It is a classic catch-22 situation. As the main opposition party, the Botswana National Front has to be part of a viable opposition coalition because elections are a numbers game. On the other hand, the analysis of three University of Botswana scholars is that “it may be difficult for a political party that is divided or at war with itself because of internal squabbles and/or lack of discipline, or existence of both, to enter into a successful coalition.” The scholars are Professor David Sebudubudu, Keratilwe Bodilenyane and Phana Kwerepe.
The BNF is now part of a loose confederation of opposition parties that calls itself the Umbrella for Democratic Change Plus (UDC+) and its president, Duma Boko, is the latter’s president as well. The main UDC partner happens to have some very ugly (and bloody) history. Its 1998 national elective congress degenerated into an all-out battle as delegates fought with missiles and riot police had to be called in. In an uglier incident a few years later, a delegate at a national meeting held in Jwaneng was knifed. Publicly defying party leadership is also quite common in the party. Ahead of the 2014 general election, a national congress resolved that the BNF should become part of the UDC collective but some members fiercely and publicly resisted. Elsewhere, another scholar has written that parties are less likely to be in government, the higher their level of intraparty democracy. Sebudubudu & Co. relate this analysis to the BNF situation.
“This argument may be true for the BNF because its high level of intra-party democracy has degenerated into instability and high levels of indiscipline, and thus the party leadership is not in a position to control party cadres through established structures. From this, it can be discerned that the BNF has lost organisational direction. This may explain why some of its members were willing to disregard the party’s highest decision making structure, Congress, which had resolved that the party should coalescence with other opposition parties for the 2014 elections,” the trio writes in “The Politics of Opposition Electoral Coalitions and Alliances in Botswana.”
The authors contend that any efforts to form a pre-electoral coalition with a divided party, as the BNF was prior the 2014 elections, raised doubts on prospects of such a coalition and increased the possibility of it being punished by the electorate.
“Entering into a coalition with a party that is riddled with factions makes the coalition brittle, unstable and less appealing to voters. The issue of factions within the BNF, and disagreements with other possible opposition coalition partners amongst others, over the model of cooperation, has generally contributed to a partial success of pre-electoral opposition coalitions that have been formed so far in Botswana or lack of a winning opposition coalition in that country.”
Even with its many failings, the BNF has sought to guide and dominate cooperation ventures by asking them to hitch their wagons to it in the manner the African National Congress asked the same of the Congress of the South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party.
“This was unlikely to work bearing in mind particularly the historical relationship between the BNF and the BCP,” the authors assert.
Interestingly, the BNF was itself formed in 1965 to reconcile warring elements within the Botswana People’s Party.