Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Can the BDP survive as an opposition party?

Even as they are still enjoying power and so plainly relishing the trappings therein, I have begun to entertain the uneasy suspicion that the Botswana Democratic Party will not be able to survive the hardships and rigours of opposition politics once they lose power as they seem poised to do which, by all accounts, will be in the next few years.

Indications are that once in opposition the party would either split asunder or simply wither away into oblivion.
Like its counterparts elsewhere in Africa, as a ruling party, the BDP’s stock in trade has been to use patronage, blackmail and, in some worse cases, bribery not only to kill internal dissent but to also win and maintain external support.

Which is why there is all likelihood that once out of office and with all the power broking largesse gone, the party members would become uncontrollable – behaving more like rats in a bag than a civilised unit they like to pretend to be!

As a matter of fact, difficult existence in opposition does not only guarantee internal conflict it also calls for hefty reserves of forbearance, compromise and tolerance; attributes virtually unknown in today’s BDP rank and file.

History, especially in Africa, is awash with examples of ruling parties which, once out of office, could simply not put up with the torrid challenges that come with being in opposition.
In South Africa, there was the once mighty National Party.

Unable to withstand the new democratic setup, the party was formally declared dead by the descendants of its racist founders.

Up north in Zambia there was UNIP, a colossal political juggernaut created and owned by Kenneth Kaunda, who made no effort to differentiate between party and state. Since losing power in 1991, together with its founder, UNIP has become an irrelevant nuisance from another era.

The BDP better be careful.
There are too many aggrieved souls inside its tent.

That cannot be good for a party running its last laps in power.
The recent attempted coup on its youth’s national leader is an unmistakable reminder of just how rickety the peace that holds the whole structure is.
Mistrust, anger and suspicion run the show.

The situation is made worse by the fact that we are at a point in our history where a majority of citizens simply do not have any emotional attachment to the BDP.
Many Batswana simply do not think they owe the party a hoot.

Rightly or wrongly, the young, many of whom are battling to make ends meet, blame the BDP (the only party they have ever known for a government) for all their life predicaments.

Worse, as things stand there is a lot of public anxiety inside the BDP, extending well into the wider public.
As we now discover this resentment has been brewing for a long time among the insiders, who dislike the deliberate pace with which they are being turned into poodles by the regime.

The disgruntlement stems from President Khama’s leadership style, most notably his excessive reliance on a small band of trusted friends (about three or four people at most) who from the shadows literally run the party and country at the exclusion of everyone else.
The ever growing competition for the ear, love and affection of the Dear Leader only serves to intensify the unsleeping jealousy, which is by any account, the root cause of discord among BDP members.

It is regrettable that Ian Khama, on whose shoulders so much hope used to rest during the ten years that he was Vice President, has within the space of less than a year that he has been President become associated with a style of presidency that is totally alien to Botswana’s democratic traditions: reclusive, divisive, secretive, isolationist and strikingly contemptuous of such other organs as the media, civic society and the opposition.

Recent BDP congresses, conferences and many such gatherings reveal a very interesting pattern.

While the number of political tourists has no doubt been soaring at such events, a closer scrutiny also reveals a swelling number of people who are attracted to the party by the lure of winning lucrative government contracts.
The tragedy of it all is that the true blue members who joined the party out of passion and love for politics have either been purged or pushed into the periphery by a leadership intent on turning everyone in its way into a toy.
Many gifted people who used to defend and fight for the BDP now feel isolated and marginalised as they are, in some worse cases, publicly humiliated simply because they are out of favour with a President who regards them as habitual insubordinates.

It’s distressing to see how many talented people who used to form the bulk of the traditional membership feel ridiculed as they elect to remain silent instead of expressing their minds.

In their place has come a new member who is fiercely individualistic and parochially ambitious in outlook, which by interpretation means that a total BDP collapse is only constrained by a collective fear of losing power.
Is that good for a party that is headed for defeat in a few years’ time?
I doubt so.

It would be interesting to see how the savage rivalry which exists among the BDP members in power today would transform into unity of purpose once out of power.

The likelihood is that once in opposition not even Khama’s acclaimed levels of equanimity, which are in any case capriciously dispensed as a tool of divide and rule, can ever be enough to inspire and sustain unity.

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Read this week's paper

The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.