That Botswana Congress Party is committed to opposition cooperation is beyond doubt. After our initial hesitancy as to the viability of the opposition cooperation project, the party answered the clarion call to work with other opposition parties to wrestle power from the BDP in 2009. Our first port of duty from the Letlhakane Congress was to initiate the Memorandum of Understanding on by-elections. The MoU was embraced by other parties and hope for regime change was ignited among the people of Botswana. Moupo entered parliament amid pomp and celebration from the opposition quarters. BDP was spanked in bye-elections in some of its strongholds.
Meanwhile, opposition parties warmed up for the grand finale ÔÇô Opposition Cooperation for 2009 elections. For a while all looked hokey-dory until the BNF demon of destruction raised its ugly head. The main opposition refused to sign the Charter on Opposition Cooperation. Soon afterwards Kgosipula was unleashed on to the BCP. ‘BCP e belege ngwana a sa tlhakolwa’ he was quoted in one newspaper and yet in another sensationalized article he was quoted as saying the BCP must disband and join the BNF. Efforts to get the BNF leadership to intervene were in vain as the defector was said to be expressing his personal views. The talks were soiled but dragged on nevertheless.
The final straw came when the BNF declared that it can only proceed with the talks if its symbol was used in the elections. Its explanations were confused. They cited their size, history and made some vague references to tribalism. They also made some illiterate mention of the issue of the constitutionality of the PACT model. The position was unreasonable and irrational and the BNF was out of the talks. A Nation has been betrayed by a party obsessed with its size, not its integrity. An opportunity was squandered by a party preoccupied by its history rather than the future of the country. A chance to liberate Batswana from the tyranny of poverty, exploitation and injustice was lost because the BNF was fascinated more by its opposition credentials rather than the prospects of taking over governance. A party fixated to its colours and voting disc finally scampered a national project. How sad!
As it pulled out of the talks the BNF was unapologetic about its actions. It was categoric in its declarations that it will face the BDP single-handedly. It was unequivocal in its dismissal of other opposition parties. Its leadership went around the country spreading a message of hate towards the BCP and other opposition parties. Their rallying cry was and still is that there are only two parties in Botswana- themselves and the BDP. All else according to them is collateral damage. The BCP in particular was denigrated and disparaged. Its contributions during the Moupo campaign in Gaborone west North were discounted. The likes of Khan and Ramaotwana wrote damning articles discounting the efforts of BCP during the days of the MoU. We attempted to restrain our cadres from responding in kind but some nasty outbursts were recorded from our side especially during the Naledi North bye-elections. Such outbursts however were a natural response of a party under assault from its detractors. At the closure of 2006, it was quite evident that no relationship obtained between the BNF and the BCP. It was gloves off and it was a matter of survival. The dog eat dog politics of unfettered competition among the BDP, BNF and BCP were back. The BNF had voluntarily exited the talks. The MoU had collapsed.
As Council Leadership election across Botswana takes place, the pre-negotiation status has returned. We have no agreement with the BNF. We have no understanding. Our relationship has irretrievably broken. We have no obligations towards one another. It is open season. We are fighting for the narrow political space in the country. We also have no relationship whatsoever with the BDP. We have no obligations either with the same party. We want to dislodge them wherever we can. We cooperated with them in Kgatleng and dislodged them in South East It is time for hardball bargaining. Survival of the wittest and fittest is the name of the game. Where there are no formal agreements, it is an open field and issues such as competence, interpersonal chemistries, mutual understanding, influence of party big wigs, organizational dynamics and political craftsmanship reign supreme. It became even so open ended in the case of our councillors whom we had given the latitude to vote their conscience in these elections.
As it turned out in Kgatleng, according to the briefing we got from our councillors, the BNF was a victim of its legendary incompetence, arrogance and palpable insincereity not to mention the unwarranted meddling by Mabiletsa who now stars as the chief mourner in the aftermath of the elections. Incompetence manifested itself in the failure of the incumbent chairperson to deliver, which the BNF failed to own up to as they are doing win the case of Moupo. BNF’s inflexibility also caused it to arrogantly dismiss the BCP when the latter proposed that they wanted to assume the chairmanship of council. They claimed there were too big to yield. If they were not so rigid, they would have earned themselves the deputy council chairmanship. Lastly the BNF was palpably insincere as, according to the briefing we had from our councillors, they had attempted to thrash out some deals with the BDP to the exclusion of the BCP only to revert back to the latter when such deals collapsed. That’s unacceptable especially from a party that claims to be the sacred cow of the opposition. In South East, personal chemistries of the councillors prevailed over the whims of the BNF leadership who attempted in vain to contaminate an otherwise cordial coexistence of councillors.
At the BCP, we are amazed by the tantrums and frustrations coming from the BNF corner. They are unwarranted as they are self-inflicted. The BNF wants to have its cake and eat it. No way! Chickens have come home to roost. Double standards and deceit have no place in our politics. The BCP will only cooperate with the BNF at a formal level in so far as they are willing to dispense of their delusions of grandeur, contemptuous disposition to other opposition parties, Organisational slackness, perennial leadership goofs and a penchant for insincereity. The BCP is committed to cooperation not out of desperation and not at all cost. We view cooperation as borne of necessity, patriotism and and the need to address the challenges of unemployment, poverty, inequality and the exclusionist development strategies of the BDP. Cooperation can only lead to the transformation of our society if those involved in the project are disciplined, orderly and ideologically clear, which we in the BCP painstakingly strive to achieve.
Our commitment to unity should not be abused by anyone. Those who have been ranting and raving about the council leadership elections should be better advised that the BCP is autonomous and independent. In the course of its political activity, it shall be guided by its core values and principles as enshrined in the party’s founding documents. We shall not kowtow to the anger, frustrations and whims of some faceless big brothers who are doing very little to earn our respect.
*Taolo Lucas is BCP Secretary General