi is amongst the top party stalwarts that ensured that by hook or crook, Masisi got the State and party presidency when there was a groundswell of opposition from within the party.

In the last general election, Balopi delivered party victory when the BDP was faced with all sorts of odds including the formation of a splinter party, the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) in the middle of the 2019 general election electioneering. Some disillusioned BDP members drifted away to the new kid on the political bloc, BPF, ditching the BDP. This move aided the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to oust the BDP from its traditional strongholds mainly in the Central District since independence in 1966. The opposition was also at its best after the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) finally joined the opposition coalition parties of the Botswana People’s Party (BPP) and Botswana National Front (BNF) to face the BDP, which has been in power since 1966.

Balopi did not disappoint his party as he took the opposition UDC head on at its stronghold of Gaborone North. The BDP would further uproot the UDC from its strongholds of Gaborone (in total five constituencies) and other constituencies south of the Dibete cordon fence leaving the opposition crying foul that the elections were rigged. In the BDP set up, (like elsewhere) the secretary-general is the most contactable member of the party politburo and by that, he/she wields a lot of influence on the hoi-polloi. The secretariat remains the engine of a properly functioning political organisation.

University of Botswana (UB) political and administrative studies lecturer, Adam Mfundisi says allegations of a fallout between the President and secretary-general of the BDP are disturbing and worrisome to the good governance of the country. To him, positions in the BDP are critical for the stability of the party and the country particularly in the era of serious economic, social and political threats to our existence.

“We should bear in mind that the secretary-general is also a Cabinet minister in Masisi‘s regime. The conflict between the two affects the stability and performance of both the BDP and government. A polarised ruling party is a threat to our democracy and the delivery of basic services to the people,” he said.

He warns that factional politics is likely to proliferate within the BDP and government, leading to undesirable consequences. A break-up of the BDP, according to the UB academic, will lead to government dysfunctionality and deterioration in levels of poverty, unemployment, inequity, and other social ills faced by the people. The performance of the BDP may be badly affected by this rivalry between the two top brass of the party.

The enmity may divide the Cabinet and in essence paralyse the effectiveness of the Cabinet business. Every organisation, at sometime, reaches its high level of inefficiency or in-competency.

“The fallout of the two might result in dismal performance in the up-coming by-elections. The opposition forces are fired up and the performance of the BDP government has been extremely shameful. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the fallacy of the BDP and government as stewards of our scarce resources,” observed Mfundisi.

He insists that the BDP and its government have reached political menopause. He added that rivalry between Masisi and Balopi is the tip of an iceberg. According to him, personality cult has afflicted the BDP hence the downward spiral of the party.

“Everything is about Masisi and the BDP is secondary or tertiary in the political space. These developments, coupled with the bitter conflict between the two, will lead to irreparable damage to the BDP and government. The upcoming by-elections will be indicative of what will bedevil the BDP in the 2024 general election,” he said.

He encouraged the opposition block to be focused and learn from the Zambian elections on how to foil electoral fraud and rigging by the ruling party.

“It seems plausible that the secretary-general has BDP structures on his side. Covert disenchantment on Masisi leadership is brewing within the BDP rank and file. The secretary-general must exploit that discomfort with Masisi leadership to position himself to challenge the President. The BDP, if it wants to exist beyond 2024, must recall the BDP leadership,” Mfundisi warned and added: “Politics of personalities is detrimental to sustainable performance of a political formation.

The failure of Masisi has hit the BDP hard and it may not recover. Public confidence and trust on Masisi and his government are at their lowest levels.”

Balopi was instrumental in the strategic operations to win the 2019 general election through hook and crook. A section of the Cabinet and BDP backbenchers is unhappy with the Masisi leadership. This will further damage the integrity and electability of the BDP now and in the future.

BDP spokesperson, Kagelelo Kentse when quizzed about the Masisi/Balopi fallout this week, claimed ignorance.

“We are not aware of any fallout between the party President (Masisi) and secretary-general Balopi,” was all he could muster.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his close allies will have to tread carefully in the raging bitter fights between him (Masisi) and his former ally, Cabinet Minister and party secretary-general (SG), Mpho Balopi. Mmegi Staffer RYDER GABATHUSE writes that BDP presidents have a checkered past of purging secretaries-general in the prime of their political careers

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