Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Botswana Society publishes Koma’s first book

It took a long time coming (half a century and that’s a conservative estimate) but the first book by the doyen of Botswana’s opposition politics is finally out.

“The Experiences of Vietnam on the Multi-Organisational United Front” by Dr. Kenneth Koma has just been published by the Botswana Society and in it, the late Botswana National Front founder tackles a subject near and dear to his heart: a united front. Divided into two parts, the book explicates the Vietnamese National Liberation Movement and considers lessons that can be drawn from it for global formations of its kind. The relevance of this book for Botswana’s politics is that on any given day, the political DNA of the BNF will test positive for Vietnamese influence.

“Dr. Koma’s lectures on the formation of a front always gravitated towards Vietnam. The manuscript shows that Vietnam, due to its long struggles for independence, has a rich experience of holding together different interest groups. This extensive experience made Vietnam a darling of the revolutionary and/or liberation movements in Africa,” reads the Editor’s Note.

There is a whole story about the manuscript and the editor, Professor Bojosi Otlhogile who is the immediate former Vice Chancellor of the University of Botswana.

“Sometime in 1996 I offered to type Dr. Kenneth Koma’s manuscript on the experience of Vietnam in the formation of a front. The drafts to and fro-ed between Dr. Koma (KK as he was affectionately known) and I. A final typed copy and manuscript were, I assume, returned to Dr. Koma,” Otlhogile recounts in the Editor’s Note.

It wasn’t until 15 years later and some four years after Koma’s death that Otlhogile made a chance discovery that led to the publication of the book. Following his retirement from UB, Otlhogile says that he decided to chip away at the mountain of papers (“lecture notes, legal cases, newspaper cuttings etc”) that filled up in excess of 50 boxes taking up half the space in a double-door garage. The material had accumulated over decades.

“It was, nonetheless, a laborious task as each and every box and paper had to be examined before it was either discarded or retained. In one of the boxes I chanced across a copy of the typed manuscript with Dr. Koma’s handwritten corrections. Soon there were four such copies ÔÇô each with different kind of corrections, I suppose, indicating the progress and stages of the manuscript. The discovery of this manuscript cannot be underestimated. Its significance is three-fold,” Otlhogile says.

He enumerates such significance thus: this was the only book-length manuscript Koma had written, the discovery coincided with the formative stage of what became the Umbrella for Democratic Change and it was imperative to “bring to the wider public his philosophy and views on the front” and thus preserve the writings for posterity. Of the second point, Otlhogile notes: “The parties dubbed this attempt ‘umbrella’ rather than ‘front’. Interestingly Dr Koma used the concept of an ‘umbrella’ organisation five times in the manuscript. Therefore the manuscript would have been timely.’

The BNF’s 50th Anniversary Committee financed the publication of the book.

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