Since the beginning of the 1990s, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has been synonymous with one thing — factionalism. The unrelenting factions have seen the party suffering two major splits in the last decade. As the party heads for its first elective congress under the guidance of President Mokgweetsi Masisi, staff writer ALFRED MASOKOLA studies the evolution of the ruling party.
Between 1962 when BDP was formed until 2007, a period of 45 years, BDP had two Secretary Generals; Sir Ketumile Masire and Daniel Kwelagobe. However, ever since Kwelagobe left the position, the party changed Secretary Generals six times in just under a decade. The evolution does not end there; it has many facets key among them the elections of party Members of Parliament, a development which has seen the party’s MPs re-election rate falling dramatically in the last three general elections.
There are many schools of thought explaining the party evolution. Some believe that the evolution was inevitable, but an ardent debate remains on whether the change has been for better or for worse. BDP started experiencing factions beginning of the 1990s, primarily because of an investigation carried out by government through a commission of inquiry— and its resultant findings. The findings led to the resignation of then Vice President Peter Mmusi from his position, a development that polarised the party forever.
At the centre of the factional wars in the 1990s and early 2000s was the battle between Kwelagobe and Mompati Merafhe, mainly over the control of the party and succession plans. Despite Lt Gen Ian Khama being brought to the party in 1998, specifically for the purpose of uniting the party, BDP split for the first time barely two years after he became party leader. The first split resulted in the formation of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) under the leadership of the late Gomolemo Motswaledi.
Motswaledi fell-out with Khama in the build to the 2009 Kanye Congress, where his faction, Barataphathi, supported among others Kwelagobe defeated A-Team, which enjoyed the backing of Khama. Owing to the fragile relationship between the two factions, Motswaledi was suspended from the party, barely two months after his faction won all but one Central Committee (CC) positions in Kanye.
The suspension of Motswaledi set in motion the events that led to BDP’s first split since formation, an occurrence which in the past was synonymous with opposition parties. BMD became an important founding member of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), which has been threatening BDP’s hold on power since then. A year after Khama left the leadership, the party also suffered a second split, and again Khama was at the centre of the debacle.
A fallout between Khama and his successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi over the ‘gentleman’ agreement that they had, saw Khama and a legion of supporters, including the disgruntled primary elections losers leaving the party. A splinter party, Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) was formed, a development which saw BDP for the first time losing its traditional base in the Central District, its long-time stranglehold.
Ever since the 1990s, BDP never recovered, and it has become a party associated with factionalism. The problems however now go beyond factions, as there are new problems threatening the future of the party. BDP had to go through reforms since 1990s, the major ones being the 1997 constitutional review which resulted in the introduction of 10 year limit for presidential term; reducing voting age from 21 to 18; and establishment of Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).
At party level, the 1995 constitutional review made it explicit that party President shall be elected at party congress every election year. This provision however was never exercised, both during President Festus Mogae and Ian Khama’s terms but chickens came home to roost after Masisi became President. In a historic moment, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, a Cabinet Minister in Masisi’s administration announced her intention to challenge the latter for the throne. The battle for leadership was tense, and played a key role in the formation of BPF, after Venson-Moitoi pulled-out of the race at the eleventh hour.
But one of the problems facing one of the longest governing parties in world, is the inevitable evolution that brought among other things reforms and money. Money is today the most important tool in the fight for BDP control, a trend which is tearing the party asunder, perhaps in the manner that is bellicose than just factionalism. In 2003, BDP replaced its old system of selecting MPs and council representative through a Committee of 18, with a new system of Bulela Ditswe, where the party members were enfranchised to participate in the process.
Popular hardworking and loyal activists were always assured of a berth in Parliament or Council if they participated. Central Committee position was the preserve of thoroughbred members who understood the party and its tradition. The new developments have left many frustrated. No matter how popular they are, they know without the financial muscle they will remain in the periphery as the monied buy their way into power. These developments remain an errant bode, and to most, it is an irreversible trend.
“How can money politics be a positive development? It rules out vast majority of dedicated hard working activists from occupying certain political offices,” said a former BDP Central Committee member. “It starts at primaries. When you look at many people who won primary elections, they are new in the party but won because of money. If they had presented other credentials than money they would have been outcompeted by long servers who know the party better.”
In the 12th Parliament, there were less than 10 returning MPs, majority of them being a new crop of MPs. In the past the party had a high re-election rate but since the advent of Bulela Ditswe the re-election rate has been on a drastic decline. Ever since 2007, when Kwelagobe retired from the Secretary General position which he held for 27 years, the party has been chopping and changing Secretary Generals. The trend has been affecting other Central Committee positions.
The Central Committee is currently made up of fairly new entrants, the only veteran being party treasurer, Satar Dada, who has held the position since 1995. Masisi, the party leader became part of the Central Committee in 2015, a year after being appointed Vice President, meanwhile his understudy, Slumber Tsogwane only tasted Central Committee in 2017 despite being the longest serving party MP.
Since 2007, BDP has had six Secretary Generals; Jacob Nkate, Gomolemo Motswaledi, Thato Kwerepe, Kentse Rammidi, Mpho Balopi and Botsalo Ntuane. “But it is an irreversible trend. Money now buys office. Those without money are being reduced to voting fodder for the monied. They are second class members who will never compete for big positions until they also have money to buy votes and build networks,” said the former Central Committee member who also served as MP at some point.
“Bulela Ditswe also placed lots of demands on candidates by voters who ordinarily would not participate in party activities. They had to be fed, transported and it is becoming common for them to be paid in exchange for their vote. It is also common for opposition supporters to be recruited to vote in bulela ditswe with full knowledge of both transacting parties.”
BDP is preparing for its first elective congress under the leadership of Masisi. The party, for the first time since formation, postponed its elective congress in order to nurse its fragile state while preparing for its most crucial elections in its history. Already there are indications that party members have grown disgruntled with the party Secretary General and his position is the most sought after as the party heads to July’s elections.
Unlike previous elections there are little fears that the party may split, but the party is charting into new territory. As new blood takes centre stage, most of the party’s traditions will be surrendered, and largely unconsciously. When Khama announced his departure from the party in 2019, it also presented a new chapter in the party’s history. It was the end of the Khama dynasty, a family which has been part of the party fabric since formation.
The 2019 general elections also provided new dynamics: BDP is no longer a party of Central District. In fact, it is charting new territory. BDP survived 2019 general elections, largely on account of urban and peri-urban vote in the southern part of Botswana. Whether that will sustain the party in power remains to be seen.
Despite the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and his Namibian counterpart, Hage Geingob giving an impression that the borderline security disputes are a thing of the past and that diplomatic ties remain tight, fresh developments from Namibia suggest otherwise, following Geingod’s close confidante’s attack on Botswana and its army.
Giving a Zambezi region state of the affairs last week, a Geingob-appointed governor of Zambezi region, Colonel Lawrence Ampofu, a retired Colonel in the Namibian Defence Force, former plan combatant during the liberation struggle of Namibia, in a written speech, charged at the BDF and condemned their killings of the Namibians as unacceptable.
“The security situation within our borders remains calm. The incidence of the Botswana Defence Force shootings and wanton killings on the Nchindo Brothers on 05 November 2020 and other 37 Namibian lives lost since independence remain a serious challenge with our neighbor, Botswana.
Our residents living along the Chobe, Linyanti and Kwandu rivers are living under constant threats, harassment, fear, intimidation and killings and such activities are condemned and not acceptable,” he said under the safety and security title.
The attack suggests that Namibia has not bought Botswana’s story. Ampofu was part of the entourage that accompanied Geingob to the three Nchindo brothers and their cousin who were gunned down by the BDF, and is reported to be privy to the details of the unpublished Botswana-Namibia joint investigations report about the killings as a governor or political head of the region which has eight electoral constituencies.
The report contains the sensitive details of how the three Namibians referred as poachers by the BDF – and Fisherman by the Namibian government were gunned down on 5 November last year along the Chobe River. They were Tommy (48), Martin (40) and Wamunyima Nchindo (36), and their cousin Sinvula Muyeme (44).
His views are not really in contrast to his President’s views who also described the BDF as trigger happy in a scripted report to his cabinet.
The Zambezi region is located in the extreme north east part of Namibia and covers a total of 14,667.6 square kilometres. “We share borders with Angola, Zambia to the north, Zimbabwe to the east and Botswana to the South,” he said.
Sampofu was first appointed governor of the former Caprive Region in 2010 by the former Namibian president, Hifikepunye Pohamba and was reappointed as Zambezi governor by President Dr.Hage Geingob in 2015, a term running to 2025.
37 Namibia residents killed by Botswana army so far
Sampofu is a man who continues to insist that Botswana has killed 37 residents of his region. A video posted by the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) shows him alleging that at least 37 Namibians were killed by the BDF, after he met with the community at Impalila.
“It is true, the BDF started long ago. As we speak 37 lives have been lost here in Impalila along the Chobe river going to Linyanti and Kwado rivers up to Lizauli. All those families lost their loved ones,” Ampofu said in the video posted by NBC.
It is not known how the BDF, which has maintained their position that the Namibians were engaging in illegal activities of poaching, treats the constant attacks by the Namibian authorities, but they have repeatedly vowed to continue protecting the country’s sovereignty and natural resources.
Botswana’s premier brewer and leading distributor of beer, Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL), this month dragged the government of Botswana to court after President Mokgweetsi Masisi imposed an alcohol ban with immediate effect. KBL labelled the decision as unjustifiable, irrational and that it overrides the rights that are enshrined in the constitution.
This week, Masisi through attorneys representing the government disparaged the case in his written affidavit of KBL’s application, referring to it as frivolous and that it ought to be dismissed with costs on a punitive scale.
In his court papers, Masisi reminded KBL that Botswana is a Republic whose laws find validity from the constitution, and in terms of Section 17 of the constitution the President is empowered to declare a State of Emergency and that it is a common cause that Botswana is under such state.
“It is common course that there is in existence emergency powers (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 as amended from time to time which is solely designed to regulate the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Masisi pointed out that he denies that the application before Court is proper such as to challenge the lawfulness and validity of a regulation made and a notice published in the exercise of a legislative function in accordance with the Emergency Powers Act which empowers the President to make regulations as appear to him to be necessary and expedient for securing public safety.
Furthermore, the President revealed that the decision to ban alcohol sales was not arrived at willy-nilly, but rather that there had been careful considerations that the risks posed by Covid-19 had increased and therefore it was expedient and necessary to suspend all liquor licenses.
Moreover, Masisi denied that the decision to reinstate the ban should be made by the Director of Health Services as indicated by KBL in their nature of the application, “the Director is to cause the notice to be published in the Gazette after consultation with the President.”
Masisi indicated that the role of the Director of Health Services is to publish a regulation made by the President.
He further, reminded KBL that the power to make regulations in a State of Public Emergency in accordance with the EPA lies with the President, “such power includes the amendment of any enactment, suspending the operation of any enactment or modification of an enactment.”
According to Masisi, his decision to ban alcohol sales was based on evidence provided by the Director of Health Services who indicated to him that there was a sudden spike in the transmission of the Covid-19 virus following the reinstatement of liquor licenses.
Another piece of advice tendered by the Director of Health to Masisi was that bars and other liquor outlets were some of the major hotspots in the sense of such being high-risk areas at which the virus spread rapidly.
“Alcohol was one of the major causes of non-compliance with the health protocols that were put in place to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, there was an indication that more arrests were made on people failing to adhere to Covid-19 protocols more particularly at places where there were gatherings,” he contended.
He pointed out that therefore, it was expedient and or necessary to preserve lives and to reduce the risks of transmissions of the virus to reinstate the suspension of liquor licenses.
Moreover, the President says that it must be noted that he avers that the Director of Health Services is a credible source on matters of public health of which he also accordingly gave due weight to the Director’s advice on deciding to reinstate the ban through the impugned notice.
“I am aware and was always aware at the time of promulgating the regulation complained of that it shall negatively affect some sectors of the economy. However, after due consideration and receipt of advice, I decided to give priority to the safety and health of the nation,” Masisi said.
He presaged KBL that it would not be prudent and in the best interest of the nation to ignore a health emergency such as Covid-19 and gave preference to trading and making of profits by the applicant. “The results would only be catastrophic to the extent that when we emerge from the scourge we would be left with a depleted and ailing nation from Covid-19 and its side effects.”
Furthermore, his written affidavit further pointed out that the decision to reinstate the ban on alcohol was taken notwithstanding understanding and appreciation of the economic hardships that would befall the country.
However, he said he deliberately made the decision based on the evidence provided to him by the Director of Health, whose evidence he believes to be credible to give public/safety and health priority over economic considerations in some sectors.
In making the decision, Masisi states that he was and considered different options including allowing for sale of alcohol consumption off premises, however the evidence he had been provided with suggested that such other alternatives would not achieve the overall objective of securing public safety and health by reducing the risk of the spread of the virus.
“By the time I imposed the ban, alcohol was already being sold for consumption off-premises. This did not work. The information provided to me by the Director and the Presidential Task-Force team demonstrated that consumers purchased alcohol and then loitered and consumed it within the peripheries of bars and other liquor outlets,” he said.
Attached to the affidavit as emphasis, were photographs and videos of Gaborone West, Phase 4 in mid-June 2021, which he explains circulated on social media and was brought to his attention.
“I need not say much about the photos as they depict a crowd exceeding 50 gathered at the parking area of a bar. There is little or no regard to Covid-19 protocols. It was clear to me and my advisors, including the Director of Health Services and members of the Presidential Task-Force team that the total ban of alcohol was necessary to manage the risk of increase in infections, to understand what seems to have led to an increase in the risk of infection when alcohol is present I was advised by the Presidential Task-Force team that scientifically there has been evidence that alcohol narrows physical distance,” he argued.
Masisi says that allegations made by KBL are serious allegations of infringement of fundamental rights yet they fail to state how imposition and reinstatement of the suspension of liquor licenses out of necessity and expediency of the health of the nation infringes on the rights as alleged.
In an embarrassing turn of events that depicts disintegration in government communication on the fight against COVID-19, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Assistant Minister of Health & Wellness, Sethomo Lelatisitswe gave two conflicting statements on the same matter, same day, just minutes apart.
The Commander-in-Chef told health practitioners and residents in Ramotswa that the COVAX facility has scammed African countries after billions were paid in a crowd funding effort to procure COVID-19 vaccines in bulk.
“We have pumped money as developing countries of the African continent into the COVAX Facility but the returns were not satisfactory, they cheated us,” the President said in Ramotswa.
According to President Masisi, the COVAX facility Vaccine only came in bits and pieces, frustrating the continent ‘s head immunity targets amid rapidly spreading Delta Variant which is currently reversing all progress made by Africa in containing the contagious virus.
“What we are getting is very small portions of the vaccine, they keep telling us that there is shortage of supply, this is not fair, but we have paid in advance, however what can we do, we have no choice but to spend more money and look for other avenues of securing other available vaccines,” he said.
Meanwhile in Gaborone, Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness told Parliament that vaccine from COVAX facility is anchoring Botswana’s vaccination program.
“I am not aware of such information that COVAX facility is not delivering as expected, we are actually bolstered by COVAX facility in this country,” he said responding to a question from Mahalapye West Member of Parliament David Tshere who is also Chairman of Parliament Committee On Health and HIV/AIDS.
“We have received doses as ordered from the COVAX facility, and we are still receiving more, I have not seen that information which is purported to have been revealed by the President, unless its new information, we as the Ministry we are not aware of any frustrations by the COVAX facility,” he said.
COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside key delivery partner UNICEF.
Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.
The facility is a global coalition that works to ensure fair and equitable access of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. So far, 190 countries have joined the COVAX initiative, including all 22 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.
The COVAX Facility aims to have 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution across the globe by the end of 2021, targeting those most at risk (e.g. frontline health workers) and most vulnerable severe diseases and death (e.g. elderly and people with co-morbidities).
On other vaccination issues President Masisi revealed, still in Greater Gaborone vaccination centre visits, that Botswana has placed orders with Pfizer, a United States vaccine producer noting that they have promised to deliver next year.
Meanwhile, government kick-started phase two of the Covid-19 vaccination program this week, opening up for ages between 30 and 54.
President Masisi revealed that this was done because some elderly were reluctant to be inculcated.
“We can’t take forever trying to convince people to take vaccine, we moved to the next age segments because we cannot afford to have vaccines-which are already in shortage supply to just lie there,” he said.
On Friday, Ministry of Health revealed that it was receiving large numbers of people below the age of 55 lining up to be vaccinated.
In a statement the Ministry of Health said it, “acknowledges the huge turnout that marked the commencement of the Phase two COVID-19 vaccination program”.
Given this high turnout, especially in the Greater Gaborone region, the ministry announced an extension of operation hours in order to serve the huge crowds that had come for vaccination.
Of the nearly 85 000 doses that were being doled across the country as first doses, the majority of the Greater Gaborone vaccination sites were already getting depleted by 1800hrs on 22 July 2021.
As a result of this development, the ministry took a decision to discontinue the extended hours of operation announced yesterday for vaccination sites in Gaborone.
This means that vaccination sites in Gaborone and elsewhere in the country which still have some vaccines, will offer them in the normal working hours and days of the week.
The Ministry says it appreciates the great desire to be vaccinated shown by thousands of citizens and residents of this country and wishes to assure them that it will continue to expedite their vaccination every time vaccines become available. As has been communicated in various fora, more vaccines are expected in August 2021.
As at July 2021, Botswana has so far received 62, 400 doses of AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD bought through the Covax facility, 30,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine donated by the Republic of India, 19, 890 doses of the Pfizer vaccine bought through the COVAX facility, 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, donated by the Peoples Republic of China and another 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine bought through bilateral negotiations with Sinovac company in China.
“We encourage Batswana to remain hopeful that although it’s taking longer than anticipated, enough COVID-19 vaccines will eventually arrive in our country. We urge them to always strictly abide by all COVID-19 protocols so that they protect themselves and others from this deadly virus,” the ministry said.