Saturday, June 3, 2023

Why has Ntuane not delivered the BDP to its rightful owners?

There is a famous picture showing the late Gomolemo Motswaledi and Botsalo Ntuane immersed in a deep conversation taken inside a courtroom in Lobatse.

The Court of Appeal was delivering a verdict in a case in which Motswaledi was contesting the powers of President Ian Khama.

In a case that bore all the hallmarks of intrigues and daggers Motswaledi had just been sacked as Secretary General of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party ÔÇô a position he had held for barely more than a month.

At the end of the court verdict, it was pronounced that Motswaledi had lost with costs. And with that came the end of what had been a rising political career inside the BDP.

Shortly after the death of Motswaledi I asked Ntuane just what it was that he was whispering into Motswaledi’s ear the moment that picture was taken.

“I was telling him ‘let’s go and form a party,’” Ntuane said with amazing frankness. And so it was, the party was formed.

Yet by the time of Motswaledi’s death, Ntuane had parted ways not just with his bosom friend, but also with Botswana Movement for Democracy, a bouncy political outfit the formation of which the duo had hatched and sealed in a short conversation inside court when that iconic picture was taken.

Ntuane is now back with the BDP where he today occupies the position of Secretary General ÔÇô a poisoned chalice from which once drank his old friend, the late Motswaledi.

Since becoming Secretary General Ntuane has weathered countless storms.

In fact when he ran for office, few gave him a chance that he would emerge a winner.

As it became clear that he was going to win, skeptics shifted their doubts to questioning if he would last any more than a few months into the job. So adamant were those skeptical of his endurance that possible replacements were advised to be on standby to take over when that eventuality arrived.

Now a year and a month in the job, few question if he will see his two-year term through.

What Ntuane lacks in disciple, he makes up for it with his immensely clear sighted intellect.

It is exactly this that has impressed President Ian Khama ÔÇô a strict, military grade disciplinarian, who once confided to a cabinet minister that he would find it hard to appoint Ntuane to his cabinet because he deemed him a none team player.

Insiders say the near seamless relationship between Khama and Ntuane is one thing that continues to confound the BDP top brass. It was never expected to be that way.

A clear vote of confidence from the president has helped the Secretary General to assert his authority at the party office, throwing by the wayside those who had banked on possibility of testy relations with President to undermine him.

There is no question that ongoing subtle battles of succession have been a real diversion from the more pertinent issues facing the BDP; a resurgent opposition, resurfacing factions within the BDP, a dwindling share of the popular vote and a real possibility of the party losing power at the next elections.

If anybody has benefitted from this low intensity jostling inside the party it has to be President Ian Khama. But so too has Ntuane.

Different lobby groups are literally queuing up for his support and eventual endorsement.

Contenders so far named in the race for succession are Vice president Mokgweetsi Masisi, Minister Tshekedi Khama, minister Nonofo Molefhi, Botswana’s Ambassador to Tokyo, Jacob Nkate and former minister Boyce Sebetela. The list could still grow longer.

But for all Ntuane’s unexpected comeback and acceptance into the ruling party’s nerve centre, one big question still remains unanswered: Has he delivered the party back to its owners as he had pledged when he set out to become the BDP Secretary General? Put another way, can he save the BDP from an opposition rag-tag that is on the march and ever more determinant to get a bite at the cherry?

During his campaign to become secretary General Ntuane ranted endlessly that the BDP had been ruthlessly snatched away from its rightful owners. His biggest worry was that the party had become too elitist, with all the power concentrated on a clique of tenderpreneurs many of who had neither clarity nor idea on the history of the party.

He was adamant that the BDP had never been a party of the rich.

This pushed him to draft what he called a reform agenda, which he used not just as his manifesto but also a rallying cry to save, rescue and ultimately restore the BDP to its origins.

If not for anything else that blueprint  offers a glimpse into the character of the demons and  frustrations that consumed him at the time. It was on account of this reform agenda that he scored the highest number of votes for any candidate at the Congress.

Yet halfway into his term in office, none of his twenty two point reform agenda has been implemented.

His sympathisers say this is demonstration of the powerlessness of a Secretary General under the BDP Constitution.

But there has also been no shortage of detractors, many of who pointedly accuse him of a glaring failure to focus and stay on message when it comes to delivery of his office.

With General Elections approaches, Ntuane’s detractors inside the BDP are not only getting jittery but also shrill in their attacks on him.

The last twelve months have been extremely torrid for the BDP.

The party no longer enjoys the comfort of certainty when it comes to elections.

The ever erudite Ntuane has a philosophical explanation for it.

“As has been admitted, the protest vote visited on BDP has caused it damage, but the excited narrative from the pro opposition camp about BDP’s impending demise is premature and a tad exaggerated. The situation can be reversed as has happened before.  For starters all the fundamentals that have been instrumental to the success of the ruling party,  and by extension the progress of our country  over the  years remain  in place. The BDP has maintained fidelity to its   character of a nationalist movement committed to delivery of social  justice  through prudent policy interventions,” Ntuane wrote in a piece ahead of the BDP Congress that elected him Secretary General.

Reality on the ground however points to a different direction.

Since the General elections in 2014, the party has gone on to lose almost all of the by-elections so far held.

This is a far cry from a party that was for a long time deemed a specialist when it came to by-elections.

Taking their cue from the BMD, a party that Ntuane founded with Motswaledi, critics inside the BDP are beginning to whisper that Ntuane’s reputation as erudite is undeserved. Their narrative is that the man is simply a pantomime charlatan  that cannot be trusted.

To them this is a man who is showy, and often possessing a deep sense of self-righteousness. The less charitable among them say he could be disingenuous, whimsical as to be outright hypocritical.

While opinion is badly polarized on his level of political intelligence, strong consensus exists that he does not suffer fools gladly, which is said to have been a big reason for him turning his back on the BMD.

For better or for worse, in a short while the BDP will have to face up to the truth and deliver a public verdict on one of its most prized sons; has he been a political populist who was not worthy the trust the party gave him? Or has he been a prodigal son turned messiah who descended just when the party was groping for a savior? Only time will tell.


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