The possibility of another debilitating split at Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)exists, says political science professor, Zibani Maundeni following last weekend’s central committee elections in Tonota.
There is division in opinion between members of the Nonofo Molefhi lobby and their followers regarding the results of the BDP central committee elections that were held last Saturday at the congress.
The Molefhi faction lost all the six positions to the Mokgweetsi Masisi faction. However, despite fears that the losers would protest the results amid allegations of vote-buying by the winning group, the losers publicly pledged unconditional support for the winners in the press conferences they held after the announcement of the results.
Meanwhile, their followers, just a few metres away from them, were fretting about the same results. “This is not about me but about an institution with a culture and tradition. This is about the BDP. We have to mature and go beyond individuals. Today’s results must not cause divisions between us,” said Molefhi who pleaded with the BDP members to desist from the tendency to impute improper motives when somebody contests for a position.
Molefhi promised that no one from his supporters is going to move away from the party. “It is well with my soul,” he said after embracing the winner. Molefhi has been accused of intending to use the chairmanship position, if he won it, as a stepping stone to the Presidency of the party later, that of the country.
For his part, Botsalo Ntuane said after he lost to Mpho Balopi, “I appreciated there was going to be one winner. I respect the decision of the BDP members. Two years ago, I was in the position of our winner today. I beat my competitor for the position of secretary general at the Mmadinare congress,” said Ntuane after he lost to Mpho Balopi on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the winners, in both instances, congratulated the losers and pledged to work closely with them. Beneath this veneer of solidarity however, there was turbulence. Hordes of BDP members outside the hall sat in their cars or stood on the corridors in small groups dismissing the elections as neither free nor fair. The conversations outside the hall were dripping with mistrust, disgruntlement and bitterness from the losers as they averred that Masisi is power hungry.
Many spoke to this publication without identifying themselves as they left the Tonota College of Education (TEC) alleging vote-buying. “We are going to cross the bridge very soon,” some of them said as they vowed to decamp to the opposition. Many were overheard claiming that the playing field was not level. A lady who sat in her car with a group of friends when this reporter passed by accused Masisi of being selfish. “He is a Member of Parliament (MP), Chancellor of the University of Botswana (UB), party chairman and will be President soon. Why can’t he allow the other people to lead?” she said as her companions joined the chorus of condemnation.
“We are going to form a new party or defect en-masse to the opposition to block Masisi from achieving what he wants. He will never be the President of Botswana,” she said pleading for anonymity. It remains to be seen whether ordinary members of the losing faction will change their minds and rally behind the Masisi lobby.
However, condescending and triumphant statements such as “Re kgalemeste lenyatso,”(We have humbled them) uttered by one of the winners immediately after disengaging from the embrace of the loser can only bode ill for the party which has not known internal stability for years now. What may make it difficult for the two camps to work together is the strong belief among the Molefhi camp that the playing field was not level.
There have been complaints by this faction that, while it struggled financially, their competitors had truckloads of cash from the business community which had been instructed to donate only to the Masisi faction. Matters are not helped by the fact that, not only did Khama publicly endorse Masisi, government resources were used to support the Masisi campaign effort by virtue of him being Vice President.
Observers believe that President Khama, who has publicly called upon the two factions to reach a compromise arrangement instead of competing against each other, should have used the special nomination dispensation to appoint members of the Molefhi faction into the central committee.
“We are happy that Ntuane is there as an additional member of the central committee but that is not enough,” said an observer who thinks that Khama would have made a bigger impact to the unity effort had he nominated Nonofo Molefhi himself to the central committee. Those who doubt that the BDP emerged united from the congress are informed by comments such as, “Once an enemy, always an enemy,” by a Masisi aide who boasted to this publication that an extermination campaign to wipe out the Molefhi camp is in place.
Firstly, according to him, a cabinet reshuffle, which he said is looming, will purge members of the Molefhi. According to him, there is also a grand plan by the winning group to ensure that the members of the Molefhi group lose primary elections. Indications are that, one of the reasons the BDP ran a conflict-ridden primary elections process ahead of the 2014 general election is that, the losers alleged underhand tactics by the party leadership to eliminate them.
Observers say that, history might be repeating itself. For instance, after the 2009 BDP congress, disgruntled members were targeted for sidelining and elimination. This led to a split which is blamed for the poor electoral performance by the ruling party in the 2014 general election.Should this happen this time around, the BDP will have failed to learn a lesson and the consequences of the party’s failure to read history will be too ghastly to contemplate come 2019. When asked for comment, University of Botswana don, Professor Zibani Maundeni noted that President Khama has never been a unifier.
“When President Khama’s faction lost most of the seats at the Kanye congress a few years ago, he nominated people from his faction to neutralise the winning faction. This time around, his faction won all the seats but we do not see him nominating members of the losing side to the central committee despite the fact that he was concerned about party unity before the congress,” said Maundeni.
According to Prof Maundeni, President Khama is only concerned with strengthening the faction he belongs to. In his view, had the Masisi faction lost, he would have flooded the central committee with Masisi loyalists because that is the faction he supports. “Under the circumstances, the possibility of another debilitating split exists,” observed the political science professor