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The 2019 national elections are about 14 months away.
They were originally billed to be highly contested in the wake of the opposition gains in 2014 and the anticipated consolidation of opposition unity under the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).
That fanfare however seems to be in danger of dissipating.
The factional wars within the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and the resultant breakup which gave existence to a new political party, Alliance for Progressives (AP), seem to have started a wave of events that are en-route to derail the “people’s project”. The aloofness of the UDC during the BMD factional wars seems to be coming to haunt the UDC. It was because of the BMD split that the remaining faction “legally” remained the BMD of today and at the time a number of political commentators and public opinion had suggestions that the BMD leadership has only won its short term battle.
A few pointers are worth reflecting on and firstly, is the prime suspect in all these battles, beginning with the membership issue and following through to the fight with those that ultimately jumped ship. At the core of that argument was one leader’s resolve to defy any merits or objective reality to become a member at all costs. Ordinarily political leadership of merit, integrity and people based orientations would have seen the individual take a backseat to allow what seemed like sufficient consensus to get the benefit of doubt.
But because a lot was more of personal interest, resolve to get one’s bite irrespective of any other divergent views and the insatiable appetite to stretch the boundaries of the legal matters to the very limits pushed the leadership of this faction to push off the others. The ultimate was to remain with the party name, regalia and all others and therefore giving a “legal” legitimacy to their side of the story. This was achieved expertly and notoriously so as well.
When the other faction finally hit the road and formed the AP, it was a celebrated victory for the battle won but more importantly it was now opportune for the BMD leadership to push for the final battle. First was the issue around membership of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) as what is now referred to as the old constitution did not have the BCP as a member. Secondly came the argument of vice presidents and who has which powers, again most offended by the order was the BMD leadership and in particular the leader who now saw himself as the apparent heir in the long run. I am aware that in the middle of these arguments he did come out to say he is not after the leadership of the UDC because it’s constitutionally a Botswana National Front (BNF) allocation. It was only right that he says so as the man who has long term of using the same constitution to either wrestle the UDC leadership or eventually push off others could not be seen to be going against the constitution as that would be seen as opportunism. It turns out to have been a well calculated move, as they say “with eyes firmly fixed on the ball” and the ultimate objective.
The impasse over the responsibilities of vice presidents affected the convening and holding of the UDC National Executive Committee meetings and greatly affected the UDC response to national issues. Lastly, came the UDC congress which again the leadership of the BMD and their now bedfellows, Botswana People’s Party (BPP) argued that it was simply a consultative meeting of UDC members which had no constitutional authority and power to make any binding decisions. As a result of this view the constitutional amendments and other resolutions taken at that congress are disputed and challenged by these two UDC members, with the BMD leadership leading the “constitutionality” argument again. It is not farfetched to see the trend and consistent line of argument and positioning by the BMD leader. It is now a fight to ultimately take over the UDC and the constitutionality argument is likely and very clearly intended to push off the other members being BNF and BCP on account of having made resolutions that are also said to be merely party matters that have no bearing on the UDC decisions.
The argument here is that constitutions are known legal dictates that provide the legal compass of what needs to be done and what shall not be done but this argument should never be taken in isolation especially dealing with issues of organizational governance and in particular governance of political parties that present themselves as alternative governments for the country. Whereas constitutions address principles and broad guides to action, the detailed operationalization and practicality of constitutions lies with a merit review process that acts to balance and align any constitutional vagueness and indeed limitations in dealing with emerging challenges and any other matters that put a test and challenge constitutional relevance. This is particularly pertinent to political parties and governing parties because the execution of the intent of the law requires expert detailing of operations both in line with the constitution and where necessary making the legal requirements relevant and responsive to new trends, challenges and realities. It is therefore not always enough to trump the constitutional viewpoint as the ultimate consideration, actions and political posturing must also pass the merit, moral and ethical test.
The above is central when constitutions have clearly become an impediment to organizational growth, vibrancy and strategic positioning and this is the case with the old UDC constitution. The continued clinging to it is clearly a self-centred motive by the leadership of the two parties who are in reality the less visible in terms of numbers, without of course undermining the positive effects of those small numbers as needed by the opposition coalition. It is becoming clear that the BMD and the BPP seem to think that been taken as equal partners in the coalition means they can push their jackets above their shoulders and simply fail to accept their strength as powerhouses in opposition politics. The reality is that even if they eventually push off the BNF and BPP, and remain with the original UDC name tag, regalia, slogans and all, they will be punished severely come 2019. It is one thing to bask in the glory of your perceived status as an equal partner but to be humbled and self-reflect to offer that which is the limit of your strengths is priceless in the promotion of a peoples’ project like the UDC.
The UDC leadership in particular the BNF and BCP leaders and members have to make a decisive move sooner rather than later. It is no longer admissible to wait and hope things will change for the better and the erosion of public confidence on the UDC will not be easily mended through campaigns. What is very clear now is that both in the short and long term the current posturing of the BMD and BPP is a recipe for disaster in the UDC camp come 2019. Two scenarios are now evident, one UDC leadership find a way to ditch the two renegades who are toying with UDC support base or two, if the legal entanglements are two tight to unstrap, then do the honourable re-configure opposition coalition to safe the “people’s project”. Duma and Dumelang it’s your call and it’s urgent. Take heed of the old cowboy adage “what you want and what you get are two different things”.
*Dan Molaodi teaches Public Administration at the University of Botswana