Tuesday, June 2, 2020

BPF inherits both Khama’s ‘magic’ and baggage

By the time you read this, a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) dissident group (not Bangwato) would have met in Serowe for another “consultative” meeting during which former President Ian Khama would have been given “permission” to leave the party and would have announced the formation his own ÔÇô the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF).

Much has been said of the “Khama magic” and how central it is to the BDP’s electoral fortunes. Not too long ago, former cabinet minister Jacob Nkate was quoted in the press as saying that the BDP should not underestimate Khama appeal. What he didn’t say is that Khama is both an asset and a liability with an unmistakable and super-concentration of the latter. For decades, the BDP has always found it easy to boast about signature policies and programmes that bear the name of party presidents. Khama, who has no real policy achievements to boast of (and who doesn’t place adequate premium on the sanctity of public policy to begin with) stands out as the only BDP president to not have achieved anything. Each and every one of his policies failed and in one respect, that had to do with the fact that the usual policy processes were not followed.

At face value, the President Day Arts and Culture Competitions might seem to be an achievement because it introduced the nation to cultures that had not been given exposure. In one very important respect, the mushrooming of traditional dance troupes ended a long-running practice through which children at government schools were pulled from classes to made to entertain visiting VIP guests at the kgotla. Such labour is now provided by paid dancers who graduated from the Competitions. The problem though is that as a cultural westerner, Khama thinks entertainment is all there is to indigenous culture because that is what he confined the Competitions to. Government sources say that he micro-managed the Competitions and wouldn’t accept suggestions of how they should be improved. 

Beyond his below-par performance, Khama has been implicated in massive African-scale corruption and two months ago, it was reported that investigators wanted to raid his properties. As president, Khama oversaw operations of the dreaded Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS) which terrorised the nation and often slaughtered people. In terms of the law, the DIS head, who just happened to be Khama’s former private secretary at the Office of the President and aide-de-camp in the army, reports to the president. Khama’s DIS has also been accused of looting state coffers. Through sleight of hand, Khama also managed to institute one-man rule while maintaining the fa├ºade of a democracy.

If Khama is a brand at all, he was contaminating the BDP’s own brand and the separation that is happening thus weekend will greatly assist the party in its electoral campaign. With Khama’s successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, re-orienting DIS towards a human (not state) model of security, it is going to be difficult for anyone to associate the BDP with the 2008-2018 DIS. It is going to be difficult to associate the BDP with the African-scale corruption that occurred under Khama. It is going to be as difficult to associate the BDP with Khama’s autocracy. With Khama out of the BDP, it is going to be easy for the party to attack him for all the bad things that he did while he was its leader. That is already happening. Exactly a week ago today, the BDP held a political rally in the Gaborone Bonnington South constituency and one of the speakers, Meshack Mthimkhulu, lamented Khama’s dictatorship. He (or anybody else for that matter) would not have been able to do that if Khama had remained in the BDP.

Khama’s new party, BPF, is inheriting his baggage. Unlike BDP, the new party will not be able to distance itself from such baggage because it is inheriting Khama’s legacy. It will not be able to point accusing fingers at anyone and rant about corruption because three of those fingers will be pointing back at it. As the ongoing anti-corruption crusade reveals the rot of the past decade, BPF (not BDP) will suffer the damage. The party will also be associated with the Khama-era DIS and dictatorship. 

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