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Most Batswana acknowledge that the late Dr Kenneth Koma, founder and leader of the Botswana National Front (BNF) for many years, was one of the finest politicians this country ever produced. He was indeed the doyen of Botswana’s opposition politics.
At one point Dr Koma tabled a motion of no confidence in the BDP government. The motion was debated all night and nearly cost someone’s marriage. It said that when the MP arrived home in the wee hours of the morning, the wife demanded to know where he has been whereupon the husband MP responded that it was Koma’s fault, without explaining further.
Needless to say that Dr Koma was a cult figure in the BNF and party members regarded him as infallible. But like most if not all politicians, Dr Koma had some key attributes of a conman. In 1998 at the height of the struggle for the control of the BNF, the late Dr Koma dissolved the party’s central committee culminating with the formation of the BCP.
Part of the causes of the BNF crisis was Dr Koma’s new politics that sought to rid the BNF of its socialist rhetoric and revolutionary verve. At that point, many BNF members no longer trusted their political tutor. Perhaps buoyed by what they considered his lack of principles, many in the BNF saw in him a crook that had become accommodative of the BDP.
A large part of this misgiving was prompted by a previous incident at which Dr Koma met BDP stalwarts – Mma Gaositwe Chiepe and Rre Gaolese Koma – to sell them the idea of forming a coalition. In the ensuing mistrust, Dr Koma [in reference to Michael Dingake] remarked that ‘ke ne ke re ke bone teemae, ntekwane ke tshotse marago a lebotele’.
In response, the so-called dissidents reminded everyone that Dr Koma has always said that people just follow him yet they do not understand him [ba ntshetse morago mme ga ba nthaloganye]. The dissidents used this statement to demonstrate that indeed Dr Koma was an incorrigible crook.
The genesis of this reflection on one of the greatest inspirations of opposition politics is to demonstrate that even distinguished political heavyweights manifested the behaviors of a two-faced call girl. Career politicians have a propensity for double-speak; for being disloyal; for being quick to talk and for stabbing others in the back for personal gain.
Generally, politics is a rough and tumble affair that intimidate and deflate honest people while appealing to cunning and unprincipled fellows. In an election year as is the case in Botswana in 2019, the cunning fellows deteriorate into some of the finest crooks this world ever known.
Saliva spitting from their mouths and blood-shot eyes almost popping out of eye sockets, the skillful crooks would make you believe that they were specifically created for politics while the rest of were born to ululate, clap hands and marvel at the sophistication with which the smart fellows change their beliefs and behaviors every second.
Owing to this crass nature of politics, honest people may not and would never survive in our electoral politics for such is the preserve of turncoats. When the late Dr Koma remarked that many people who follow him did not understand him, he was actually speaking for the majority of politicians.
They will never admit it but career politicians are crooks and party politics are hallow vehicles by which the crooks compete for power and control of national resources. Politics is just a sure way by which the crooks manipulate the poor and illiterate. It is essentially a vehicle that they use to capture the imagination of those who are desperate to live large like armed robbers and those who think they understand the crooks better because they went to the same schools.
Between 1998 when Dr Khama joined active politics and 2018 when he retired from the state presidency, opposition politicians never missed an opportunity to tell voters how Dr Khama was corrupt, evil, murderous and an accomplished thief.
Fast forward to 2019 and opposition politicians have done a 180-degree turn from their initial position about Dr Khama and act like is normal. When years back they promised him jail time for corruption and extra-judicial murders, today they wine and dine with him and present him as guiltless to the extent of entering into a loose working relationship that will see him launch some UDC candidates.
To many people who are not career politicians and have not been inducted into dishonest politics and the art of double speak, it is outrageous and disgraceful that opposition politicians could ever suggest any kind of a working relationship with the very individual against whom they had spent their adult lives chastising, berating and cursing. Of course, the only groups of people who find this normal and acceptable are expert crooks who do not give a hoot about what the public make of their rather nauseating blatant levels of hypocrisy.
Unfortunately, this commonplace, this wayward behavior that is essentially the ultimate proof of chronic dishonesty is tolerated by desperate voters. Voters hero-worship the crooks and make them look genuine or better than the lot.
We create our own imagined heroes from these model crooks so that we can rave about them as exceptions to the rule. This way we are able to defend our own crooked leaders and dishonest party candidates as more credible than those on the other side of the isle.
But that is just an abstract construction of living beings for it does not recreate an honest person out of a certified crooked politician. No matter how we shield our own and present them as civilized crooks that do not belong to the mainstream politics where every participant has an inveterate habit for blatant breach of honest behavior, politicians across the political divide are essentially are crooks.
This explains why we have tended to use superlatives to characterize these fellows – that so and so is better or worse than this or that one. This acknowledges that almost all are crooks but that some especially those belonging in the ruling establishment are tried and tested, certified and irredeemable while others in the opposition can be put to some use before they become coldhearted.
Politicians are interesting folks who can confidently dither between white lies and bold lies without with no reputation to uphold and without any suspicious facial expression. Every general election merely reproduces an enhanced breed that is stealthily sophisticated in ways that imply that the balance of power will always favor the crooks over honest people.
Someone who, until recently, was a senior member of the ruling BDP had this to say, ‘fa e kare ka October e be obaya X fa gonangg le domkrag abo o itse gore o sule pelo’ – [If you give your vote to the BDP, you will be useless]. In a very short space of time the former BDP legislator has turned inside out and now sees himself as a new improved and rehabilitated version of the self-seeking BDP life member he was some moments ago.
It is absurd but then it is politics and to succeed in electoral politics one need to be willing and able to lie without any shame whatsoever, twist facts and betray common sense if only to get what they want.
Forget about their party manifestos with decent ideas. That is just one of the many protocols of electoral politics - a meaningless poetry collection designed to pull wool over the eyes of unsuspecting hungry people so that they can believe weird stories. In fact it is a matter of fact that almost all of these politicians do not really mean to do nearly all of what they promise in their manifestos.
The manifestos simply contain what the poor, illiterate and desperate folks ask politicians to provide. The voters who are essentially irrational would demand to be provided with limitless services that the crooks would be happy to do on paper. If voters want to be promised these services in exchange for votes, promises must be made and the honest folks who cringe at making silly promises have got to forget about winning this competition of crooks.
In this respect, politics favors crooks that make fancy promises and get amused to see us believe their stories. As they speak with cocksureness about what voters have asked them to speak about, they get motivated to do what normal people would never contemplate doing – to publicly compete for the coveted prize of the smartest crooks; the most creative, innovative and electable.
No wonder that party politics in Botswana is exceptionally pathetic – the small band of smart crooks are on cruising mode as idle villagers’ desperation to cheer the crooks reach fever pitch.
Game on! May the best crooks win!