The business of politics: As BDP tender boys race to parliament

As the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) enters the final lap of the party’s primary elections initially scheduled for this coming weekend but now indefinitely postponed, SONNY SERITE takes a cursory look at some of the businessmen who have come out to show off their political camouflage.

Should most of the BDP primary election aspirants make it through “Bulela Ditswe” and eventually make it to parliament in 2019, the August house will have more businessmen in charge of the national road map than ever before.
All eyes will be on the entrepreneurs who have come out in unprecedented numbers to secure their political space in the upcoming 2019 general elections under the ruling party banner. Unlike in the past when candidacy for political office was only confined to those who had built a solid background on political activism from grassroots level, this time around political newbies have thrown in their weight and are fearlessly entering the lions’ den with the hope of getting the nod from Democrats to represent the party at the general elections.
A cursory look at the names of candidates for the BDP’s primary elections, popularly known as bulela ditswe, shows that even people whose political affiliation, let alone ambition, has remained a mystery have come out of their cocoons to show their aspiration and ambition for political office.
As an interesting observation, most of the fresh brood of entrepreneurs have been known only for their business enterprises with no publicly known political affiliation, until recently when calls were made for the submission of names for those who are interested in contesting the party primaries. The tenderpreneurs, as they have come to be known, have made their names through being awarded lucrative government tenders. In the past, opposition politicians have complained that the awarding of government tenders is skewed towards BDP sympathisers who in turn sponsor the party in a well-crafted scheme of ‘scratch my back and I scratch yours’.
With the party secretariat led by businessman Mpho Baloi of the infamous ‘‘it’s our time to eat’’ mantra, it would appear fellow businessmen have agreed to join him at the dinner table. While it has always been hard to understand why people opt to forgo their peaceful lives outside the prying eyes of the public and choose to traverse muddy political terrains instead, there is some school of thought that political office is more about power and privileges than it is about monthly remuneration. As Guma Moyo would say, “parliament salary cannot pay for my car.” He rolls in a luxury Range Rover sport.
For business people, being in political office offers the best spot to position yourself for more business opportunities because once in parliament or council, you become privy to all available and upcoming business opportunities. There is also the element of power in politics where businessmen who are also political office bearers have their business deals going smoothly because of their political positions and affiliations.
Among the well-known tenderpreneurs in the upcoming BDP primaries is Monametsi Abel Kalayamotho who fancies his chances in the Gaborone South constituency. Kalayamotho is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Moro Group of companies. His company’s website describes him as a successful entrepreneur with verifiable year-after-year success in achieving revenue, profit and business growth objectives with start-up, turnaround, and rapid change environments. Through his companies, Kayamotho has won several government tenders including the P120 million tender for the e-passport and border control system that was awarded to his company Blocks IT. He is also the co-founder and chairperson Almaz, a manufacturing company that, at the time of inception, was set to produce smartphones, iPad, laptops and computers. Kayamotho describes himself as a ‘‘Serial Entrepreneur, IT enthusiast and practitioner, fashionista and avid traveller.’’
In Kanye North, the incumbent Member of Parliament Patrick Ralotsia will slug it out with at least five other candidates but the one who stands out as representing the tenderpreneur-cum-politician bracket is Thapelo Letsholo. He is the Director of Red Pepper, a communications and public relations company that has won government tenders in the past. He is also the Director of Kamoso Consulting. Letsholo’s company, Red Pepper, was awarded a P14million tender for the country’s 50th independence anniversary in 2016. Even though he is not known in politics, Letsholo describes himself as ‘‘born to dare’’ and an explorer at heart.
In Serowe North East the incumbent Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Kgotla Autlwetse will face Masisi’s strategist and shrewd businessman Puma Matlhware in the primaries. President Masisi recently roped in Matlhware as part of the BDP’s National Strategy Team that is tasked with drawing up strategies for the party to win the 2019 general elections. In the lead up to the 2014 general elections, Matlhware donated P30 000 to the BDP at a fundraiser dinner for the 2014 election campaign. An architect by profession, Matlhware is a successful businessman who has been enjoying a quiet life away from open political activism.
The BDP has already given the green light to John Thiite for the Ghanzi North constituency. Thiite is a businessman who has donated money to the party in the past. His company, Thiite Rabble Screeners has won the P272 million tender for the infrastructural development in Tutume. Thiite is reportedly in trouble with the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) over this particular tender which was allegedly awarded under questionable circumstances.
In Bobonong, incumbent MP Shaw Kgathi faces stiff competition from Francisco Malesela Kgoboko, the founder of FMK Global Holdings Engineering Consultancy. Kgoboko is a businessman who has recently been seen splashing out money on sponsorship of various initiatives in the constituency.
Another accomplished business mogul vying for political office is Talita Monnakgotla who will face off with incumbent MP for Kgalagadi North Itumeleng Moipisi. Monnakgotla is an additional member of the BDP Women’s Wing and co-owner of the AT & T Group of companies which comprises of financial services, public transport, travel and tours and shopping complexes in Hukuntsi.
In Tonota, the sitting MP Thapelo Olopeng has three challengers, among them businessman Tapela Setshege. MP Guma Moyo of Tati East, an well known businessmen has among his challengers Sean Sebele. Sebele is a notable businessman who owns a company called Inter Tourism Group.
In Moshupa/Manyana the recently elected MP Karabo Gare who replaced Mokgweetsi Masisi when he ascended the presidency will defend his seat against Steven Kganela. Gare is a businessman whose company has won government tenders and has a close relationship with President Masisi. His retention of the seat will ensure he joins a legion of other young tenderpreneurs who will become parliamentary representatives in 2019.
In Lobatse, Sadique Kebonang will be up against four contestants among them Dr Thapelo Matsheka, a businessman who runs Fiducia Services, a licensed Pension Fund Administration Business. Maun East will see incumbent Kostantinos Markus slugging it out with among others Sianang Tshimologo Nkgogelang, a self-proclaimed farmer, engineer and entrepreneur from Maun.
Despite Masisi saying that his ministers will be answerable to him personally if they get involved in procurement, his predecessors institutionalised tenderpreneurship lives on. Call it the tenderpreneur dynasty. Bureaucrats, politicians and their families are vocal about having the right to have private business interests and to do business with the State as long as they declare to the executives. Academia however argue that this is effectively narrowing and blurring the distinction between money, empowerment and politics. The Botswana politics of elitism where political funding is non-existent has left its legacy, where the gap between the rich and poor keeps getting bigger while auctioning our sovereignty for 30 pieces of silver.