Factionalism has always dominated intra-party politics in the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). During former presidents, Sir Ketumille Masire, Festus Mogae, and Ian Khama, factional politics have been there and dealt with differently.
During Khama's administration, it culminated in the break-up of the BDP leading to the formation of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). During President Mokgweetsi Masisi, factionalism is taking place and it’s likely to tear the party asunder.
BDP faction or no faction, it will find it difficult to convince voters to trust or have confidence in it. The CAVA faction of the party torpedoed the BDP during the 2019 general election.
The CAVA BDP outfit was anchored on personality cult, which elevated Masisi to Godly status. All propaganda machineries were projecting Masisi as a Saviour after two decades of authoritarian rule by Khama. Slogans such as ‘Masisi o a re bitsa... re a tsamaya’ became a mantra. The assumption of the presidency catapulted Masisi to the highest political office in the land with extensive and intensive powers. The use of State resources, institutions, processes, and personnel by Masisi projected himself as God sent servant to rescue and transform the country into a prosperous nation. Masisi managed to intensely use government media and covertly captured some sections of the private media to brand his image.
CAVA BDP was projected as a progressive outfit shedding a dirty image of the previous BDP led by Khama. All the policies pursued during Khama's administration were demonised. Masisi even openly projected himself as a saviour having been trapping Khama and laying low to allow the transfer of power to be auctioned and then show his political stripe. He became the darling of Khama opponents within and without the BDP.
Some sections of the civil society joined the chorus of praising Masisi for betraying Khama and now positioning himself as sharpshooter of all problems affecting Botswana. Masisi, to launch a political charming offensive, engaged in wanton promises and pledges to the BDP supporters and the general voting population.
Aggressive propaganda machinery was designed, drawing from government and civil society organisation, to panel beat the Masisi image and tarnishing Khama. Anyone associated with Khama was a devil and needed to be ostracised by the voting population. Opposition parties were labelled Khama's supporters and propagating his policies that were oppressive of the population. The formation of the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) shocked the Deep State and it responded ruthlessly against Khama and opposition forces.
Khama, contrary to the Constitution and laws governing the country, was urged to either support the BDP or quit party politics. I foresee political disaster in the coming by-elections. The BDP has been exposed. Televised parliamentary proceedings have exposed the BDP failures and leadership vacuum. The BDP MPs have been shown to be weaklings and dancing to the tune of the Executive branch of government. They have abdicated their responsibilities of representing the interests, needs, aspirations and priorities of the masses. How the BDP leadership at all levels handled the COVID-19 pandemic has shown lack of strategic leadership. The draconian State of Emergency (SoE) cultivated a culture of impunity in which State institutions, processes, and personnel were used for corruptive practices.
Corruption mushroomed and proliferated under the cover of the SoE. The President, who doubles as the same for the BDP and the Office of the President (OP) became legislators, executioners, and judges in the procurement and tendering processes. SoE allowed the BDP leadership to introduce and execute direct appointments for the provision of products and services particularly the health sector.
Nefarious activities took place at the OP to award contracts to BDP political elite lucrative tenders with skyrocketed prices leading to instant COVID millionaires. Funds budgeted for the health system were diverted to non-priority areas thereby exposing the health system to oblivion. This led to increase in the spread of COVID infections, hospitalisation, and high mortality. The health system lacked the necessary infrastructure to control and mitigate the disastrous consequences of the pandemic. It lacked adequate PPEs, oxygen, ventilators, and vaccines because funds earmarked to fight the pandemic were diverted to private business interests.
Corruption cases that the DCEC has, have not been taken to court for prosecution because most of the culprits are BDP members. BDP, from inception, has always been a 'family affair' and other operatives are appendages of the system. The dominant political force manipulates the party's constitution as well as the national one to promote the interests of the political elite. It is not the first attempt at manipulating the processes to deal with intra-party rivalries. Recall the Khama-Daniel Kwelagobe (DK) debacle in which DK was made to choose between a ministerial position and the SG one.
The same political game is at play to dislodge Mpho Balopi as the secretary-general (SG) as he is perceived to be a threat to Masisi. Balopi is a political strategist who currently overshadows Masisi, a red line. Political insecurity, which has afflicted the BDP leadership, has led to mutual distrust, suspicion, resentment, loyalty, and instruments for pursuance of personal ambition. The high sense of entitlement, impulse for attention and adoration, lack of empathy are fuelling the conflict within the BDP.
Nothing is overt that the SG is doing that I perceive to be threating his boss. The insecurity of the boss is the main cause of rivalry between the two. Masisi does not trust anybody, save the director general (DG) of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS). The cult of intelligence and leadership is rocking the boat in the BDP. Structures within the BDP are weak and the President should not worry. The BDP as a political formation is in ICU. The President and his CAVA brigade marginalised the party and elevated him to the supreme leader. To survive, the SG should revamp BDP structures and brand the image of the party above personal interests. Political rivalries in the BDP are influenced by personality and factionalism rather than political differences. The BDP has developed a patronage-based system of democracy and the President has patronage networks to galvanise his political power.
Balopi was the bedrock of Masisi political success. He used his media knowledge and skills to develop an elaborate machinery to win the 2019 general election through hook or crook. The BDP, through the SG, roped in the DIS and other government agencies to develop a system that made the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) a lap dog. They infiltrated the IEC database and did registrations beyond the stipulated time. They influenced the IEC to get rid of the indelible ink to allow multiple voting. Balopi used his communication and branding prowess to rope in the private media to be the champion of BDP campaign vehicle.
Political insecurity and lack of strategic leadership in the BDP led to a fall-out. Personality cult is pervasive and dangerous for nascent democratic state such as Botswana. Balopi is part of a clique that parachuted Masisi to be a semi-God in the BDP and it would be difficult to overcome that.
By preferring a cult of leadership within the party, the BDP was digging its own grave. The SG position is the engine and heart of strong parties not the lap dog BDP. Balopi is finished because it seems he does not have a strategy to fight back. Again, fighting back against the President of the country is a losing battle.
Adam Mfundisi* is a University of Botswana lecturer in politics and administrative studies