An ugly spectre of factions is playing itself out within the BDP ahead of the party’s elective congress in July. Botswana Guardian looks into how Patrick Balopi will unify a party teetering in the brink of an all blown factional war.
Make no mistake; Samson Moyo Guma is as shrewd a businessman as he is a brave politician. Brave because he dumped the wilting Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) to contest the chairmanship of the ruling party after months of airing its dirty linen in public. His return to claim the top spot at Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is increasingly unsettling many in his newfound A-Team faction as it is setting tongues wagging in his erstwhile faction of Barataphathi. Despite building a war cabinet, which includes his business partner, Thapelo Olopeng (tipped to become Deputy treasurer); Mpho Balopi, Secretary General, duly assisted by Malebogo Kruger – Guma is regarded as a savvy politician willing to spend his fortune if it means winning a seat during the BDP elective congress in July in Maun. His major trump card is - no prize for guessing – his close association with President Ian Khama - the man who drove him away from the party in 2010, and the same man who recruited him into the party last year. He is not alone in the race to claim the top seat. Veteran politician, Patrick Balopi and Pelonomi Venson Moitoi have thrown the gauntlet at Guma.
But Guma’s detractors both in the A-Team and Barataphathi believe the BMD founding member has a moral baggage to offload before he could show interest in a political office. “The chairmanship wants someone with experience. Not a renegade,” charges a member of Venson-Moitoi camp who believes Guma carries the heaviest baggage of convincing delegates ahead of Maun congress that he has what it takes to unify the party. “Tell me you are joking, not Guma. What does he have to show for the party?” the source says mockingly. This criticism is not exaggerated. In 2010 Guma was at the forefront of a campaign to destabilize the BDP and at one point vowed to ensure that his party, a BDP offshoot unseats Khama’s BDP. Unlike Venson-Moitoi who pulled a publicity stunt last week with a fully packed press conference, Patrick Balopi, an old hand at BDP has assembled a go-to team of spin-doctors. The camp wants to project their candidate as a messiah, a unifying candidate who is willing to step in to unify the party. “There is a strong view that people with a strong tradition and values should lead the party as chairman. People who are loyal,” mutters a Balopi loyalist. The veteran politician is however clear on one thing, if he were to come back to active politics, he is prepared to do so on his own terms. He is saying that he is old to be involved in the ‘campaign wars’ for party positions as such he will only be available to the party as a compromise candidate. A seemingly reluctant Balopi admitted to have been approached by a group of people. “I am an old man, and I have long retired from active politics, but I wouldn’t mind coming back to offer my services to the party.” Balopi is not new to the BDP politics, at one point he was the party executive secretary and later the deputy secretary general. This is not the first time Balopi’s name comes into play, some BDP members proposed that he stand for the party chairmanship in the party’s 2011 elective congress but he turned down that request. Sources say former Executive Secretary, Dr. Batlang Comma Serema, BDP activist and Gaborone lawyer, Isaac Seloko, Ogaketse Puma Matlhware and Dr. Alfred Tsheboeng approached Balopi to run for the position of chairmanship. When reached for comment, Serema and Seloko denied approaching Balopi. One of the lobbyists in Guma’s camp also has a family dilemma. Sources say Patrick Balopi already feels betrayed and undermined by his nephew, Mpho Balopi. Reportedly there is tension in the family due to the two politicians’ decisions. “He has alienated himself and aligned with others,” says a member of Balopi camp in relation to Mpho Balopi’ decision to support Guma. Except for his close association with Khama, Olopeng does not have enough political clout and that makes the camp even more vulnerable. The struggle for power to control the party turns into an almost theatrical farce when one considers another unlikely hopeful in Venson-Moitoi. While she holds herself in high regard many doubt she could be the right candidate to guide the party during a period of elections. She tried to instill her credibility last week during a press conference, but questions remain how the busy Serowe South MP will juggle the busy Ministry of Education and Skill Development with a demanding responsibility at Tsholetsa House. She traces her experience during her time as deputy Secretary General and Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism. Her ministry is arguably the most under performing in Khama’s cabinet. It is derisively called the exit ministry. Venson-Moitoi is aware of the pitfalls that befell Ponatshego Kedikilwe who decided to step down as minister of education after failing to implement the Revised National Policy on Education. If there is a time when Jacob Nkate became unpopular in cabinet, it was not during his time as minister of Commerce and Industry, it was his days at the exit ministry. But there are other barriers. “There are gender dynamics in politics,” says a BDP politician. In 2009 Daniel Kwelagobe defeated Tebelelo Seretse in Kanye during a fiercely contested congress in Kanye. This is despite Khama’s open support for Seretse. “In politics, women have a propensity not to vote for women. I don’t know why?” wonders the politician.