The race for Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) chairmanship position has reached a feverish pitch with only a week before elections take place in Tonota during the party congress. Recent months have seen both incumbent chairman Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his challenger Nonofho Molefhi racing against time across the country in a spirited push to win over delegates who will seal either’s victory at the congress. Incumbency however seems to have worked well for Masisi who enjoys the support of President Ian Khama and use of state resources going with his office including use of helicopter to easily reach every corner of the country and canvass for support. Based on preliminary focus and real results from regional and constituency committees, Masisi appears to have an edge over his challenger.
Both candidates have remained resolute, turning down President Khama’s plea that a compromise be struck to ensure that the party factions do not worsen in the fallout following elective congress. It appeared from the gesture that President Khama preferred that other candidates dropped out of challenging Masisi while not expecting him to do the same for other candidates. The result has been a strong-willed challenge by Molefhi whose rallying point is that he does not want the presidency but to take over the chairman position which will work on stabilising the party particularly because Masisi will leave the position in April 2018 when he succeeds Khama as country President. A suggestion that he ran for the lower position of Secretary General as part of the compromise was not good enough for him. Masisi, on the other hand, has taken his campaign machinery into an overdrive, parading a lobby list of people he wants to be elected with. He denies that they represent a new emerging faction in the party, insisting that he sees them as people best suited to work well with him in rebuilding the party and the country. Though the tussle between the two political heavyweights has remained cordial in public, it bears echoes of the turbulent 2009 Kanye elective congress that splintered the party along ideological lines of Barata phathi and A team which ultimately gave a caesarean political birth to Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD).
The incumbent Party Chairman, Masisi is trumpeting his track record and experience within the politics of the BDP having won with a landslide at the Mmadinare Congress though he faced more than three candidates. Among other things, he is also drawing his strength from his vital position as the Vice President and the incoming president next year in April. Masisi is said to have told BDP members that they should expect drastic change come April 2018 as he will bring back its glory days. As the Vice President of the country he has all the state resources at his disposal to traverse the width and breadth of the country canvassing votes. His ties with the Khama administration have elicited suspicion from some progressive BDP activists who view Masisi as a representative of the establishment that nearly cost the party power in 2014. Some suspect that after assuming both the country and party presidency he might nominate President Khama as the party chairman. The challenge with Masisi is that his team looks more like a business delegation rather than politicians and most of them have little or zero experience in grassroots politics.
Verdict: BDP is a party of traditions and chances of him retaining the position are very high.
Those close to Molefhi regard him as a democrat who is deeply rooted in party traditions and has attained a high profile party status as it was shown by him attaining highest vote for the additional member of the central committee at the Mmadinare congress. Arguably one of the most decent politicians in Botswana, Molefhi – Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Development – is also regarded as an independent-minded person who would work in the total interest of the party. The Serowe-born politician with family ties to the Ngwato royal family is viewed as offering a breath of fresh air if given the chance to chair the party. Cardinal pledge from him to the BDP faithful is that he will close the gap between the party and its rank and file, forging partnership with all, especially through structures that broadened the political space for easy engagement. Both he and Masisi have sought to downplay the narrative that the race is a proxy battle between wrangling factions of BDP, even though Molefhi’s supporters clearly view it that way. They have openly accused Masisi’s camp of playing dirty. Molefhi’s team has BDP foot soldiers the likes of Ignatius Moswaane, Philip Makgalemele and Biggie Butale. Molefhi’s biggest impediment is the criticism from some BDP faithful that some of the politicians in his lobby group are undisciplined and is quick to wash party’s dirty linen in private radio stations. Initially Molefhi enjoyed support from most BDP MPs but things started to change as some jumped ship in order to secure their political future next year.
Verdict: He is a very strong candidate with heavy odds against him. His victory will be an upset!