Tribute to D.K. Kwelagobe as he leaves the position of BDP Secretary General after 27 years

18 Jul 2007

Over these President’s Holidays, at his home village in Molepolole, Daniel Kwelagobe, a respected politician of immense oratorical gifts will retire after 27 years service as the BDP Secretary General.

For his admirers (and there are many) it will be sad and emotional thing to see him go.

Painful as his departure will be, solace can always be drawn from the fact that the man leaves under his own conditions and at a time of his choosing.

What should be of concern is that, given the increasingly self-centered nature of the BDP’s new breed of leaders, it is unlikely that the party will, in the foreseeable future, be able to produce yet another political figure who will easily connect with the ordinary masses as Kwelagobe has done during his entire career.

A quick look at Kwelagobe’s early life shows that the man’s devotion and dedication to the BDP has been immediate, unhesitant, unwavering and lifelong.

While he offered his life to serve the party and his country, he expected nothing in return; and save for high ministerial offices, he did not get much in material wealth.

His gift from God has been to learn, appreciate and accept his limitations, while working harder to compensate for his shortfalls.

Even as he reluctantly participated in the inter factional browbeating that, over the years, incited murderous and mutual hatred in the BDP, evidence shows that, for most of the time, Kwelagobe risked his position by preaching restraint among his loyalists (who wanted an all frontal war) endlessly reminding them that however right and severe their grievances they should always protect, defend and enhance the vitality of the BDP.

The result was that his stature grew, including - in the eyes of his rivals so much that he became a personification of the party.

Extraordinarily notwithstanding his popularity, he maintained his humility.

Sadly, there are few such personalities in today’s crop of BDP leadership.

Nowadays, office is sought not for service, but rather as a license to opening gates of wealth accumulation.
In an era where politicians are a self seeking lot that wants to use public office as a gateway to personal riches, Daniel Kwelagobe has remained a wonderment in that he offered himself for so long with not much material wealth to show for it.

It is inevitable that those who have been calling for his departure will, in the near future, be thunderstruck to realize what an extraordinary (even indispensable) political weapon he had been for the very survival of their party.

While Kwelagobe visited every corner of the country to build BDP structures, it is disheartening to see that those who want to inherit his position are people steeped in high lives, not at all willing to soil their hands, let alone come down from their towers to talk to ordinary people.

While is a good thing for him to bow out, it will not be long before those who wanted him out miss him, realizing what a key armour he had been in their party’s overall strategy to keep the opposition at bay.

The truth of the matter is that the man has always had a natural knack and appeal for the party’s heartlands.

To ordinary members, he has always come across not just as down to earth, but as a clear minded political strategist with whom they could readily associate.

It was on account of his approachability that, on a number of occasions, former President Sir Ketumile Masire (who literally schooled Kwelagobe in politics) always counted on the energies of his younger protégé to sway the public mood and solidly rally public opinion behind the party and government during times of public doubts.

An oratorical master of language and parliamentary procedure, the man inspires a deep seated and rare kind of affection that borders on worship.

It must be remembered that from a very early age Kwelagobe chose politics over a potentially rewarding career in the civil service.

May it also not be forgotten that he became a Member of Parliament while still in his twenties with only basic academic qualifications.

But because of his mesmerisingly strong will he went on to become the country’s longest serving Minister of State; the only man to serve all the country’s three presidents thus far.

To this day, he still holds Botswana’s record as the country’s youngest Member of Parliament ever.

It is gratifying to note that throughout his political life, even as political misfortunes befell him, Kwelagobe’s enthusiasm and love for BDP politics never wavered.

The fainthearted would have walked away when faced with a kind of organized rejection and backstabbing by own troops.

He did not.

Even as he was so plainly saddened and humiliated by the treatment he received after the last General Elections, he continued to call for restraint.

A resilient believer in supremacy of the organization over individuals he continued to hold out hopes for internal peace even as the belligerent party president inexplicably dropped him from cabinet and replaced him with political minnows.

One of Kwelagobe’s strengths is that, unlike Ian Khama and Ponatshego Kedikilwe, Daniel Kwelagobe is not given to brooding.

He is an infernal optimist who somehow always has the hope that things will in the end turn out right.

Although hard-line factional schemers would discount him as somewhat unreliable and given to prevarication, such a discourse is borne more out of innate pragmatism and unwavering desire to preserve the BDP at all costs.
Of course, like every one of us he has had his weaker moments.

His generally combative as to be vulgar attacks on the Kgabo Commission in the early 1990s brought to the fore public suspicions that the saint was not as holly as we had always believed after all.

But the truth is that he was anguished and saddened by clear acts of bad faith by his colleagues who had become intolerably jealous of seeing him bask in the glory of endless public acclaim for so long.

His biggest weakness was not so much the venom he spat out on the findings of the Kgabo Commission but rather a clear psychological unpreparedness to come to terms with the fact that many of his colleagues, especially in cabinet, had by now started to openly resent his long enduring public acclaim.

Not only had his erstwhile cabinet colleagues become envious of his political success they demonstrated an openly shocking insensitivity to his personal plight.

His knee-jerk response to his personal difficulties of the early 1990s was, in hindsight, not the best under the circumstances.

What is important though is the tenacity with which he was able to pick up the pieces of his shattered political career, make a high pitched come back and reclaimed the spot he so religiously believed was his.

It is fighting spirit, his mesmerizing strong will and unsurpassed staying power that have so easily endeared him to ordinary BDP members for close to a generation.

These are the years that will not be forgotten.

Though bowing out from a position he has held for a generation, it would be a mistake to think the country has seen the last of Daniel Kwelagobe.

It is instructive that the last twelve months have seen him tirelessly working hard to bring back the now forgotten politics of consensual discourse inside the BDP, the destruction of which, it must be said, he played no small part.

It is not altogether unlikely that he could still be rewarded with a bigger position; either in government or even inside his BDP.