Friday, September 25, 2020

Did the umbrella stand a chance, or was the project doomed to fail from start?

Dear Spencer,
I must admit at the outset that I am one of those many Batswana who were extremely disappointed at the news that the opposition cooperation talks had collapsed at the end of last year. To this day the pain is unbearable.

The project was noble given the waning popularity of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) which managed a paltry 52 percent of the popular vote at the last general election.

Many Batswana clearly yearned for change and had pinned their hopes on the seemingly promising umbrella project. We should not forget that many previous BDP victories were primarily a result of opposition split votes.

Once the BDP failed to achieve the 70 percent share of the popular vote it had set itself it became clear that the writing was on the wall for the end of its long reign.

Alas, as it is, the BDP is likely to win the next elections possibly with a vote smaller than less than that of a combined opposition. That cannot be right.

Some people have called for a change of the electoral system. That cannot happen without BDP support because the current system serves the BDP well.

The only way to change is for opposition parties to do that which is in their power. And what better way than defeat the BDP at the polls?

Many of us had pinned our hopes on the umbrella project because it had become clear that the BDP is tired, arrogant and has ran out of ideas. The country needs a new leadership to steer the economy to new heights.

It is not only the economy that in my view is battered. Civil liberties have been curtailed, especially since the ascendance of Ian Khama to the presidency in April 2008.

I hope you will recall the shortening of the liquor trading hours, the introduction of the exorbitant alcohol levy and lately the banning of the sale of traditional brews (Chibuku) from homesteads, a move that will ultimately deprive a lot of families their only source of income.
Not only that, a strong opposition is good for any democratic dispensation it has the knack to keep a tight check and balances on the ruling party which can easily become power drunk.

Before I am derailed from the issue at hand, I should hasten to say that our hopes were shattered when an official declaration was made that the talks had collapsed. Our hopes had earlier been raised as the negotiations had started on a somewhat smooth note.

May be I had popped Champaign too early in the day in celebration of the baby that was to be the umbrella project. I was however later disappointed to learn that I had celebrated for a stillborn baby.

I must confess that in the many conversations that I have had with a number of people during the festive season, they expressed similar disappointment. The disappointment was a clear indication that many Batswana yearned for change.

We wanted the change to come democratically and through the ballot. That is the underpinning reason that made us rally behind the project at initiation.

It never looked like that at some stage the cooperating partners would tear and toss each other apart to the extent of allowing the project to falter if not ultimately collapse.

The BDP had been put on its tenterhooks. It looked like its uninterrupted 45 year-rule was destined to come to an end. It appears we were terribly wrong in our assumptions and expectations because the collapsing has given the ruling party yet another life line.

Joseph Balise

Dear Joe
Painful as it is that the much vaunted project has collapsed, I think Batswana should count themselves blessed that the parties showed us their true colours well before they were given state power.

You can imagine the tragedy it would have wreaked if all their irreconcilable differences only surfaced once they were in power.

I agree with you that many Batswana are eager for change, but for goodness sake, it should not be change at all cost. It should not be change for the sake of change. The country should come first. And if opposition parties are not able to put aside their differences for the country, how then do you expect Batswana to entrust them with such a heavy responsibility.

My view is that opposition parties in Botswana remain a political risk. Giving them power in the hope that they will change once in office is to me a long shot in the dark. It could plunge this country into chaos ÔÇô possibly a civil war. May be Ian Khama was right after all when he warned us about the impending civil war.

Personally I had imagined that the BDP split would provide our opposition parties with enough encouragement that power was attainable. I had thought that by sensing the possibility of power they would behave differently. As it turns out not even the lure of power has been strong enough to make our opposition parties behave. In fact the latest failure to cooperate is in my opinion more acrimonious than all the previous attempts. I do not know what has to happen for our parties to realize that only working together can get them anywhere near power. As it is some of them are already facing extinction yet they cannot bring themselves to see the bigger picture, not even to save their own lives.

Spencer Mogapi

Dear Spencer
You seem to suggest that umbrella was doomed from day one, that its collapse was inevitable and that it was a good thing it happened that way. I am inclined to argue to the contrary.

I have already alluded to the fact that the project was noble and as such no efforts should have been spared to ensure its survival. It was of utmost importance that the project succeeded because in their fragmentation, opposition parties are most certainly never going to defeat the BDP.

The opposition’s biggest weakness in the past elections has irrefutably been their tendency to split the votes. It goes without saying that if the opposition had managed to make this project work, it would definitely spell the end for BDP’s stay in power.

It is quite disappointing that the parties failed to work around the few contentious issues that led to the collapse of the umbrella project. We are informed that the parties failed to agree on a constituencies sharing model as some of the cooperating partners insisted on incumbency while others resisted.

The other contention was on the sharing of winnable constituencies.

Assuming the sharing of constituencies was the most contentious issue, was then therefore no other alternative or model that the parties could agree on in order to spare the project?

I argue that in the circumstances, the best and most democratic approach to have been adopted by the cooperating parties would have been to hold primaries in those constituencies that they failed to agree on.

Holding primaries would have afforded members of the cooperating partners to elect representatives of their own choice across the political divide. Such elected candidates would have been most acceptable and credible to represent the umbrella at the next general election in 2014. Holding primaries would by all standards quell any ill-feelings and dissent among the membership of the cooperating parties.

If the opposition parties were truly democratic, there was no reason why they should not have opted for the primaries option provided all necessary mechanisms were put in place to ensure fair play and eliminate any prospective grumblings.

Flowing from that, the rest of the constituencies would have been amicably distributed to the parties as deemed fit and agreed upon.

As an apolitical figure, my interest is to see a change of government. I am of the view that the BDP has played its part and it is time we have others political players to take the baton. It is from there that we would be able to assess their capabilities.

If the umbrella fails in its first term, it would once more be up to the voters to seek an alternative and vote them out.


Dear Joe
I am only saying the BDP should not be removed for the sake of it. It should not be change for the sake of change. If you ask me, after staying in power for so long I think it is in the interest of the BDP that it loses power so that the party could replenish itself and come up with new ideas. Personally I do not subscribe to the idea of one party staying in power continuously for over ten years. And as you so rightly put it the BDP has been in power for 45 years ÔÇô uninterrupted. That is crazy, isn’t it? The trouble is who will run the country when the BDP goes on recess? The quality of pretenders, at least for the time being is such that we cannot risk our lives on them.

By so saying I am in no way suggesting that the BDP is a good part, in fact my writings will prove the contrary. Rather I am suggesting that nobody has thus far proved themselves worthy of a replacement.

Until that happens people naturally choose that which they know best. It is a case of better the devil I know than an angel I don’t. The blame here lies not with the BDP but rather with opposition parties who say something but go on to do quite another. It would be unfair to blame umbrella collapse on BDP, as you seem to do. For me it is the unruly behavior of participants that brought us to where we are today.

The way the opposition parties have been going for each other’s throat since the collapse of the talks says it all. It is an open season. They cannot even wait to report to their membership before insulting and blaming each other in the media. Does that not poison the air as to make future collaborations an impossibility?

The truth that opposition parties do not want to talk about is that the talks ultimately collapsed because there was no agreement on who the leader was going to be. The constituency was key, but incidental. How could they decide the leader when they could not agree on constituencies? I am told some parties could not even agree among themselves. How then do you expect such parties to cooperate with others?

Spencer Mogapi

Dear Spencer

I agree with you that reviving the umbrella should now be everyone’s priority.
To me the project is too important to be allowed to fail.

Reviving it is only possible if the cooperating parties shelve their egos and get down to serious business for the sake of national interest. Name calling and apportioning blame will not help.
That they could not resolve the fundamental differences in respect of the sharing of constituencies should not eclipse further adventures at reviving the noble project.

The intervention by some civic society organizations especially the clergy and the trade unions should add some impetus to the revival of the project.

I do not believe it is too late for the parties to once more come together and map out a way forward. It is possible for them to cooperate in constituencies where they do not have fundamental differences and urge their supporters to rally behind one party in a given constituency.

The intervention by other civic society organizations is a clear indication of the importance of the project. It is not that they shun the BDP rule. It is a simple realization of the importance of the opposition in any democratic dispensation.

The opposition provides the necessary checks and balances on the ruling party and the government. Without the checks and balances, the ruling parties tend to abdicate social responsibility and breach governance ethics with impunity.

A lot of effort was put into this project by the conveners of the negotiations who have always maintained the importance of the opposition in the enhancement of democracy.

It is equally important for the opposition to unite and formulate harmonized policies geared towards improving the livelihoods of the many suffering Batswana.

As some commentators have urged before, it is equally important for the parties to have a minimum programme of action to help them map a way forward in their endeavour to dethrone the ruling government.

Fragmented efforts by the opposition to unseat the BDP have proved futile. It is only a united opposition that has the capacity to oust the BDP.

This is especially so given that the BDP is terribly fractured following the formation of the splinter BMD.

I do not believe it is late for the opposition parties involved in the umbrella project to forge some cooperation.

I bet if they do not do so, the multitudes of people who had rallied behind them in the beginning will dearly punish them for their betrayal.

Batswana are tired of the BDP rule. They consider the party exhausted and are looking forward for a party or government which is new, creative and innovative enough to address their plight.
Disappointed as I am, I still hope the leadership of the parties will find time to rethink their strategies and give Batswana with what they so desperately desire ÔÇô a new government.
As I sign off, I urge the leadership of the various parties to go back to the drawing board to realign their strategies to ensure that they unseat the BDP in 2014.


Dear Joe
It’s clear you want this thing to work at all cost. You sound like your world stopped the day the Umbrella collapsed. I appreciate where you are coming from. The problem however is like the parties themselves, you do not want to accept the simple fact that only honesty can change the situation.
Unless the political parties change their behavior we may as well forget about umbrella and with it transferring power into their hands. Our opposition parties are irresponsible. Finding nice adverbs and adjectives to describe them is not going to bring the umbrella about. What we need to admit is that these organizations lack principled leaders. Living in denial is not going to bring the umbrella about, if anything it only makes the situation worse. We may have another round of talks, presided over by the men of God as you suggest but we won’t achieve much if there is no change in mindset. Very soon we are going to run short of people to preside, and which point I foresee infernal optimists like yourself call on God himself to do the mediation.
How sad!



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