A little over a week ago there was so much euphoria about the victory of Samson Moyo Guma’s rise politically.
A significant achievement indeed for a man who, a little less than three years ago, went awol from the BDP and founded the Botswana Movement For Democracy (BMD).
In 2010, Moyo was an anathema within BDP ranks. He had sponsored a bickering factional war that resulted in the split of the party.
Lo and behold, he is now a darling among the party’s masses. At least, judging from the outcome of the Maun elective party congress, he is the ideal person to lead the party to victory come 2014.
Unlike Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Guma’s association with the ruling party’s leadership is fairly new. It is an open secret that along with President Ian Khama, Guma, party treasurer Satar Dada, deputy party treasurer Thapelo Olopeng, the secretary general of the party Mpho Balopi are the powerful lot within the BDP central committee. The common thread among the six is that apart from this alliance at party level, all are also businessmen.
Despite their experience in politics, Botlogile Tshireletso and deputy secretary general Lesego Raditanka do not wield any power.
The party’s deputy treasurer, Olopeng, is also a newcomer to the world of frontline politics. A close confidant of President Ian Khama, Olopeng is also in business with Guma.
Under Khama’s leadership, the traditional Merafhe-Nkate and Kedikilwe-Kwelagobe factions have been extinguished. With most faction activists banished, the newcomers have literally taken control of the party. The former chairman, Daniel Kwelagobe, a man who once was the party’s power house has been eclipsed from the party’s corridors of power.
A number of nagging questions arise: First, will this team of party cadres with nothing but boardroom credentials successfully deliver the promised 57 constituencies in the next general election? As is likely to happen, if the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) split votes, chances beckon the BDP may snatch all the constituencies.
Second, will they push the membership drive? Currently, the BDP policies are regarded as a failure. There are concerns that Botswana today has all the hallmarks of a declining state.
The party has its fair share of challenges. Its 2009 electoral victory shows it is a party in decline. Having undergone a split in 2010 the BDP is no longer the strong party it was some years ago. To its credit, under President Khama, the factional warring has subsided. In fact, there has been a total realignment of forces.
The country is besieged with a persistent power crisis, water is being rationed, privatization of key state parastatals has failed, and unemployment remains high, diversifying the economy remains not a challenge, but mirage. Education is also on a downhill.
Not helping the situation is the bad relations between government and the labour movement.
These are some of the challenges that the new central committee will have to grapple with.
It came as no surprise that, following the congress, the Guma-led central committee summoned cabinet ministers to be appraised on the different portfolio performance since 2009. Can these ‘tenderprenuers’ as they have come to be labelled, restore the confidence that Batswana used to have in the BDP?
┬á“We cannot just close them out because they are in business,” opines University of Botswana political science professor Zibani Maundeni. “They have the potential to deliver what they promised. They have the financial resources.”
The UB don argues that the arrival of Guma and company is a blessing for the party because politics now require businessmen with money to lead party and the country.
“They are turning the BDP into an electioneering machine through money,” he said, adding that this is a welcome development.
Maundeni says that although the current central committee is made up of businessmen who are mostly detached from the party grassroots, it should not cause alarm because, with Khama on their side, the committee will succeed because Khama’s walkabouts have endeared him to the grassroots.
He warns that dismissing the new party leadership on the basis that it’s composed of newcomers could be wide off the mark.
“We were making the same assumptions about Khama but he has turned out to be a popular politician and even managed to consolidate and bring the BDP under his control”, said Maundeni.
That the committee wants ministers to even account to the party is to Maundeni a good development as the party is supposed to be the principal since it put them in power.
“If they work closely with President Khama I do not see the possibility of two centres of power,” said Maundeni.
He says that, as much as there was a period when, for instance, farmers, teachers and soldiers joined politics in droves, today is no different since now businessmen are taking over politics.
However, another University of Botswana political expert, Leonard Sesa, takes a dim view sharply in contrast with that of Maundeni.
Although power and money are important as credentials, Sesa argues that the new central committee might alienate the common BDP voter.
“We have shifted to business and forgotten the average member of the party,” he argues, adding that the delegates’ choices of packing the central committee with newcomers without throwing in an old hand could come back to haunt the party.
“The BDP needs a leadership that knows its history…by voting into office the current officials, the congress is tasking the new leadership with a big responsibility,” says Sesa.
He dismisses the new central committee as just a group of Gaborone socialites with nothing to offer the party membership. He quips that they are businessmen moonlighting as politicians. He says being at the helm of a party that is in government, they have more to gain than the party.
According to the UB don the men in charge of the BDP central committee ‘should be cautious about bringing any changes before learning the ropes’. For instances he see no reason why cabinet ministers should now be hauled before the party central committee.
“They are excited and should restrain their ambitions and get to understand and learn from veterans on how the system works first,” he says.
Giving them the party leadership is to him a tall order compounded by a lack of background; he fears that they are most likely to throw the party in turmoil.
Sesa also doubts that Guma and Olopeng’s central committee might throw its weight enough to influence who becomes Khama’s successor next year as he chooses a Vice President.
“They must be cautious because our Khama as party president is very unpredictable. I doubt they will have any influence on who becomes the next Vice-President,” he said.
The inclusion of ex- Vice-President Mompati Merafhe and the current Vice-President Ponatshego Kedikilwe as additional members is according to Sesa a blessing because they will guide the new party leadership and advice on the party’s traditions.
With their massive financial resources, reaching out to the grass roots might not be a tall order. How they canvass support and endear themselves to the rank and file of the party in order to deliver victory in the coming general election is the main challenge.
Any bungle could cost the BDP dearly as the┬áopposition in both the UDC and the BCP will be leaving nothing to chance in their bid to wrestle power from the ruling BDP.