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By Cde Nikolai Olebeng*
It is incontestable that the UDC has to take full advantage of the BDP crisis to aggravate the disorganization and chaos in that party to strengthen its own forces to hasten its (UDCs) political victory. However, it has to do so in a principled manner and using its own independent organizational and political resources. If Khama or the BPF for their own reasons decide to give political support to the UDC, then our movement can of course not be expected to reject such support. However, the UDC should not allow itself to be used by Khama in a manner which compromise its political integrity and undermine its own electoral base. There should be no mixing of banners or joint rallies with Khama. In informal discussions with Comrades on this issue, some have argued that since politics is a game of numbers and Khama still commands some support, it is tactically correct to invite or welcome him at UDC rallies. In our view, this argument is simplistic and politically untenable. Firstly for us politics is above all the struggle of living social forces which have objectively verifiable material interests which they would defend at all costs. It is on the analysis of these material interests that a political party or movement prepares a political programme on the basis of which it mobilizes the masses to the struggle for its realization. The UDC differentiates itself not only by its programme but the principles which underlie such programme. The idea that it can associate with all and sundry including Khama is thus unprincipled and opportunistic, in so far as it implies that Khama has a common agenda with the UDC, this being solely based on Khama’s determination to oust Masisi from the BDP leadership.
Secondly to be credible before the Electorate, political parties and their leaders should maintain a level of integrity and honesty. It is unwise and politically inadvisable for the UDC leadership to flirt with Khama with total disregard for the message which they have been conveying to their own members and the nation in the past seven years. Let us not forget that the UDC was conceived, formed and organized on the anti-Khama platform. To forget this even for a moment is to betray the traditions of our movement. Thirdly, the mass of the members and supporters who constitute its electoral are not some lifeless and passive electoral Cannon fodder but people of flesh and blood who think, feel and are able to ask and resolve questions for themselves. A progressive movement should at all times strive to have feelers in all directions which enable it to maintain an accurate estimation of the mass views and moods on fundamental questions facing the nation. By this criterion, it is clear that Khama is an extremely divisive figure whose political influence and credibility is at best limited to the Northern part of the country. UDC’s flirtation with him has the potential of dividing the movement on regional lines.
But the idea that politics is a game of numbers is fallacious even on the basis of its own simplistic logic. For in this instance it implies that Khama is likely to assist UDC attract significant number of voters to enable it to win elections. This is not true. Those who make such assumptions arbitrarily treat the dynamics of the Central District regional politics in isolation from National politics and thus end up exaggerating the Khama factor in relation thereto. Our members and supporters in areas like Gaborone, Lobatse still remember the belligerent way in which Khama dealt with the Public workers strike and the manner which he waged a relentless campaign of destabilization against the labour movement. By flirting with Khama UDC occasions serious harm and damage to its image and credibility among these people. Thus even in the best case scenario, UDC may win some voters in the Central District but lose thousands more in its traditional strongholds in the South.
Even more preposterous is the argument that there are no permanent enemies in politics, implicitly assuming that the same Khama who presided over the massive corruption and looting of Public resources in the ten years that he was President has suddenly transformed into a friend of the UDC on account of his serious differences with the Masisi Government. This is an opportunistic position which is extremely harmful to the UDC cause as it misleads its supporters, disorganises and lowers their guard against an inveterate and vicious political adversary. But there is an even more serious danger inherent in the erroneous line pursued by the UDC. Every tactical line has its own inherent political logic. A political movement which lacks confidence in itself risks paralyzing itself from within. By flirting with Khama, UDC will for the sake of political consistency and decorum, be forced to divide the political life of the BDP into two phrases, one under Khama and the other under Masisi, and be inclined to tone down its criticism of the former, while relentlessly attacking the latter.
In this way the UDC would not only be hypocritical, but disempowering itself, and rendering its political message incoherent and unconvincing. It would also be constraining itself in exposing the worst crimes perpetrated by the BDP Government under Khama in the past ten years – the closing of the BCL Mine which condemned more than four thousands of workers and their families to untold misery and suffering, the criminalization of some sections of the state such as DIS, the systematic emasculation of oversight institutions leading to Botswana precipitous decline in all governance indices. Furthermore, by flirting with a man whose party (BPF) espouses politics of regionalism, UDC may unwittingly repel some of its potential supporters to cast a sympathy vote for the BDP Government in protest.
But the UDC position seems even more indefensible if examined from the angle of the co-relation of forces. In outlining BNF’s strategy and tactics in Pamphlet no 1 more than 50 years ago, Comrade Kenneth Koma pointed out that on account of the disabilities of the motive forces of the national democratic struggle particularly the working class which was structurally dispersed numerically and organizationally weak, the BNF was justified in forging alliances with an array of forces including aristocratic and semi-feudal strata whose social or class basis tended to make them unstable, unreliable and temporary allies. This tactical perspective was outlined for a movement which had just emerged to enable to organize and root itself among the masses.
The situation in today’s Botswana is totally different – not only the working class, but the bourgeoisie and petty–bourgeoisie have emerged, taken shape, developed and matured to become more conscious of their interests and organized to advance them. The process of social and economic development in the past half a century has thus provided an objective basis for the differentiation of parties on class and ideological lines. The idea outlined in pamphlet No I that any political organization which purports to be opposed to the BDP can in principle enter into an alliance with the BNF (and the BCP) for the purpose of ousting the former no longer holds. Indeed the UDC’s own experience with BMD eloquently testifies to that fact. There is even less reason for any type of working relations (even an informal one) with Khama or BPF. From its inception UDC was a powerful political force, which for the first time inspired the confidence of the organized labour movement. This is what enabled it to achieve the electoral gains it did in 2014. The BDP was already on a downward political trajectory with Khama at its helm before the 2014 elections. The combined forces of the BNF and BCP under the present UDC makes it potentially even more formidable than it was in 2014. It thus did not need to compromise itself in the manner it is doing by flirting with Khama.
On its present course the UDC risks reversing the gains it attained during the 2014 elections. But if not withstanding its grave tactical blunder, the UDC succeeds in winning the coming elections, a strong perception would have been created that it owed such victory to Khama. Being a schemer that he is, he would most likely demand his pound of flesh, in the form of political concessions which would constrain the UDC in implementing its political programme. In the event that the UDC Government is unwilling to grant such concessions, he may fight it with the same zeal with which he is fighting the Masisi Government. Thus the UDC may be complicating matters for itself by needlessly inheriting the political baggage which should have remained with the BDP.
*Cde Nikolai Olebeng is a pseudonym. The true identity of the writer is known to the Editor