Saturday, September 26, 2020

Khama’s magnetism approach to factions

When we were students at Gaborone Secondary School, we were taught that in magnetism opposite poles attract and that like poles repel.

One day our physics teacher brought this nice law crashing down before our eyes. He held one large magnet and one small magnet close together. Both magnets were bipolar, that is they had a north and a south pole.

Sure opposite poles attracted and like poles repelled. He then held the magnets like poles facing each other and restrained the smaller magnet. Our world came tumbling down. The big magnet attracted the smaller magnet.

Our teacher was kind enough to explain that the big magnet changed the polarity of the smaller magnet such that even though the marking indicated a particular pole that was in fact the opposite of what in reality it was. I believe this may give us a tool to help explain the Khama approach to factions within the BDP. I think at the end of my submission we may find that this is a viable and practical approach to dealing with factions within parties.

I am assuming that it will be understood that this is just a theory that is in competition with others doing the rounds.

It is a given that within the BDP there are two factions. These factions are likely to have extremes.
Within each faction there will be hardliners and moderates.

Let us further assume that Rre Khama belongs to the hardliner pole of the bigger faction. Bigger here refers to dominance and not numbers. In a situation that is a reverse to magnetism, in politics, opposites repel and like attract. If we bring the hardliners to face each other they will repel each other.

If we restrain the minor faction, it is likely that the hardliners of the dominant faction will change the polarity of the other faction, such that instead of being faced by the hardliners of the other faction, they will be faced by its moderates. These moderates will be predisposed to find common ground with the other faction’s hardliners.

I believe the above tallies with empirical evidence. The moderates of the Barata-phati seem to have come closer to the hardliners of the other faction thus throwing the hardliners of the Barata-phati some distance away from the dominant faction. A look at Rre Kwelagobe’s conduct supports my proposition. At the heart of the magnetism approach is not the idea to expel or eliminate the hardliners of the minor faction, but to re-orientate the factions such that its moderates come close enough to be attracted. Much as some believe that Rre Khama is looking for total elimination of the other faction the above approach suggests otherwise. One must appreciate that when a magnet is bi-polar, there is no point in investing energy trying to make it uni-polar.

Rre Kwelagobe is a known Barata-phati yet Rre Khama sends him to get from the group what it is about. I believe the magnetism theory explains why there is no issue of betrayal or changing sides. It explains why Rre Khama is able to accommodate Rre Kwelagobe.

Rre Kwelagobe as a conservative will represent the moderates in Barata-phati faction.

He will be inclined to find nothing wrong with working with the dominant faction more particularly where he cannot anchor his position on any written provision of the party constitution. After all he has spent his entire political career understanding our democracy from this perspective. He grew up knowing that in Botswana democracy is what the constitution says it is.

The spoils of victory in party elections are defined by the party constitution. In election of the BDP central committee it seems the president has power to appoint a significant number of additional members.

There does not seem to be a provision that acts as a restraint on how the president exercises this power. This absence of a restraint means that the faction that wins the majority of elective positions can have its victory neutralized. In order to put some restraint on the president’s power the minor faction has to appeal to history and culture.

The problem is that its moderates will not be easily convinced that in the absence of a constitutional provision it can actually succeed in this line. Batswana like and have faith in written laws, they differentiate between what the law says and what it ought to be.
This position is consistent with the fact that in interpreting our laws we are supposed to assume that they are remedial.

This suggests that to rely on an unwritten provision or ideal is a weak position. Most people will readily do something and say that there is no rule or law that prohibits it.

Most of our people understand discretion in the widest possible terms. Generally in the absence of a documented restraint it is difficult to limit an office bearer in the exercise of his discretion. To therefore fight on the basis that the party leader has not consulted you in the appointment of the additional members will ring hollow in the minds of most people. This is particularly so where historically consultation was used to reach a compromise to resolve factional differences and where there were no elections.

The minor faction is also limited to the extent to which it can attack the party constitution. Timing, judgment and finesse are of essence. The moderates of the minor faction will favour an incremental approach to amendment whilst the hardliners may seek wholesale and far reaching reform.
Once a faction goes for wide ranging reform it places itself in a difficult position in that it asks people to choose between the current constitution and its new position. It places itself in a position that suggests it is questioning the very basis of its organization. This will of course alienate its moderates.

As more enlightened minds have already observed, members of the BDP are by nature conservative. I believe that the minor faction asked for wide ranging reforms and found itself needing a foil. To retain support of its moderates and egged on by outsiders, it had to go after the party leader.

His military background seemed an obvious advantage given that our people will more readily accept the notion of a dictator if such is made in reference to a former army general. This was however a high-risk move for it underestimated the conservatives or moderates within Barata-phati.

I have a suspicion that people like Rre Motswaledi are moderates. If memory serves me right his start position was that the party constitution gave the party president too much power. This was I believe a workable proposition but somehow he lost control to the hardliners of his group.

Initially there was no reference to the leader being a dictator or tyrant. Once he started embracing the absence of consultation issue he lost the plot. Consultation and democracy were now used as if they were the same thing. The issue of unfettered discretion was completely ignored even though it seems the BDP constitution provided for that. Democracy suddenly took a narrow meaning that excluded this unfettered discretion.

The trouble is the BDP has always embraced this type of democracy, where the party leader had unfettered discretion. It is difficult to see how in a framework of unfettered discretion anybody can be said to be making unilateral decisions.

Rather than the Barata-phati collapse we are likely to see a re-alignment and toning done of the rhetoric on their part as the hardliners realize that they cannot carry their moderates with them. One can of course cut a bi-polar magnet in half.

But the magnet will still have two poles. I believe the numbers of the Barata-phati will come down. The reduced numbers will still have hardliners and moderates. The media may couch their failure to return the membership cards as defiance, but in truth it is not. They bluffed that they were forming a party, the dominant faction called their bluff and maintained that they were still members of BDP, they still are. It is obvious who blinked.

I am not suggesting that Rre Khama has resolved the democratic deficiencies of the BDP constitution, but we may find that he has been able to reign in the factions in a very efficient manner.
The participation of Rre Masire is more to assuage the feelings of Barata-phati hardliners, and to allow them to save face, than to indicate any change in position of the dominant faction.
It is also to smoothen the coming together of the moderates of the Barata-phati with the dominant faction. The dominant faction has consistently maintained that it is working within the party constitution. With due respect to his opponents I believe Rre Khama is outsmarting them. He is able to do so because his opponents are fighting a superficial war.

They do not want to be seen to be attacking the party constitution, and for so long as they maintain this position they cannot win. They are investing what they have in the wrong battle.

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