Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Bangwato capital gave birth to a provincial party

With his bag of tricks all but empty, former president Ian Khama had only one option when a dissident group that he formed in the Botswana Democratic Party failed to unseat President Mokgweetsi Masisi at an elective national congress in Kang – red-card the BDP and re-enter the political playing field in a yellow shirt.

Yellow is the official colour of the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF), which Khama formed in May this year. He ceremonially (literally) dumped his BDP card and it would be interesting to find out what he did with the designer red attire that he wore all the time that he was a member of the party.

In forming the BPF, Khama took a huge gamble. It was widely believed that the Central District is a BDP stronghold and that if Khama, who wears another hat as tribal leader of the entire district, left the BDP, then it would lose in a national election. Results suggest otherwise.

The BPF got off to a false start, with Khama having announced that he wanted to get even with Masisi, Vice President Slumber Tsogwane and some other BDP candidates for having been disloyal to him. Khama basically hoodwinked Bangwato by inviting them to a tribal meeting in Serowe in his capacity as tribal leader. However, the meeting dealt not with tribal issues but BDP factional rivalry. The Regent, Kgosi Sediegeng Kgamane, cut a forlorn figure as a parade of speakers attacked Masisi and sources would later tell Sunday Standard that he was very unhappy about having been dragged into party politics. BPF started without a policy platform and when it subsequently sought to construct one, some asked the most obvious question: why didn’t Khama do all the things that the party promised when he was still president?

As revealed by a BPF source after the election, Khama’s strategy was three-fold: decampaign disloyal BDP candidates, play to win in the three Serowe constituencies where support for Khama as tribal leader is strongest and adopt tactical voting strategy in constituencies where BDP was strong. When the results were announced on October 24, two “disloyal” BDP candidates had lost, the BPF had won all three Serowe-name constituencies and helped the Umbrella for Democratic Change win constituencies that would otherwise have been won by the BDP.

It is unclear how long the BPF will be around because it is not really a political party in the strictest sense of the term. At the most basic level, parties have a central ideology but having been hastily cobbled together in the middle of a campaign season and having been motivated by a publicly announced personal vendetta, BPF is not a political party. It is an electoral project that has outlived more than 95 percent of its usefulness. Khama is still hellbent on ousting Masisi and a three-seat provincial party will certainly not deliver that goal. However, he will continue to use the party as a front for what remains a personal vendetta. Parties also have clear chain-of-command structures but as patron, Khama wields more power than party president, Reverend Biggie Butale.

In as far as bagging the Serowe constituencies, Khama succeeded but there is no cast-iron guarantee that such success will be repeated in 2024. BPF, which is said to be cash-strapped, might find it difficult to build and maintain structures, raising the possibility of that yellow on the electoral map turning either red or UDC’s blue. The other factor that bodes ill for BPF’s future is that Botswana is arguably Africa’s most tribally-integrated country. This condition is not conducive for a party associated with a particular tribe. 

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.