When i recently met Taolo Lucas for a candid interview at the University of Botswana, it became immediately clear through our conversation that it is too early to write him off from politics. Although many people have denounced and declaimed and often linked him to the ruling BDP, Lucas remains unshakable in his resolve.
Lucas first contested the general elections when I was doing standard five and he lost. Commenting on the 2014 general elections result which saw the BDP attaining less than 50% of the vote, he calmly explains that “the majority of Batswana did not endorse the BDP to rule. BDP’s legitimacy and hegemony in Government has thus been heavily curtailed. The prospects of a change of government in the future are thus realistic.”
He says so far as democratic consolidation is concerned, Botswana has remained stagnant with obvious signs of retrogression in some areas. He further explains that Parliament has remained weak and subservient to the executive; the judiciary is under siege and key oversight institutions, such as, the Ombudsperson and DCEC are in a state of paralysis. On that note, he says Botswana has failed to evolve new institutions that could enhance democracy, for example, the Human Rights Commission and the Constitutional Court.
“A worrying phenomenon of our democracy is that cronyism and paternalism have taken deep roots especially in the last decade. Appointment to high positions is based on friendship, party affiliation, and other primordial criteria. Merit is ignored and, as such, mediocrity has become a virtue. Sycophancy has become a distinct qualification and is heavily rewarded in the current administration. Debate, dialogue, and critical engagement are generally shunned and often interpreted as unpatriotic. Fear for the powerful is actively cultivated and unquestioning loyalty to leadership is ceaselessly promoted,” said Lucas.
He confidently says, “The prospects of a change of government in the future are thus realistic.”
But, does that mean victory is certain for opposition in 2019?
According to him Elections are very difficult to predict. It then hit my conscience that he is right because if he were able to predict elections, he could have predicted the losses he would suffer in his constituency.
“Many developments and intervening variables are possible between now and 2019. One thing that is certain is that the BDP is not going to sit back and handover power and its associated privileges to anyone. The party will use all tactics including nefarious ones to hold on to dear power. The BDP will abuse incumbency. It shall buy the purchasable folks and confuse as well as scare the vulnerable. Notwithstanding all these, the BDP is ready for the taking. Its policies have alienated huge sections of the populations. The workers are aggrieved and the youth are angry. A cross section of our population including farmers, small business people, the academia, and job seekers (including unemployed graduates) all have an axe to grind with the BDP,” he says as he put a serious face. It was as if he was saying “monna I am talking about issues of national interest”.
He opines that the electorate is generally restless. He says there is need for the opposition to organise itself and clearly articulate its prospectus for governance. The possibility for a change of Government in 2019 is real more than at any time in the history of our republic but it is not guaranteed.
“All indications are that the hurdles to opposition cooperation have been substantially reduced. Most opposition cooperation skeptics have been converted or at best persuaded to give cooperation a chance. The scale of the challenges facing the country and the desire for change among the people of Botswana will give impetus and tonic to opposition cooperation. The cooperation project is, however, not without challenges. Intra party strife, inter party maneuvering, infiltration and power plays will be part of the project. Extreme tolerance will have to be exercised and excitable conduct must be avoided. As a long-time activist, I wish to caution against complacency, petty skirmishes, lethargy, and malaise from individual parties and the collective project,” he says.
Although Lucas held a different view on opposition talks; he supported the former Botswana Congress Party President and father to the current BCP President Gilson Saleshando. In politics there is a saying which goes “majority rules” and this is why he respected the majority of BCP members who opted for opposition cooperation.
“I am a loyal and disciplined member of the BCP and I am bound by all decisions of my party. I have had an opportunity to air my views internally and I shall work tirelessly to implement collective decisions. I know that doomsayers have peddled a malicious narrative about my opposition to cooperation but such speculative talk is best ignored,” he says with a fierce face, a sure sign that he will not say anymore on that matter.
“Defections have been a feature of our politics. Defectors are of two broad categories; those driven by political imperatives and those motivated by economic or financial considerations. For ease of characterization I will label them as political defectors and economic defectors. Political defectors are those that change parties because they are disenchanted with their party. This could happen when such people have serious disagreements with the party and they feel they do not belong. Still among political defectors, there are those who are opportunistic and defect because they realize the prospects of winning in the other party are greater,” said Taolo adding that others move because new and favored individuals have joined the party.
For Economic defectors he said these are those who prostitute their soul for economic or financial gains. He said Economic defectors are also of at least three types. The first ones are those that are so hungry and expect to scratch the daily bread from the party they move to. The second ones are those that have messed their financial situation and seek to find salvation or redemption from the ruling party in most instances. The last ones are fortune seekers who have murdered their conscience and want money at all cost. Economic defectors often attempt to find political reasons for their defection. Most of these economic defectors often look and sound ‘zombified’. They parrot whatever their handlers ask them to say, he says.
He also had a parting shot for former Botswana Congress Party Member of Parliament for Okavango Bagalatia Arone who defected to the ruling party.
“Bagalatia’s defection to the BDP was not unexpected especially for some of us who worked with him. It is simply a case of a young man from the countryside whose fascination with wealth and its symbols outweighed his passion to serve and sacrifice on behalf of his people. As a Party, we must take his defection seriously and do all it takes to retain the constituency. The good thing is that the councilors and party structures are intact. With good organisation and management of the situation, we should easily retain the constituency, of course with some aid from the spirit of Joseph Kavindama,” he says calmly.
When I quizzed him about rumours making rounds that he is considering joining the BDP, he responded saying “Those rumors can only be peddled by those who do not know me. Actually I find such rumours to be an insult and an assault on my integrity as a politician and as a person. To me BDP is a moribund and mundane organisation with no potential for reform.”
As for people thinking he is on the ropes, he says “don’t expect me to roll over just yet,” adding that he is contesting the 2019 elections. Amongst other things, Lucas is in the negotiating team for the opposition cooperation and is expected to assist his party, the BCP, in the policy stream of the negotiations.