BDP headed for a bloody split?

  • ‘We need to admit the BDP is breaking apart’’-Analyst
  • Venson-Moitoi has New Jerusalem backing
  • Why Masisi needs to be ruthless
  • Khama’s interpretation of BDP constitution is valid

As the turmoil inside the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) threatens to break it asunder, SONNY SERITE takes a look at the possible repercussions of the ruling party’s unprecedented factionalism


The days of denying that there are factions in the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) seem to be over. With denial out of the way and reality prevailing, perhaps the only thing that remains to be debated is the extent of factionalism within the party and how it will likely affect the ruling party going into the elective congress in July and the general elections later in October. The BDP, like all other political formations, is not a stranger to factionalism.

Factions have always existed in the BDP, however, political observers are of the view what the party is currently experiencing is ‘factionalism on steroids’. Some observers are even of the opinion that the current turmoil in the BDP is much deeper than the yesteryear differences that led to some of the Barata-phathi faction leaving the BDP to form, the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) back in 2010. As if to prove the point, University of Botswana (UB) Political Science lecturer Leonard Sesa says ‘‘we need to admit the BDP is breaking apart’’.

The difference between the current factions (Jerusalem and Clava) and those of 2009 (Barata-phathi and A-Team) is that back in 2009 during the elective congress in Kanye, then president Ian Khama did not have to deal with the headache of being challenged for the party presidency while this time, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who has only been at the helm of power for just under ten months, is having a nightmare of not only fighting for his faction but most importantly his position as the leader of the party. It is now official that for the first time in the 53 years history of the BDP, the presidential seat will be contested for at the elective congress, this is after MP Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi has officially declared her candidature for the party’s top seat.

Political analyst and UB lecturer Leonard Sesa warns that 2019 is going to be the year when BDP factions take full force and play out in the open to reveal who is aligned to which faction in the party. ‘‘I expect members of the Jerusalem faction to come out in the open and support Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi against President Mokgweetsi Masisi’’, the UB lecturer pointed out. He is of the view that the Jerusalem faction poses a serious threat to Masisi’s stay at the throne.  ‘‘They have done their calculations very well and they have the numbers in parliament’’, Sesa opines.

According to Sesa, the next few months will see members of the BDP taking their stand and publicly revealing their alignment to their respective factions. He said it will be foolhardy for Masisi to downplay the power wielded by the Jerusalem faction or just wish them away.  ‘‘We have already seen people like MP Prince Maele publicly expressing their allegiance to former President Ian Khama who is believed to be the God father of the Jerusalem faction and many more of sitting MPs and primary elections winners will soon show where they stand. It is clear Jerusalem has an upper hand when it comes to the number of people who won the primary elections, an indication of their popularity among BDP members’’, Sesa said in an interview on Monday evening.

The UB lecturer however feels Masisi can still reverse some, if not all, the odds stacked against him. ‘’President Masisi needs to know the power he holds as party president and he must exercise such power’’, Sesa said. He said Masisi needs to act now or risk regretting later when his rival faction outsmarts him at the party congress. ‘’He must not be afraid to suspend or even expel those who are bringing instability to the party and frustrating his leadership. That is the only way he can save himself’’, Sesa advised.

The political scientist expressed the view that President Masisi needs to realize that in the coming days he will not only be facing Khama but that the whole Jerusalem brigade will descend on him like a tonne of bricks with the combined weight of opposition.  Sesa also observed that while opposition parties could be capitalizing on BDP factions, they seem to be indifferent to what is happening at the BDP, something that he says could be as a result of the opposition also having their internal differences to sort out. The main opposition bloc, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) is in no better place than the ruling party as they are also facing their problems after chasing out the BMD, which has led to the BMD taking the UDC to court.

In a country known for its democratic values, a key mantra of Khama during his tenure as national president, it is ironic that Masisi’s most ardent opposition is coming from a man that is barred by the constitution from holding the top political office, commented another UB scholar who requested anonymity. “Khama’s interpretation of the party constitution has validity and should not be dismissed out of hand, political leaders within the party know this and are exploiting Masisi’s lack of mandate, on both party and national level, to manoeuvre him. Masisi has not been sufficiently “ruthless” politically and this has cost him, and will cost him going forward,” claimed the UB scholar.

What remains to be seen in the months ahead, is whether the Domkrag can hold itself together under the onslaught of the Khama forces.