Thursday, July 9, 2020

BNF’s sins of endless hesitation

Many years of trying to cobble a united opposition in Botswana has left the Botswana National Front worse off and with very little to show for it.

And now it looks ever more likely that a BNF leader who staked his future on such unity faces political destruction at the very hands of a platform he had weaved together.

BNF has always preached opposition unity but never really sat comfortably inside it.

A vague reference to unity is embedded in the BNF name.

Nothing was either explicit or straightforward.

“Front” was at inception intended to imply different formations coming together.

The BNF chief theoretician, Kenneth Koma and after him Otsweletse Moupo went at length pontificating on this.

The party even allowed what it called group membership. But such were to remain second class members – or at least so they were treated. Even if accepted by the leadership, the general membership always looked at them askance.

The party has never really been sure about what destiny it wanted for itself.

That has made it vulnerable to takeover by nefarious interests that wanted to use it as a vehicle to state power.

After last year’s loss at the General Elections, already there is a growing chorus inside the BNF thanking God that they missed the bullet.

These are the people who hold that the Leader is not a true BNF convert. And that everything was so stacked against a coalition government such that it was going to collapse before it was even formed.

Duma Boko has never really been fully accepted inside the BNF. Many believe that he is a usurper who got leadership through subterfuge and deception.

But that was then.

Today’s BNF is obsessed not with these principles, but rather seizing power – at all cost.

As a consequence, the next few years will be extremely chaotic for both the BNF and the Umbrella for Democratic Change.

Unless there is a strong leader at the helm, both the BNF and UDC face organizational destruction.

The BNF is all the poorer for it.

At the Kenneth Koma memorial lecture last week, Duma Boko invoked the patron of Botswana’s opposition politics to carve himself a path towards retaining UDC leadership.

He quoted Koma saying the BNF is the natural leader of any opposition coalition seeking to remove the Botswana Democratic Party from power.

In a way, Dr Koma was right.

The only trouble is that Dr Koma wrote this before the BCP was formed.

At inception, the BCP said they were leaving the BNF because they could no longer stomach Koma’s contempt for inner party democracy. By leaving the BNF, the BCP was also rejecting Dr Koma’s teachings, including those that his followers thought sacrosanct.

Botswana National Front has a robust and loyal following.

But since formation, the BCP wants to replace the BNF as the preeminent custodian of opposition politics in Botswana.

Getting into power through a coalition, especially the one in which they are a junior partner as it was intended to happen last year would for the founders of the BCP signal a humiliating defeat – one which can neither be justified nor convincingly explained.

In short, a coalition is for BCP a total encapsulation of their failed dreams.

BCP is forever fighting against being a member of anything in which they are not a leader.

But equally the BNF will never allow itself to willingly become a BCP colony.

Any abdication to BCP would amount not just to defeat but an acceptance that Koma’s party has abandoned his teachings. That for true BNF adherents is blasphemy.

For them BCP is their offshoot. And should forever remain so.

BNF’s biggest undoing is the failure among its leaders to read the public mood.

In politics going against public mood is like swimming against high tides in choppy waters.

Inevitably one either drowns or get washed away.

Boko is today in a desperate situation.

He conjures images of an animal stranded at sea.

In 2019 he had been offered a biggest break to take a shot at Botswana’s presidency.

And he threw that chance away – by shortcuts and a shocking lack of judgement. Exactly why he thought collaborating with Ian Khama was a good idea still remains difficult to understand.

Whether another opportunity will still yet come his way, will to a large degree depend on the ruling party’s grasp of what is at stake in their victory of 2019 General Elections.

So far optics are not encouraging.

Government is in a mess. It lacks substance. And it is awash with theatrics.

Boko underestimated the contribution that Ndaba Gaolathe brought to the UDC – not just on administration and governance of structures, but also on believability and electability.

For the entire five years between 2014 and 2019, Boko was hesitant on what he exactly wanted. When he was not hesitant, he was outright slippery, even dishonest.

The handling of a dispute between Gaolathe and Sidney Pilane will remain the altar on which Boko sacrificed his own chances to the presidency.

His rushed admission of the Botswana Congress Party into the UDC planted grave public doubts and suspicions of his faith in governance among many watchers.

From then on people started asking pointed questions about his sincerity.

Expediency took an overriding imperative.

An impression was created that the leader was unwilling to follow due process if he deemed due process was going to delay his drive to the State House by even a day.

That made him look desperate; too hasty to cut corners, including turning a blind eye on what was right and wrong.

He became inconsistent. His word became the command at UDC but more especially at the BNF, which by all intents and purposes was either killed or allowed to die.

From around 2016 on, Boko believed he was destined for the State House.

It was like a hallucination

That belief was fueled by a few ungrounded pretenders around him whose understanding of Botswana politics was based wholly on abstractions.

These are the people who had already started sharing positions among themselves.

Some of them quiet naively if unbelievably dreamt of one day seeing themselves in power as either Governors of Bank of Botswana, Ministers of Finance or even Heads of the DIS.

They did absolutely nothing to enhance UDC chances, except to backbite Ndaba Gaolathe who they variously saw as weak, cry baby and power hungry.

They could scarcely believe the outcome when ballots had been counted in 2019, hence they ran straight for the courtroom door.

For Boko, the first lesson in all these is that there is no victory for dressing trickery as policy.

Ahead of the 2014 general elections, Boko was able to consolidate and coalesce many of the disparate interests behind the cause of opposition unity.

That disparate coalition included trade unions, public service, the media and the opposition parties save the Botswana Congress Party.

In 2019 he shed all those for the price of getting the BCP. Now the BCP wants crown on his head.

And he has no one to defend him.

He is reaching for the grave of Dr Koma. But that annoys the BCP even more.

This is a story of the difficulties that lie ahead as BNF and BCP try to forge a new covenant.

It is a story of why a government between BNF and BCP was going to be tragedy for this nation.

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.