After months of heavy campaign, the moment of truth has come for candidates in the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Central Committee elections. Though observers warn of a neck-to-neck race in the chairmanship race between three leading contenders – Mokgweetsi Masisi, Ramadeluka Seretse and Tebelelo Seretse, some pick Masisi as having an edge. KEITEBE KGOSIKEBATHO and PHILLIMON MMESO report
The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) will retreat to Mmadinare village on Thursday to reflect on their poor performance in the last general elections and elect a new central committee which will steer their ship in the next two years.
The 2015 elective congress will go down in history as the one where many candidates vied for leadership positions especially the chairmanship. Six candidates are running for the chairmanship; the second most powerful party position after the Presidency.
However there have been three dominant candidates for this seat being Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi, and former cabinet ministers Ramadeluka Seretse and Tebelelo Seretse. Other candidates are Tati West Member of Parliament Biggie Butale, Seteng Motalaote and businessman Moemedi Dijeng. The candidates have managed to keep their campaigns private and away from media attention or any other publicity so far. This secrecy surrounding the campaign is, according to a local political analyst Professor Zibani Maundeni, making it difficult to have a sense of which candidate stands a better chance of winning the big post. Maundeni believes that generally it will depend on who has invested more time and other resources to appeal and reach out to delegates. “A candidate who goes an extra mile to be friendly to delegates will probably stand a good chance of winning than those who don’t,” he said.
Maundeni was, however, quick to point out that a candidate who has the support and endorsement of party elders was mostly likely to emerge victorious. “Delegates listen and respect the opinions and decisions of party elders,” he said. To stand a better chance, he said, a candidate’s campaign message should entail a promise for a better future for the party and the country. “It has to be concrete and focused on what will appeal to the basic needs of the nation," he said.
Although Maundeni said he still felt that it is an open race thus far, some commentators are adamant that Masisi is ahead of the race as he secretly enjoys support from President Ian Khama, the party president. Masisi has been traversing the length and breadth of the country lobbying for support, telling democrats that he is the right man for the job as he will ascend to the presidency when Khama steps down in 2018. Preaching unity has been his trump card.
The BDP leadership is also happy with the campaigns so far. BDP Secretary General Mpho Balopi said the peacefulness that candidates have so far carried their campaigns in, reflects the level of maturity that the BDP is currently at. This, according to Balopi, is a sign that factions that rocked the party over the years are dead. Balopi said so far there is nothing from the campaign that they as a party are not happy with. He said the campaigns have so far been clean, cordial and respectful. “But of course in a competitive situation like this one, there will be someone who rubs another the wrong way,” he said. Although he agrees that it is indeed a competitive race, Balopi said people should bear in mind that it is not the first time that the party has had a competitive congress and through it all managed to regroup and stand together as a party. He rubbished reports and speculation that the competitiveness portrayed by candidates in their campaigns is but a façade, and rather that there are divisions and disunity simmering in the party. According to him the reports were just baseless talk which they as a party do not find any substance in. “But as I said it will all depend on how the candidates handle themselves during and after the congress,” said Balopi.
Masisi is currently leading the race due to the fact that he is Vice President and the BDP tradition which refers to anyone in ministerial position as elder has worked wonders for him. Since he declared that he will be contesting the race, Masisi have been busy on social media especially Facebook taking selfies with his hatch tag #go Masisi blind.
Though he is labeled a bootlicker, Masisi is a self-made politician who once tried his luck in the Moshupa constituency in 2003 and lost in the BDP primaries to the then area MP, the late Maitlhoka Mooka. In 2009 he bounced back and won the primaries and ultimately the General Elections with a huge margin. A very ambitious politician, he was appointed Assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration. In 2010 he was assigned to broker peace among the warring faction of the BDP youth league together with Kitso Mokaila.
A teacher by profession, Masisi’s political star rose when he was appointed full minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration and spear headed President Khama’s poverty eradication pet project. His name was previously known not beyond his father’s name Edson Masisi who was former MP for Moshupa and his late charismatic brother Tshelang Masisi. He showed his true political mettle in the last general elections when all odds were stark against him after Botswana biggest public sector union, Botswana Federation of Public Sector Union (BOFEPUSU) declared him their number one enemy and vowed to decampaign him. He first beat them at the party primaries winning by big margin and later winning the Moshupa/Manyana constituency. They have now launched another war against him and vow to ensure that he does not win the BDP chairmanship.
While he is strong at the constituency, Masisi have failed to lead BDP to victory in the four council bye elections where he was the chief campaign manager. His dances and selfies failed to win votes to the ruling party and it was the first time the party lost all the bye elections especially at council wards. Another worrying factor for the BDP is that, the former English teacher is too ambitious and already sees himself as the next president of Botswana, “He is too forward and this might irritate some democrats who are used to humble elders,” a source said.
Notwithstanding that, his chances of snatching the chairmanship position are high and with a convincing margin.
She is the most experienced politician of all the candidates for the position and this might come in handy for her. The former cabinet minister and Botswana’s ambassador to United States of America, Seretse is not a political pushover. She is one of the few BDP women who are not afraid to speak out their minds. She will be banking on her past experience when she tried to wrestle the position from former BDP strongman Daniel Kwelagobe, The latter has since declared his support for Seretse and appealed to BDP members to vote for her. Another advantage for Seretse is that she is the only women contesting for the chairmanship position, which might sway delegates her way. Recently she received a boost when another candidate Dithapelo Tshotlego chickened out and promised to support her.
Her major undoing is that she has been out of party politics for too long and the dynamics might have changed and work against her. Some democrats feel she is a tried and tested leader and want fresh blood to bolster the party which is now facing a youthful opposition.
Tebelelo Seretse says: ''On November 12th, 2014 President Lt Gen Seretse Khama Ian Khama announced Hon Mokgweetsi Masisi as our Vice President. I support President Khama and I am prepared to lead the BDP ground forces in ensuring that His Honour Vice President Masisi takes a well-oiled BDP that will successfully secure his bid for Presidency in 2018 and onwards. While Vice President Masisi leads government in combating the challenges we face with service provision and project delivery amongst others kindly allow me to cultivate the political landscape. We need a strong party to support a government that will deliver on the aspirations of its citizens. I commit to working tirelessly to prepare the party for 2019."
She could pull a surprise.
He used to be regarded as President Khama’s favourite cousin and enjoyed his protection. After losing in the BDP primary elections to Kgotla Autlwetse, Seretse became one of the first losers in the BDP primaries to rally behind the winner. Many expected Khama to bring him back as specially elected MP but this did not happen and left many political pundits shocked. Seretse, a former Minister of Defence Justice and Security was the first democrat to declare that he wants to be the party chairman after the ruling party performed badly in the 2014 general elections getting only49% of popular vote.
Just like Masisi, Seretse has not held any position of influence within the BDP and it will be his first time to contest the position within the central committee. Seretse’s strength will be his campaign message which is based on the reforms within the BDP and the ability to admit that the ruling party needs to introspect before it loses power in 2019.
The son to the former Vice President of Botswana the late Lenyeletse Seretse who was also the first cousin to the founding President Sir Seretse Khama, Ndelu is viewed as humbled and down to earth, which will be a plus for him. He has started his campaign earlier than other candidates and roped one of the grassroots politicians Ignatius Moswaane as his campaign manager.
He has fully used all the campaign strategy to woo voters to his side including being the first candidate to have a website and can also be accessed in YouTube. He will be banking his support on the democrats who want reforms within the party.
He is new inside the BDP inner party politics and this might work against. Most BDP members feel that Seretse is one of the politicians who benefited a lot from the Presidency of Khama and are not ready for another Khama dynasty. He also lacks support from his first cousin, President Khama who seems to be more inclined to his deputy Masisi. Nevertheless, he might pull a surprise but his chances are slim.
Though alive to the fact that his opponents are no pushovers Ramadeluka Seretse is optimistic about the outcome of this highly contested race to the chairmanship. He hails the campaign as one of the most peaceful and clean campaign to come out of a highly contested BDP congress. “That is what happens when the campaign is not personal but rather tackling party issues,” Seretse pointed out.
He attributed the peacefulness of campaigns and the upbeat approach from other candidates to the fact that so far no one has publicly flaunted a lobby list to campaign. According to Seretse lobby lists have a way of searing divisions within the party. As it is, he said candidates are just portraying their individual will and interest to serve the party.
According to Seretse the campaign is so far going well on his side, adding that he has been welcomed and his campaign message well received by democrats. Though admitting that he has not been able to cover all branches adequately, Seretse was quick to point out that he tried by all means within his power to reach out to all democrats especially those he know he has a chance of endearing. “Gape o latela batho ba o itseng gore ba a thopha,” he said.
Going into the congress Ndelu, as he is affectionately known within the party, stated that it is now an open secret that he is a big sucker for party reforms. He says there is currently a need to unify governance and the party. The BDP as the ruling party should according to Ndelu drive and guide governance and governance should depend on the party for key decisions in policy making. But above all Ndelu says the party should condition its membership to feel and appreciate that their party is in power. “Party members should be involved and consulted in policy making just as the government consults Batswana before they make key decisions,” said Ndelu, adding that “ Madomkrag ba tshwanetse go ikutlwa ba busa”.
He also said that he is of the view that party representation in the central committee should be expanded. To reach out to all members and ensure that there is inclusion Seretse suggest that regional Chairpersons should be members of the Central committee. Just as the government reaches out to every individual by starting from the grassroots through Village Development Committees, Seretse said there is need for the BDP to do likewise. He also points out that there is need for loyalty programmes for party members, the kind of programmes that are solely aimed at rewarding members for their loyalty and a token of appreciation from the party.