Challenging moment for Balopi


FRANCISTOWN: Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) secretary-general (SG), Mpho Balopi reportedly intends to contest for the position of chairperson in the party, and it is clear that victory for him will be a huge personal triumph.

On the contrary, a loss for him might mark the beginning of his political downfall. The former Minister of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development (MESLD), who has fallen out with President Mokgweetsi Masisi, might find it difficult to master victory against incumbent chair, Slumber Tsogwane, who is also Vice President (VP).

The BDP SG has remained mum on speculation that he intends challenging Tsogwane but there is swelling speculation that he has already started campaigning for the position. It was initially thought that Balopi will defend his position as SG, but indications are that the BDP intends to make the post a full time paid job, which might not be attractive for Balopi.

The BDP chairperson, who will be ushered in at this year’s elective congress, will have the responsibility of setting the agenda for the party primary elections as well as ensuring that the party goes to the 2024 general election as a solid entity. Balopi is known to be a grassroots politician who is also charismatic among his followers within the party. Pundits say that if he can successfully exploit his popularity, he can secure victory against Tsogwane. On the flip side, although considered less popular in the party, Tsogwane’s stature in the BDP has been growing since he ascended to the position of party chairperson and VP in 2018. Prior to that, he had earned a reputation as a very quiet politician who was not so familiar with battles in the trenches. Then, many also said he does not have the wherewithal to handle the marauding debaters from the opposition bloc. By virtue of being the VP, Tsogwane is also the Leader of the House (LoH) in Parliament. His tasks as BDP chairperson, VP, and Leader of the House (LoH) have exposed his political weakness and strength. Immediately after being appointed to the position of VP, LoH and chairperson of the BDP, Tsogwane started showing a sudden change of character. The Boteti-West legislator started doing much of the talking.

He has often defended the party as well as President Masisi with aplomb in Parliament and various platforms. Therefore, given his constantly growing stature and performance as party chairperson, VP and LoH in Parliament, many ruling party die-hards might find it hard to ditch him in favour of Balopi. In the other realm, the other undoing for Balopi is that Masisi might also do everything to persuade members of the party to vote for his right-hand man, Tsogwane. Already there are those who allege that Masisi is selling Tsogwane to ordinary party members as a moderate man who has brought dignity and fairness in the party since taking over as chairperson.

History shows that ruling party members rarely defy the President. It is also inevitable that Masisi would embark on any kind of measures including underhand tactics to unsettle Balopi’s campaign and ensure that Tsogwane emerges victorious. In his political career, Masisi has often been accused of frustrating his political opponents or doing everything to protect those close to him. For Balopi, he knows the significance of having the hand of a sitting president in one's campaign when vying for a party central committee position.

In all his previous victories at BDP central committee elections, Balopi partly relied on the weighty backing of key party figures most notably sitting presidents. Perhaps, the Gaborone North MP will draw solace from the fact that it is not a given that those who enjoy the support of the president win central committee elections. But history is instructive on the matter as precedence has been set before.

The likes of Tebelelo Seretse lost central committee elections in Kanye although they enjoyed the strong backing of the then president Ian Khama. Still on the matter, Ian Khama won the chairmanship of the party in 2003 against Ponatshego Kedikilwe (PHK) in what observers partly attributed to then president Festus Mogae's backing. The other scenario is that should Balopi ride on the wave of his popularity and win against Masisi’s will, he might find himself sidelined especially if members of his faction do not make it to the central committee elections. Already there are reports that Balopi has become so isolated and is being sidelined from vital party activities by both Masisi and Tsogwane.

A political analyst at the University of Botswana (UB), Professor Zibani Maundeni said Balopi and his faction will be skating on thin ice should they try to challenge the ruling faction that is led by Masisi and assisted by Tsogwane. “While it is a democratic right of every member of the BDP to stand for party positions, the party is historically known for trying to limit such participation in the name of fighting factionalism. That is a public acknowledgement of the existence of factions in the party. It is a known fact that factions field candidates and that the membership of factions changes constantly depending on who is challenging,” Maundeni observed. The political scientist also foresees the risks of factionalism rearing its ugly head again in the party if Balopi ends up challenging Tsogwane. “If Balopi challenges Tsogwane for the chairmanship of the BDP, that is likely to rekindle factional fighting and a realignment of factions. Membership of factions change depending on who the contestants are. Factions are fluid as members switch sides to suit their personal interests. Whether Balopi can build a faction that is big enough to win will depend on a number of things that we will not go into now. Many things are possible in politics,” said Maundeni. He added: “However, what is also important is to point out that the ruling faction is known to be brutal in dealing with opponents and that places the party in danger of another split. We should expect an all-out war between the factions and that exposes the party to dangers that may weaken it. It also exposes the economy and the country to danger.

Factional fighting is usually more brutal than general election as it is the soul of the BDP that is at stake.” Another University of Botswana (UB) political analyst Mokaloba Mokaloba said it is not surprising that Balopi may be harbouring ambitions to contest for the position of party chairperson at the upcoming BDP elective congress. “It is not something that is surprising and record breaking that Balopi may be eyeing the chairmanship of the BDP at its upcoming congress. If you look through the history of the BDP, the chairmanship is the most heavily contested position within the party at its congresses. Masisi also had a heated contest at Tonota when he was vying for the same position.

So, rumours that Balopi wants the chairmanship position are not surprising. It is his democratic right to do so since he is also a member of the BDP in good standing,” said Mokaloba. Asked whether Balopi will stand a very good chance against Tsogwane who will possibly have the backing of Masisi, Mokaloba said: “Whether Balopi stands a chance against Tsogwane is not a simple yes and no answer because the BDP is at a point whereby factions are resurfacing. Because these factions are resurfacing, you cannot predict the outcome of such an election (congress). Whether Balopi stands a chance against Tsogwane would be determined by a number of factors which are inclusive of the current state of factionalism in the BDP.” Mokaloba added: “As to how Balopi will work with Masisi if he were to win the chairmanship at the congress is again a broader question to ask because during that congress, a number of positions will be up for grabs.

It will go down to which team (faction) comes out tops at the congress. Whether Masisi will work with Balopi or not after the congress will depend on their posture and it is also a difficult question to ask. They may try to bury the hatchet after the congress or decide otherwise.”

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