Thursday, July 2, 2020

Masisi/Balopi slow dance spells fire for the BDP

For Mpho Balopi, the incumbent Secretary General of the Botswana Democratic Party, the year 2020 was supposed to be a year of power and political consolidation.

Two full terms as BDP Secretary General, albeit with a gap in between them Mpho Balopi finds himself exactly where he started his career in politics – isolated and even unsure of his future.

The normally bombast businessman-cum-politician now finds himself in limbo – holding a powerful position inside a party that does not seem to want him any longer.

His lifeline, which is the presidential patronage has been summarily and angrily cut off.

His political life is nothing if not precarious.

Everyday his world inches closer and closer to total unravel.

The elective congress that was supposed to provide him with a platform of an easy shoo-in into a higher pedestal has now been twice postponed. In the meantime events are running out of his control.

Over and above the position of Secretary General, Balopi also holds the exalted position of senior minister of state.

But there’s not much comfort beyond tittles. Still Balopi is a man in a hurry. Time is not on his side.

He’s abnormally aware of how short-lived all these could be.

If he had his way, he would by now be occupying the position of vice president of the republic.

Or at the very least, minister for Presidential Affairs.

Becoming president is for him an untamable compulsion.

Now he watches as his ambition lies in tatters, occupying the less coveted ministry of labour.

There is yet another caveat to it all; his ambition has put him at odds with the dispenser of all largesse.

As a result of his ambition, Balopi hinds himself in the cross-hairs of the president.

Chances of an open conflict are at dangerously high levels.

In a way he has become a victim of own ambition.

Politics is for many often a stepping stone to undeserved power and underserved wealth. For Balopi, up to now politics has been nothing if not a poisoned chalice.

The president’s response to Balopi’s designs has been swift and undisguised.

The Secretary General has been banished to the fringes of power.

Erstwhile frequent visits to the State House have been reduced to near zero.

And he has some explaining to do, if not to the party, then at least to the president about his suspected political moves, deemed by some to be counterproductive to the party line.

However crafty the explanation, one thing is clear – relations will never be the same again.

His allies say Balopi equates his treatment to a demeaning insult by a Head of State he had for a long time regarded as a political ally.

Balopi’s political difficulties are well known.

They are an open secret, to use a cliché much favoured by journalists.

The president of the Botswana Democratic Party and his secretary General are engaged in a slow step dance. It is very likely that by the time it all ends, the dance would have become a quick step.

The secretary general now finds himself at a position where to survive, he might be forced to make a tactical retreat, including abandoning his plans to defend his position in the party.

Apparently, he been lukewarm to suggestions that he could consider raining his eyes on the position of national treasurer.

It is also inevitable that at the end of it all, the effects will be disproportionately felt by the Secretary general, including possibly having to contend with end of a career.

It would appear like Balopi has annoyed too many people on his rise to the top of the BDP.

The dispute threatens a stampede and also to embroil the party into a low intensity civil war.

The BDP certainly has a political hot ball to resolve.

Postponing it only makes the problem more pervasive, not least because slowly Balopi is emerging as a rallying point for all disaffected activists.

And right now there is an array of the president’s underlings lining up to deliver all kinds of blows on Balopi.

This army of loyalists and ever self-seekers have reacted with horror at what they see as unpardonable disloyalty on the part of the SG.

They claim to be doing it to protect the president even though there is no evidence to suggest the president is in any danger from anybody.

So far there has been no open trading of barbs. To his credit, the Secretary General is clearly aware that he would not match the president’s armour in an open war footing.

The Secretary General has been absolutely discreet.

He has opted to suffer largely in silence.

Only his friends ever talk on his behalf, albeit privately.

Balopi can rue and mourn his fall from favour.

But there is absolutely nothing with showing ambition.

The important thing for ambition is that it has to be tamed and be controlled.

It has to be done through the confines and dictates of organizational culture.

It looks like he has failed the test.

But to be fair to the man, the failure is not his alone.

The nation too is to blame. We have set the bar too low on who can become a state president.

Thus anybody who hangs around a president for a few days wakes up one morning thinking that they too can become a president.

More importantly, the row is significant if not for deepening and spreading disunity inside the BDP then at least because it is a replay of what we have seen before.

This dispute offers an opportunity to evaluate Masisi.

Up until now we had bought a story line that Masisi was a victim of Khama’s Machiavellian chicanery.

We bought line, hook and sinker a story that in the whole scheme of things, it was Khama who was always an aggressor. In a true Orwellian mantra it had become “Masisi good, Khama bad.”

Masisi was always this democrat at heart who was willing to suffer persecution in silence as part of a bigger strategy to save Botswana.

If Khama’s treatment of Masisi was bad, then Masisi’s treatment of Balopi cannot be right – unless of course we adopt selective justice, which will inevitably fail the public test and invite a backlash against Masisi.

This is what the BDP should wake up to. Clearly there is a debate to be inside the ruling party.

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.