Friday, July 12, 2024

BPF wants representation in BDF, Police Service leadership in future UDC government

If the Botswana Democratic Party is ever ousted from power at the polls, that would most likely be the result of an opposition coalition. If such coalition is one in which Botswana Patriotic Front is part of (it is currently part of the Umbrella for Democratic Change) the party would want each member party to have at least one cabinet minister.

“All UDC member parties will be guaranteed a minimum of one cabinet member in the executive of government,” reads a recommendation in a confidential party document titled “Proposals for Constituencies, Wards and Public Service Allocation among UDC Contracting Parties for 2020 National Elections.”

Given that the document has been shared with other parties, “confidential” is wishful thinking at this point. A loose coalition of four parties, UDC is currently made up of the Botswana National Front, Botswana Congress Party, Botswana People’s Party and BPF itself. The BNF (whose president doubles as UDC president) has fallen out with BCP (whose president doubles as UDC vice president) and it is just a matter of time before the BCP formally quits UDC.

When such divorces does happen, it is expected that the BPF president will become UDC vice president. In terms of what BPF has proposed about composition of the cabinet of a future UDC government, BPF founder, patron and former Botswana president, Ian Khama, will be part of that cabinet as vice president.

The biggest winner from the arrangement that BPF proposes will be the BPP, whose membership in UDC is merely symbolic. Having been formed in 1960 and having mothered the BNF and grandmothered the BCP (a BNF breakaway party), BPP is the oldest political party in Botswana. However, age hasn’t translated into electoral advantage for BPP, which hasn’t had representation in parliament since 1989.

Whoever else becomes a member of the UDC cabinet will depend on how well the BPF would have performed in the national elections. The BPF’s position paper states that “appointment of senior leaders to all public offices will be allocated proportionately according to each member party’s strength in parliament.”

At least according to results of the 2019 general election, BPF is a provincial party whose base is in the Serowe-name constituencies where Khama still holds sway as a traditional leader. Technically, the party has three MPs, one (Tshekedi Khama) being the younger brother to Khama. However, with Tshekedi having missed three parliamentary meetings, his seat fell vacant last Friday when parliament wrapped up its budget-speech meeting. This means that the party now has only two MPs. Resultantly, the Speaker of the National Assembly will formally notify the Independent Electoral Commission about the aforementioned vacancy. In turn, the IEC will schedule a bye-election whose winner will replace Tshekedi.

If BPF remains a provincial party after the 2024 elections, the proportionality that its position paper recommends wouldn’t accord it much in terms of representation in cabinet. 

Through its position paper, BPF also announces intent to perpetuate the jobs-for-the-boys mischief that has been the hallmark of BDP rule for decades. The section of the paper that details the aforementioned proposals is headlined “Appointment of Leaders to Cabinet, Judiciary, Diplomatic Positions, Public Service and Police and Armed Forced under UDC Government.” One understands why a political party would want to be represented in cabinet but the other categories raise issues of administrative propriety that opposition parties have touted in public.

All such parties have stressed the need for an independent judiciary as well as for a professional, non-partisan diplomatic corps and public service.  However, what the paper in question asserts (“appointment of senior leaders to all public offices will be allocated proportionately according to each member party’s strength in parliament”) represents stark deviation from the ideal that the BPF itself has publicly expressed and raises serious questions about its trustworthiness.

The other category of appointments – those for the arms of force, being the Botswana Police Service and Botswana Defence Force – raises even more troubling questions about how the BPF views governance. During the final years of Sir Ketumile Masire’s presidency, it was credibly alleged that the BDP factionalism had overspilled onto the Sir Seretse Khama barracks, the BDF headquarters. That development represented a national security threat because the army is a microcosm of a society in which there are differing political views. The difference with it is that those holding differing views are armed and may decide to use their guns to assert supremacy.

 A politicised BPS or BDF would presented grave national security threat during Masire’s time as it does today. For that reason, BPF’s plan to have representation in these institutions is deeply problematic.

It is unclear how much say Khama had in this particular proposal but it is common knowledge that he is a military man through and through.

As the first-born son of the founding president, Sir Seretse, Khama started his working life in what was then called the Paramilitary Unit of the Botswana Police Force – whose name was changed to Botswana Police Service in 1996. After military training at the prestigious Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Britain, Khama became Founding Deputy Commander of the BDF in 1977 and 12 years later would ascend to the apex of the high command. A decade later and on joining politics, Khama shed his military fatigues for sharp business suits.

As both veep and later president, Khama’s love for the army never waned. For the period that he held those positions, he was a regular at the SSKB gymnasium. Controversially and occasionally, he also flew army aircraft – “controversially” because the founding Ombudsman, Lithebe Maine, said that doing so contravened the BDF Act.

Khama handpicked Mokgweetsi Masisi as his vice president and successor, with apparent expectation that the latter would return the favour when he became president. That didn’t happen and feeling betrayed, Khama became embittered with Masisi. Much has been said about Masisi having reneged on his promise to make Tshekedi vice president but the president is also said to have reneged on another promise – to make Khama commander-in-chief of all the arms of force after he stepped down as president. The latter are BDF, BPS, Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services as well as the Botswana Prison Service.

If the allegation is indeed true, such appointment would have made Khama almost as powerful as Masisi.

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