It would seem like we are approaching a point of no return. All the goodwill that used to define the BDP’s relationship with its traditional allies seems to be unraveling. Historians will agree that from its inception, the Botswana Democratic Party has always had a deep and enduring relationship with traditional leaders.
From the beginning traditional leaders were part and parcel of the enterprise. While it primarily delivered votes, the relationship between the BDP and traditional leaders also ensured stability. It served to set the BDP apart as different from the rest of other political parties who were often unfairly depicted as unfriendly to the chieftainship institution. With the exception of the legendary Bathoen II of Bangwaketse who became the leader and Member of Parliament for the Botswana National Front and to a lesser extent Mmusi Phulane who a for a long time was a regent at Kgatleng, the BDP sway over traditional leaders in this country has been uncontested. But this is manifestly changing.
The immediate question for those in control of the BDP is to establish why this is happening now. But also what ramifications this will have for their party down the line. In its attempts to answer the two questions above, the BDP has in recent past tried to dismiss Tawana Moremi, the paramount leader of Batawana who is also Member of Parliament for UDC as an unruly, wayward outcast. The narrative has been to paint Tawana as an exception rather than a rule. This is exactly what played out when President Ian Khama went to campaign for his BDP in Maun last year with a rowdy and ill-disciplined entourage on tow. The same strategy has also been applied towards Kgosi Kgafela II in Kgatleng. In both instances the BDP has been so vile as to even leak briefings that the two traditional leaders needed to have their mental fitness evaluated.
The followers of these traditional leaders have taken unkindly to such insults. They have responded by punishing the BDP and installing opposition at the polls. It is an open secret that Lotlaamoreng will be contesting the parliamentary by-election in Barolong for the UDC after he was personally convinced by Duma Boko and Ndaba Gaolathe to openly join their ongoing revolution. The underlying message is simple: after half a century of refining and masterminding the art, the BDP seems to be losing its craft of self-preservation. It would be interesting to see how the BDP is going to react towards Kgosi Lotlaamoreng of Barolong who early this week sought his tribe to allow him to leave his duties for a while.
Unlike Kgosi Tawana Moremi and Kgosi Kgafela, Lotlaamoreng is soft spoken, introverted, and reserved almost to a point of being self effacing. Any attempts to paint him as a brash and iconoclastic hothead will certainly not stick. If anything such classification of him by BDP rude boys that flew to Maun last year to hurls unsavory insults to Kgosi Tawana on his backyard would likewise backfire on the BDP; this time for not just being discourteous but also distrustful.
A decision by Kgosi Lotlaamoreng ÔÇô a doyen of cool-headedness – to join UDC is perhaps the biggest challenge to the BDP since the party performed poorly at the General Elections last year. It is the most glaring event yet signaling a vote of no confidence on a partnership that has endured and indeed delivered results for over fifty years. For BDP strategists, especially those that have been shouting loudest about the party’s reform potential, this is a huge setback that will inevitably deliver a demoralizing blow. Lotlaamoreng’s decision is the latest reminder for BDP optimists that their party has not yet reached rock bottom. And this has nothing to do with the outcome of the by-election itself, which if the UDC wins, might ring a message to some that the BDP project has after-all become irredeemable. The BDP is not going to go away without a fight.
This much the UDC must appreciate. For many within the establishment, the BDP is much more than just a political party. It is a way of life. It also is a honey pot, an insurance and guarantee for a continued way of good life. Lotlaamoreng or no Lotlaamoreng, the UDC has to continue working hard to assuage the many doubting voices that they are in it to win it.