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Inside Masisi, Balopi fallout

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Analysts say while it is always disturbing when two allies go adrift of each other, it bodes particularly ill for the BDP because the incumbent Secretary General of the party Mpho Balopi is a man well resourced while the lesson of histroty is that BDP presidents are too strong to defy, let alone stand up to. LETLHOGILE MPUANG looks at a reported fallout between President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Balopi and finds little comfort for the ruling party that could aff ect the nation.

 

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) could be headed for a major turbulance, should the party fail to adequately address the fallout between the party’s top two, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and the party’s Secretary General (SG) Mpho Balopi, who are reported to be drifting apart with each passing day.

The mysterious fallout has shocked many and given rise to several theories to trace to its origins. At the forefront are reports the President decided to overlook Balopi in his lobby list for this year’s elective congress whose dates have not been revealed yet.

Kagelelo Banks Kentse, who is the party’s head of communications, Deputy SG Shaw Kgathi, former Minister of Health and Wellness Alfred Madigele, as well as the National Campaigns Manager for the 2019 general elections Tebelelo Seretse, are some of the people who are likely to challenge Balopi for the position.

According to sources within the party, this has added to Balopi’s growing frustration with Masisi. It is believed that Balopi was also left stunned after Masisi appointed him to a rather junior Ministry of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development.

It is an open secret that Balopi, who is the MP for Gaborone North, has been deemed by some in the party as one of the frontrunners for the country’s vice presidency in the widely expected case of Slumber Tsogwane retiring in 2024. Tsogwane is not very popular in the party. After Masisi assumed the presidency in April 2018, Balopi was regularly seen travelling alongside Masisi on official local and international trips, inspite of Balopi not being a minister of state or a senior civil servant.

Though Balopi at the time gave the explanation that although it was contrary to tradition within the BDP where the SG was isolated from government, it was of cardinal importance that the ruling party leadership be involved in the day to day running of the country. Some, however, deduced that he was being prepared for his next role.

Some say, it was assumed that Balopi, who has worked tirelesly alongside Masisi, would be appointed to a more senior ministry, more suitably as the Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration. However, in the end, a relative outsider, the new MP for Molepolole South, Kabo Morwaeng, was appointed to the powerful cabinet position. In November last year, this publication reported that Masisi had given Balopi a tough choice between his ministerial post or remaining SG for the party.

Contacted for comment yesterday, Balopi emphasised that he has a President and a Vice President whom he respects and works well with. He had nothing to do with a narrative being pushed by people that he had ambitions of becoming the country’s next vice president, he said. Balopi flatly denied any fallout with President Masisi.

If the narrative of presenting Balopi with a difficult choice is true, Masisi would seem to be taking a leaf out of his nemesis’ book. A similar strategy was used by former president Ian Khama in 2009 when he compelled his ministers to choose between serving on the party’s Central Committee (CC) or keeping their cabinet positions. Observers concluded that Khama wanted total control at both party and government level. In the circumstances he succeeded at that, affirming concerns that he was a dictator in the making.

WHAT COULD THIS MEAN FOR THE BDP?
It is usually said that when two elephants fight, it is the ground that suffers. This reported Masisi/Balopi fracas is likely to destablize the party by creating two centres of power within party and goverment, leading to an even more divided party less than a year after the split that saw the formation of the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) by Ian Khama. The SG’s is one of the most influential positions in the party. He or she is viewed as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the party and is the de facto head of its office leadership, giving direction and clarity to the party’s strategic and policy development. However, it is worth noting that in spite of the powers of the SG – who in Balopi and the current scheme of things is well resourced – the President Masisi remains the overlord and in many cases turns out victorious.

Although this fallout does not appear to be strong to a point of another split for the BDP, it does have the potential of polarising the party more deeply, perhaps similar to what the BDP went through after the 1994 general elections when then president Sir Ketumile Masire was due to step down. The party saw the emergence of two factions, namely the Big Two led by former party chairman Daniel Kwelagobe that was rooting for then vice president Peter Mmusi, and the Big Five consisting of Chapson Butale, Bahiti Temane, Roy Blackbeared and David Magang who were pushing for Mompati Merafhe. The factions tore each other apart for two years running, in the end compelling Kwelagobe and Mmusi to resign from cabinet.

An after effect of this fallout is already said to be felt within some sections of the party, with Balopi already being accused of a plot to decampaign Morwaeng in his Molepolole South constituency. Former Kweneng Council Chairman Jeffery Sibisibi could emerge as Morwaeng’s challenger in the 2023 BDP primaries. Sibisibi, however, denies this.

WHO BECOMES MASISI’S VP
Observers within the party are adamant that this feud is mainly to do with who becomes Masisi’s vice president, should Tsogwane retire in 2024. He (Tsogwane) had opted out to give the youthful Bogolo Kenewendo a chance but was asked to stay a while longer to take over the vice-presidency in a move that shocked many. Of late, Gabane-Mankgodi MP Kagiso Mmusi, who was also appointed to another senior ministry at Defence, Justice and Security, has also been linked to the vice presidency.
Sources within the party say the fallout between Masisi and Balopi is disturbing because the two have been a cohesive unit for a long time.They note that whatever Balopi does, he should mindful that BDP presidents are all powerful and too strong for anyone to defy or stand up to. It remains to be seen whether Masisi will openly go out and back a different candidate for SG against his longtime ally and backer.

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