BDP Congress: Behind the Scenes

Sonny Serite

Apart from the near fist-fight between the newly elected Secretary General Mpho Balopi and Gaborone Region Chairman Macdonald Peloetletse, the congress went on smoothly and peacefully. However, party members had to restrain Balopi after he angrily confronted Peloetletse whom he accused of tarnishing his reputation by insinuating he bought his fleet of expensive cars from party coffers. There was also a point when the suspended radical youth member Kabelo Masvingo was manhandled out of the congress venue after displaying “unbecoming” behaviour. Outside the hall, Masvingo could be heard shouting and accusing Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi of rigging the congress elections. He was later kicked out of the hall when he went overboard and labelled members of the UB’s Democracy Research Project who were conducting the elections, as Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) members.  Overall, BDP members were on their best behaviour and did not allow their factional rivalry to culminate into physical or verbal fights.
If you have watched Tyler Perry’s prime time television soap opera, The Haves and the Have Nots, then you already have an idea of the makeup of the two BDP camps that descended on the normally sleepy village of Tonota. Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s camp was code-named Dubai while Minister Nonofho Molefhi’s camp called their congress home Marakanelo.
The names of the camps say it all. The real Dubai is a city in the United Arab Emirates known for luxury shopping, ultramodern architecture and a lively nightlife scene.  As of 2012, Dubai was the 22nd most expensive city in the world and the most expensive city in the Middle East. In 2014, Dubai’s hotel rooms were rated as the second most expensive in the world, after Geneva. Dubai was rated as one of the best places to live in the Middle East by U.S. global consulting firm Mercer. In short, Dubai is a place of the moneyed; the haves.  Masisi’s Dubai, just less than four kilometres from Tonota, mimicked the United Arab Emirates’ Dubai in many aspects. Between camp Dubai and camp Marakanelo, the former came out as the best place to live in. When The Botswana Gazette team arrived in Tonota Friday night, the whole village was dark due to load shedding. However, those who were at camp Dubai only heard about the load shedding but never experienced it. Flood lights were erected all over the camp site, making the night look like mid-day.  Where in the real Dubai would have laid skyscrapers of hotels, the Dubai in Tonota had a smartly serried accommodation of 650 brand new canvas tents. Inside the tents, occupants were treated to a life of luxury and opulence. It is no ordinary treatment when you get inside a tent, at a farm and find brand new blankets, a bath tub, foam bath soap, Savlon antiseptic liquid, fresh and clean bathing towels, all for your comfort. That was not all. Inside each tent, occupants found a bag that contained what was termed ‘a starter pack’. The pack included a BDP souvenir cup, throw blanket, T-shirt, scarf and beanie set. At the bottom of the freebie bag, delegates found some papers. The “papers” were actually P400 in cash, just in case they wanted to send their boyfriends and girlfriends airtime back home. They also found a card with a list of all candidates in the Masisi faction, just so they don’t forget who to reward with their vote for the luxurious hospitality. The camp provided 3 meals, every day, prepared by professional chefs. If any of the delegates has never had breakfast at Wimpy Restaurant, camp Dubai realised their dreams. Though I didn’t taste it, the food looked good and delicious or as the Spanish would say, ‘la comida estuvo buena’. More than 15 cows and 15 goats were sentenced to death at camp Dubai. That was in addition to an array of game meat that made part of the Dubai cuisine. Alcohol flowed more than Water Utilities has ever achieved its mandate.
From Camp Dubai, The Botswana Gazette visited Camp Marakanelo which was set up at a farm just off the A1 road and near Tati village. The name Marakanelo appears to have been derived from the camp’s Godfather Daniel Kwelagobe, who two weeks ago at the funeral of former president Sir Ketumile Masire implored the party to go back to marakanelo (cross-roads). The difference between the two camps was humongous. Marakanelo was not as “lit” as Dubai.
While several generator-operated flood lights illuminated camp Dubai, here they had just one flood light and fewer tents, said to be around 300. In fact, it is said Masisi donated some of his tents to Molefhi, even though we were unable to substantiate the allegation. Unlike at Dubai where we left candidates having their dinner inside a marquee tent, here democrats are sitting around the fire while some are dancing and drinking at a make-shift bar where alcohol is, by the way, not for free. It was a far cry from what we saw at Dubai but the camp was not a sorry sight. If camp Dubai resembled Dubai city then camp Marakanelo resembled say maybe Selibe-Phikwe town. They also had starter pack for their delegates. Their goodies bag contained a Beanie hat, scarf and T-shirt. They also had a CD exclusively composed for Molefhi. It was easy to tell how envious (for lack of a better word) they were of camp Dubai given how curious they seemed to want to hear from us about camp Dubai. Gladly they were not starving as we gathered 6 cows had been brought to the slaughter.  The other difference between the two camps was, while camp Dubai’s late night rally was graced by lots of MPs, Cabinet Ministers, businessmen and the who is who of Gaborone, only a few MPs were spotted at camp Marakanelo. In fact it is easy to single them out at the drop of a hat; Molefhi, Inginius Moswaane, Biti Bully, Biggie Butale and Philip Makgalemela. When we told one of the MPs that many of their colleagues were attending the Dubai rally, he said, in clear self-consolation, ‘‘Well many of them are on our side and it is only that they are scared of losing their ministerial posts’’.  It was clear his gut feeling did not resonate with his assertion.
On the day of the election, MP Shaw Khathi told this publication that Masisi was going to have a walk in the park against Molefhi. Kgathi predicted the results and gave Molefhi 270 votes. When the results were announced, Molefhi had garnered 261 votes, only nine votes short of Khathi’s prediction.  Masisi bagged 769 votes, leaving Molefhi behind with a gaping margin of 508. Kgathi is best known in the BDP for making accurate projections on election outcomes.  He is said to have told a BDP caucus meeting in 2014 that the opposition was going to clinch 22 constituencies in the general elections. His colleagues are said to have dismissed him, only for the results to vindicate him. He confirmed his election-projection prowess to this publication and said he is able to combine the mood of the voters with the voters roll to project the outcome of an election. Molefhi did not need the counsel of ‘prophet’ Kgathi to realise the odds were stacked against him. Long before the congress, several attempts were made to get him to drop from the race and allow Masisi to retain the chairmanship. According to information sourced by this publication, Molefhi was promised that if he drops from the Chairmanship race, he will be a shoo-in Vice President when Masisi ascends in April next. The plea to drop from the race was apparently made several times by President Ian Khama and Vice President Masisi.  Khama is said to have told Molefhi that he wanted to protect him going-forward and would not want a situation where his loss against Masisi would annihilate him further in the party. Minister Sadique Kebonang and then party Secretary General Botsalo Ntuane are also mentioned among those who asked Molefhi to withdraw from the race.
In fact, Ntuane went public asking Molefhi to withdraw from the Chairmanship contest offering not to challenge Molefhi in the event he accepts to instead challenge for the secretary general position.  Several party elders such as Satar Dada, Peter Siele and Reverend John Seakgosing are said to be some of the people who tried in vain to persuade Molefhi. But why would Molefhi thwart his chances of becoming Vice President? Several people offer several opinions. Molefhi refused out of principle. Those who support his defiance are of the view he didn’t want to be viewed as opportunistic and that he already owed his allegiance to the brave MP’s and Assistant Ministers who fearlessly stood by him despite the possible ramifications of going against President Khama who had made it clear Masisi was his choice.
The other possible reason could have been Molefhi’s fear of being used and dumped as there would be nothing binding Masisi to appoint him as Vice President in April. Molefhi had already assembled a team and his withdrawal would have left them in limbo, without a leader. If Molefhi indeed went to Tonota hopeful of a win, then he epitomized the delusion of grandeur. The writing had long been on the wall. Masisi’s team long stamped its authority when the Women’s League and the Youth Council became dominated by his supporters. When Molefhi refused to budge and went on to assemble a team, Masisi was left with no choice and also went shopping. Molefhi banked on his revered calm and collected persona.
BDP members love Molefhi for his botho, kindness and principle. Unfortunately, those traits do not always attract votes. Molefhi should have known that in Masisi, he was standing against a charismatic politician who is always ready to get along with any section of the audience.  Ask Masisi to interact with people at the church and he will become a priest for that day. Take him to any tertiary school and he will dress and speak in a way that best resonates with their youthful lifestyle. Take Masisi to the Kgotla and he will not be shy to tell the elders that he is a bootlicker, because yes, he knows the elders embrace the concept of bolope. Molefhi on the other hand approached the elections like a reluctant candidate. He was luke-warn, cold even, in his approach.  Several people, including in his camp, have said of how Molefhi failed to rise to the occasion. He led from the back and allowed his disciples to take the lead.  BDP members knew very well that they need someone who can attack directly and not through other people. BDP members know very well that their party needs someone who can fend off the vicious opposition of the likes of Wynter Mmolotsi and Duma Boko. They surely looked at Molefhi and never imagined him squaring up with the lethal opposition. Masisi is never afraid to face off with the opposition even if it means making no sense at all. That is the kind of political leader the BDP members were looking for and couldn’t find in Molefhi. BDP members are by nature, very conservative and submissive to their leaders and as such they were bound to conform to Khama’s choice of candidate. While his endorsement of Masisi cannot be taken into isolation when it comes to why Masisi got voted in large numbers, it played a significant factor. Masisi did not also rest on his laurels hoping to catch in on Khama’s endorsement alone. He traversed the country selling his candidature to the BDP members. He led from the front and only allowed his soldiers to ‘threaten’ those who were against him by implying it was wrong to defy Khama’s decision. Kgathi relentlessly warned BDP members that a vote for Molefhi would create two centres of power within the party. He always asked, ‘‘Do you want what happened to ANC’s Thabo Mbeki to happen to Masisi?’’ and people seemed to believe he made sense.  Molefhi’s defiance therefore seems to have angered a lot of BDP members who now chose not only to punish him but to punish anyone and everyone who was not rallying behind Masisi. That is why they chose not give anyone in Molefhi’s camp a chance. That is why they chose to ignore even those who were sitting on the fence and not aligned to either faction. If ever there was a time to include non-entities in the central committee, this was the opportune time because BDP members went to Tonota with only one thing in their minds: to legitimize Masisi’s authority and elect him with everyone he had selected for his team.
When Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi ascends to the presidency in less than ten months from now, he will create positions that he alone will influence who fills them up. When the campaign for chairmanship started, Tshekedi Khama was in the race. He had defied his brother, Ian Khama and made it known he was going to challenge Masisi and Molefhi. As time went by, President Khama prevailed on his younger brother and he started to change tune. What is important to note is, there was no how Tshekedi could have agreed to withdraw and rally behind Masisi without any deal being brokered. Surely there had to be something in it for him. Tshekedi was therefore told to hold his horses as he will get the chairmanship without any hassle when Masisi vacates in April. This explains why Tshekedi never bothered to contest for any position at the elections because he was assured of his position in the central committee through presidential appointment as it happened in Tonota where his name was among the five additional members chosen by Khama. The constitution of the BDP posits that whenever a chairman vacates office for any reason, his successor shall be chosen from within the existing committee. Tshekedi will therefore be eligible for selection. Khama appointed 4 other members into the central committee and some of them like Ntuane and Carter Masire were clearly being awarded for hard work and loyalty, respectively. Of recent, Khama has been showing appreciation of Ntuane’s work in the party. He has been consulting him even on issues that he would normally decide with his party’s input. It is said Khama was impressed by Ntuane’s bravery to agree and represent the BDP at the EVM debate that was organised by BOCONGO. Even though some people are of the view Ntuane’s appointment is a sign of no confidence on Mpho Balopi, this publication has gathered that Khama actually has a soft spot for Balopi and credits him for the party’s success in several by-elections during his tenure and at the time the opposition bloc was at its strongest.
In just under ten months, Botswana will have a new president and a new vice president. As president, Mokgweetsi Masisi will have to assemble his team in the Executive and he has to first identify his deputy in the presidency. Even though a lot of MP’s and Cabinet Ministers are currently sucking up to Masisi in an effort to be in his good books for when he nominates the country’s vice president,  Guma Samson Moyo looks set to be Masisi’s preferred nominee. A shrewd politician who is good at choosing the right allies at the right time, Moyo has played a big role in the Masisi campaign. He gave his all to ensure Masisi’s camp becomes attractive to the delegates. A perfectionist when it comes to organising for events such as congresses, Moyo is said to have availed not only his time but also resources for Camp Dubai. Sources at the camp said he contributed, among other things, 10 beasts that were slaughtered and fed to the members in the Masisi camp. Unless and until Masisi announces his choice of VP, there can only be speculation but if Masisi and Moyo’s current buddy buddy relationship can be sustained for the next ten months, he surely is the heir to the throne.  But then again, in politics nothing stays the same forever and you can never say never, as several other ministers have already started telling their friends that Masisi is winking at them.
As has now become the norm, President Khama used the occasion of the official opening of the BDP congress to lampoon the private media. According to Khama, US President Donald Trump needs to be told that ‘Fake News’ was invented by Botswana journalists. Khama has never embraced the private media since he joined politics 19 years ago and it is clear he will leave without a handshake. He told BDP members that the local private media only exists to feed the nation with untruths about him. He took issue with the fact the media reports about his involvement in the purchase of the costly Grippen Jets and the abuse of state resources at his private home in Mosu. This, he says, is fake news despite him having appeared on Swedish national television defending the purchase of the fighter jets. Vice President Masisi however holds a different view and stance on private media. When giving closing remarks at the congress, Masisi started off by thanking the media for the pivotal role they play in both the party and country’s democracy. He implored the media to continue doing their job and challenged the BDP to strive to do good if they want good publicity from the media.  At some point, Masisi came to greet journalists at their table and engaged in light chats with them. Masisi has apparently refused to change his cell phone number when his handlers complained that it was wrong for journalists to have his direct cell phone number and engage with him directly. Almost all local journalists have Masisi’s cellphone number. In fact during his short visit to the media table, Masisi assured journalists that his interaction with them will continue even when he is president.  It is this accessibility that might have endeared Masisi to BDP delegates as he was said to freely engage with them at a personal level.
During the campaign leading to the Tonota congress, Molefhi’s supporters said the business community was shunning them in favour of Masisi’s camp. It was alleged that business people, especially foreigners, sneered at Molefhi’s fundraisers because they knew that their bread was buttered by Masisi, or will in the near future be buttered by him when he becomes president. This allegation was confirmed by one of the fund raising committee members in the Molefhi camp who told of how one Chinese businessman made a u-turn on a promise to fund their campaign after being told by someone that he risks not getting a renewal for his work permit if he sponsors Molefhi’s campaign. Because there is no law forcing Masisi to declare his sponsors, he just tells us he is sponsored by friends and well-wishers. One thing that is certain though is, Masisi’s friends and well-wishers are rich. It can also be stated these friends and well-wishers include the Chinese and the Indians. When his team held a late night rally at Camp Dubai, Masisi was hosting ‘friends and well-wishers’ to a sumptuous dinner at Tonota College of Education. Among them was a contingent of Chinese nationals who were pinned ‘VVIP’ tags.  Masisi’s camp is said to galloped a whooping P15 million to setup, with P1,3 million going towards the purchase of brand new canvas tents. Molefhi’s camp only managed to raise a paltry (in comparison) P1,2 million.