When in 2010 scores of Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) members led by 4 Members of Parliament established a breakaway movement – the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), the hype and euphoria that greeted its arrival seemed to suggest that Botswana was ready for a change of government.
While some critics warned that the BMD was founded on a wrong premise [their frustration with Dr Khama’s leadership style] and therefore most likely to disintegrate in the course of time, many of us were too focused on the immediate goal of aiding the BMD to sustain its momentum and ensure that the BDP was battered beyond repair.
Thus, the BMD project was predicated more on collapsing the BDP than offering alternative policies, at least at the early stages of its conception.
That the BMD was formed mainly by former BDP young intellectuals who have been credited for rebranding the BDP to make it attractive to the youth, gave hope that the BDP chances of surviving the split were almost non-existence.
The general observation was that the departure of these young strategists and propagandists under the banner of Barata-Phathi was going to spell doom for the ruling BDP, especially since it was no longer going to be attractive to young blood.
Like a seasoned, matured and firmly established political machine, the BDP would publicly denounce the dissidents as bitter, position-seeking vagabonds while privately trying every trick in the book to lure them back into the party, including the offer of huge sums of money.
A combination of the BDP’s shrewdness, access to state resources and the sad reality that opposition politics is a bruising juggle that is not suitable for politicians who specialize in fraud schemes for instant wealth, saw most of the BMD founders retrace their steps to the ruling party.
While the BMD would retain its special tag as a BDP splinter opposition party, the excitement and hope that the BDP was about to collapse fizzled out as the party regrouped after experiencing one of its most trying times in history.
Whereas the BDP remained vulnerable and nervous, it meticulously survived its first ever split and have certainly gained valuable experience in weathering similar storms in the future.
So when in 2019 former President Dr Khama and a handful of frustrated BDP gold diggers dumped the party to form the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF), it felt like a repeat of a very dull television program except that some in the audience seemed to believe that the repeat was going to be different from the original episode broadcast in 2010.
The thinking was that this time around the BDP was going to be hit hard by former president Dr Khama, a hardened warlord in a good way. That Dr Khama was going to use his inbuilt advantages particularly as paramount chief of the most populous tribe in the country to twist the sword in the heart of the BDP and finish it off.
That perspective appeared like the usual desperate wishful thinking propagated by people who have been wishing hellfire on the BDP since their formative years. Of course scores of people continue to leave the BDP to the new political outfit but such departures seem to be raved about for nothing since most of the dissenters are of no political substance.
Obviously, politics value motor-mouthed, brainwashed suckers for their lack of any sense of shame and whenever they decamp, we celebrate them, hence anyone who feels to be past their political sell-by date just has to defect to become a momentary taking point and set the local rumor mill on overdrive, and the destination doesn’t really matter.
Notwithstanding, the BDP has been left dizzy by the recent defections but that is nothing new or different from the previous defections. Whether rigging elections or losing scores of political travellers, our wish for bad luck on the BDP seems to hold to its own hype because losers shouldn’t lose hope even when they are hopeless.
It is appreciated that the opposition bloc is hardwired for negativity and that is necessary to keep us in opposition politics.
At the risk of glorifying the ruling BDP, it is my considered view that the BDP has somewhat gained firm control over the political space. The BDP has established its position in the political chess game and created a vicious cycle of dominance that shape political behavior to its advantage.
Its numerical support base has been shaken as illustrated by decline of overall votes but it remains electorally dominant. This domination accord it extensive monopoly over parliamentary decision making process where it is able to manipulate legal provisions to stamp its authority and counter balance the modest numerical growth of the opposition.
Whereas the hegemonic status of the BDP owes much to its ability to feign transformation from a corrupt cabal of Botswana’s political elite to a participatory, people’s organization whilst essentially remaining the same in words and in deeds, the opposition’s lack of success stories, its inability to retain its representation in parliament continues to aid the BDP to re-organize and perpetuate its hegemony.
While the BDP is resilient and is always going to be difficult to dethrone, the opposition whether as a collective or in bits and pieces, remains without significant influence beyond personal ambitions of party candidates.
This personal ambition trumps the need to support each other for a collective victory. In many ways than one, the opposition carries a loser’s image with distant prospects for out-staging the BDP.
Recognizing this reality, opposition candidates have become what others call ‘ethnic entrepreneurs’ who simply want to shore up ethnic-based, regional support in order to win it for themselves and their families.
Such politicians have no motivation to help their parties get their acts together and/or to remove the ruling BDP from power. This has created mistrust wherein the opposition in their bits and pieces accuse each other of cohabiting with the BDP.
As a result of this mistrust and the endless bickering for leadership positions in their parties and continual return to the BDP by its former members, the opposition has failed to offer sustained challenge for state power.
The reality is, until opposition parties get their act together individually and collectively under the Umbrella project, the BDP will continue to roar to victory. When this happens, the opposition’s loser’s image would be enhanced and voters will continue to have doubts about the viability of the opposition project.
Correspondingly, the BDP will continue to birth splinter groups of frustrated members who could not be placated. This is because the party cannot satisfy all its hungry and expectant crowd of opportunists, yet most believe that they are entitled for appeasement.
However, the more the BDP experience splits and its members join the opposition ranks, the more we will have smaller ethnic parties each with localized support base that makes opposition cooperation cumbersome and a mere fishing expedition.
The more BDP members flock under the umbrella, the more they crowd opposition loyalists who may feel crowded out by new comers given preferential treatment. Under the circumstances, some of these opposition loyalists may have to leave and predominantly to the BDP.
In the same way, the more we have smaller opposition parties formed by BDP dissenters, the more we will have small-time politicians who merely use politics for personal gratification and will, in the fullness of time, return to their ancestral home -BDP.
Thus, the story of the hegemonic status of the ruling BDP is some kind of an orbit, a regularly repeating trajectory characterized by domination, then decline before restoration and a return to dominance.
For the opposition, the story is that of subservient, then growth before chaos and a predictable return to their rather decrepit self.
In the meantime, the opposition continue to excel in its constitutional role of holding the ruling BDP accountable and indeed energized for improved performance in the next election and if it is meant to be, it shall be; if not we will remain hopeful as usual even if it is being hopeful for nothing.