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Bulela Ditswe 2018: lessons for the BDP & Opposition

Publishing Date : 03 September, 2018

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

This year’s Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)’s primary elections, popularly known as Bulela Ditswe, were like no other. In this article, I argue that, if carefully studied, they can provide invaluable lessons for both the BDP and the Opposition.

Though primary elections are, strictly speaking, a political party affair, I also argue that this year’s Bulela Ditswe results should also provide lessons for the BDP led government and indeed any party that hopes to attain government in 2019. In this year’s Bulela Ditswe, about nine cabinet ministers lost their seats, mostly to first time contenders and hitherto unknowns. No doubt, this is unprecedented in Botswana’s political party history.

Of course, there are other factors which contributed to the loss, which we discuss below, but, in my view, this could be an indication that Batswana are dissatisfied with government’s policies and programmes. One would have expected that the introduction of Constituency Funding (CF) and the Economic Stimulus Package (ESP), both of which were championed by cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament (MPs), would have given cabinet ministers and incumbent MPs an urge over their contenders.

It is not only the CF and ESP that should have given cabinet ministers and incumbent MPs an urge over their contenders. Such other government programmes as Ipelegeng, National Service Scheme, Poverty Eradication Programme, ISPAAD, National Youth Development Fund (NYDF), e.t.c should have had the same effect. Still related to the fall of cabinet ministers, the fall of Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Honourable Nonofho Molefhi, and Assistant Minister for Investment Trade and Industry, Honourable Biggie Butale is worth considering.

Honourable Molefhi, no doubt, lost because of the Masisi factor, him having challenged then Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi for the party chairpersonship. It is not a secret that the Masisi faction does not trust Honourable Molefhi because of his ambitions for the state presidency.

Honourable Butale, together with such cabinet ministers as Minister for Nationality, Immigration & Gender Affairs, Honourable Dorcas Makgato and Assistant Minister for Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Honourable Dikgang Philip Makgalemele, were some of Honourable Molefhi’s fiercest supporters when he challenged President Mokgweetsi Masisi for the party chairpersonship.

Could Honorable Butale’s loss be attributable to the Masisi factor? But how did Honourables Makgato and Makgalemele manage to emerge victorious despite the Masisi factor? Did Honorable Butale underestimate his opponent, Simon Mavange Moabi? In another unprecedented development, this year’s Bulela Ditswe has had many, about fifteen, new comers. What is even more interesting is that these new comers are evenly distributed across the country.

Some of these new comers pitted their chances against party stalwarts, but won against all odds. Examples are Molebatsi Molebatsi and Fransisco Kgobokwe who beat Honourables Kefentse Nzwinila and Shaw Khathi for Mmadinare and Bobirwa constituencies respectively.  Very few expected that Assistant Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Honourable Kgotla Autlwetse, would lose the Serowe North constituency, let alone to the relatively unknown, at least nationally, Puma Matlhware?

Very few would have thought so, especially considering that Honourable Autlwetse, against all odds then, beat his nemesis, former Minister of Justice, Defence & Security, Dikgakgamatso Ramadeluka Seretse. Though not a party stalwart, very few expected that the Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Patrick Ralotsia would lose, yet Thapelo Letsholo beat him. Honourable Ralotsia lost despite the fact that he had the advantage of reaching the masses through farming, the mainstay of many Batswana’s lives.

Similarly, though not a party stalwart, very few expected the Minister of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development, Tshenolo Mabeo, to lose the Thamaga-Kumakwane constituency, yet Mataosane Keitseope beat him resoundingly. In appearance, Keitseope is, at least according to some stereotypes, not a regular MP material. He appears to be what some call an ‘ordinary’ person. Yet he is said to be the people’s person. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) candidate for the constituency, Ofentse Khumomotse, should be careful not to underestimate him, lest he does that to his own peril.        

Honourable Kgathi’s loss deserves comment. A week or so before the primary elections, former President Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, when launching Kgobokwe’s Trust, effectively implored the voters to vote against Honourable Kgathi. Khama had, in his own words, been angered by the fact that Honourable Khathi attempted to dissuade him from officiating at the launch and when that failed he, according to Khama, phoned Dikgosi and implored them not to attend.

Khama did not take kindly to that, saying that was contempt on him as Kgosi kgolo of BaNgwato. The fact that Honourable Khathi did not attend the launch only added salt to injury. Here, it seems, the Khama magic worked against the Masisi factor for, on the face of it, it appears that following H.E Masisi’s ascendancy to the presidency, Honourable Kgathi abandoned the Khama faction for the Masisi faction.

Honourables Polson Majaga and Ignatius Moswaane’s victories are also worth commenting on. Both are what one may call ‘nobody’s men’ if that is possible in politics. They have caused discomfort to the mainstream in the party for their position on several issues, but have seemingly remained true to their constituents.

They have been accused of not respecting the party’s caucus decisions. They have even been accused of being sympathetic to the Opposition, with claims that they bring parliamentary motions which are leftist in nature, yet they emerged victorious in this Bulela Ditswe despite the serious challenge they faced. Nata-Gweta MP, Honorable Majaga, for instance, faced fierce challenge from, among others, former Botswana Congress Party (BCP) fire brand, Ditiro Majadibodu, and former Director of the Department of Youth & Culture, Lawrence Ookeditse, whom many blamed for abusing his position to campaign before he resigned.

Though the MP for Tati East, Honourable Sampson Guma Moyo, is a bit different from Honourables Majaga and Moswaane for Francistown West, he too has his own mind. Also, despite the fact that his constituency is ‘safe’ he does not take his voters for granted. The lesson from this is that being true to the voter pays. Further that while touring the party line and conforming to the party’s positions and principles is important, loyalty and service to the electorate is of overriding importance.

This lesson is even clearer when regard is had for the MP for the Lerala-Maunatlala constituency, former Minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, Honourable Prince Maele. Obviously because his constituents have confidence in him, they voted for him despite allegations of corruption that he faced which many believe resulted in his removal from cabinet by H.E Masisi. It is worth noting that Honourable Maele has neither been charged nor convicted of any offence or crime.

Former Minister of Minerals, Green Technology and Energy Security, Advocate Sadique Kebonang, who was similarly removed from cabinet by H.E Masisi, allegedly because of the National Petroleum Fund (NPF) saga, did not survive. It is also worth noting that Honourable Kebonang has neither been charged nor convicted of any offence or crime. Honourable Kebonang’s loss could be because he faced a strong opponent in Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, the former Chief Executive Officer of a very influential government agency, Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA).

But it could also be because he had lost touch with his constituents, who, when their time came, did not sympathize with him for the corruption allegations he suffered and the removal from cabinet. The Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Honourable Tshekedi Khama, won despite the fact that his Branch Committee had vetted him out for, according to them, neglecting the constituency by never visiting his constituency since the 2014 general elections, or bothering to thank the voters.

Khama won despite facing formidable challenge from Moemedi Dijeng. So significant was Dijeng’s challenge that Khama went to court praying for the court to order that Dijeng be barred from contesting Bulela Ditswe for breaking the rules of the primary elections. Also facing Khama was the Masisi factor. Though there is a possibility that the Branch Committee, which some accuse of being pro-Masisi, was conspiring against Khama because it preferred Dijeng, the Khama magic and Bogosi cannot be discounted from contributing to Khama’s victory.

All said, if there is one desirable lesson to be learnt from this year’s Bulela Ditswe it is that no MP should be too comfortable and take the voter for granted. One hopes that this lesson will be continued at the 2019 general elections even for the Opposition. The absence of the recall clause for non-performing MPs and Councillors has been abused by many, even in the Opposition, who got elected only to abandon their constituents or to put the interests of the party over the voters.

In this year’s Bulela Ditswe, the people have shown that they are the employer and they hire and fire as they please. It appears Khama’s Bobonong words that ‘nobody should believe a constituency is their personal or private property’ have resonated with many in the BDP. One thing is also clear from this year’s Bulela Ditswe for the BDP. If it fails to manage the fall out resulting from Bulela Ditswe, and fails to manage the fall out between Khama and H.E Masisi it may lose the 2019 general elections.

Just like many candidates lost Bulela Ditswe unexpectedly, many may lose the 2019 general elections unexpectedly, especially if the claims by some in the Opposition that they voted for weaker candidates so that their candidates stand a better chance to win the general elections are true.    



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