Many Comrades in the Botswana Congress Party, friends with or with no interest in politics and others who just care to engage in political discourse will recall my unwavering support and passion for opposition alliance in Botswana.
Even when there were real problems threatening to adversely affect the negotiations that went on between the BCP, BAM, BNF and BPP, I always had high hopes that things would improve, with the passage of time.
I was ever positive.
I encouraged many in the BCP to have patience.
Even prior to the commencement of the talks, I was amongst the Comrades mandated by the party to travel the length and breadth of the country addressing members on the need for the BCP to engage in some dialogue with other opposition parties.
We knew the issue of cooperation was sensitive.
This was a period of excitement for me as it was an opportunity for all of us in the opposition to apply our minds in addressing a national issue which was likely to change Botswana’s political landscape for the better.
There were, nonetheless, instances when it really became nerve breaking to convince some BCP membership on the feasibility of finding common ground particularly with the BNF.
For some, our discussions with them brought back the most painful memories of the Palapye blood bath that resulted in the formation of the BCP.
Of course, those who expressed concern did not see serious problems with the other opposition parties as there had never been any major political differences with them.
But at the end of this long exercise the vast majority accepted the urgent need to attempt some kind of cooperation with other opposition parties most notably the BNF.
By then, I was in no doubt that there was very little that separated the BCP and the BNF, except, of course, the Palapye debacle that still lingered in the minds of many people, especially those who attended that particular congress.
In my imagination, I was fully convinced it was something that could, however, be resolved.
Those who have always associated me with that perspective will be disappointed that I have since had a change of mind.
After learning from the media that Mr. Setshwaelo had requested Mr. Maphanyane to make another attempt at bringing the other parties back to the negotiation table, I thought I should make my position known on this burning issue.
With hindsight, my analysis of the situation has convinced me beyond reasonable doubt that differences between the BCP and the BNF go far beyond Palapye.
Those differences are irretrievable and the two parties, at least for now, are irreconcilable. I must point out that the talks were not in anyway a futile exercise.
Rather, they were a development in the right direction.
One particular thing they did was to expose the extent of the differences between the two parties.
The talks also exposed the complexity of trying to bring them closer to one another.
This is painful to many, I believe, but it’s the reality of the situation we have to face and deal with.
Several articles that Comrades from the two parties wrote and uttered in the media against each other following the collapse of the talks bear testimony to my current conviction.
Beside the acrimonious barrage directed at each other, those who care to read the two organisations’ policy documents would note discernible ideological differences.
Many people, especially those outside the two organisations who are keen on seeing them establish some form of cooperation, tend to focus more on the areas of ideological convergence, but the fact is that there are also fundamental differences.
Beside ideology, quality leadership and management are very important in politics.
My observation of the leadership and management styles of the BCP and the BNF is that they are wide apart as reflected in the manner in which they run their business.
Here I won’t really go into the details about which of the two organisations is better led and managed and, therefore, is more organised.
I will leave that for the public to judge.
In fact, I believe that in many instances, where coalition governments have collapsed in the world, the major enemy has been the frailty in the leadership and management even when issues of ideological divergence have been amicably resolved.
Where there has also been a major intra-party conflict, especially in Africa, the major contributory factor has been gross weaknesses in leadership and management.
Of course, in politics people never want to accept their weaknesses.
They would rather shift blame to others and choose to attribute their own limitations to sabotage.
I must caution, therefore, that for the BCP and BNF to enter into any relationship when they are so much at divergent positions in terms of leadership and management styles would be a recipe for disaster.
The situation will be even more catastrophic were they to win a general election as a unit.
We must also not forget the failure to find common ground on the different positions the two parties held and maintained during the negotiations which further proves the point that for now they are irreconcilable.
All these differences are major issues that anybody who entertains any hope of bringing them to the negotiation table cannot take lightly.
To try and bring them mechanically together now would certainly take much of the time that should have otherwise been used to do better things such as campaigning for the next general elections.
Against this backdrop, my advice to Rre Emang Maphanyane, who is currently facilitating talks between the BCP and BAM, is that he should not consider resuscitating the collapsed talks as that would be a total waste of time.
I see the current BCP/BAM dialogue as what we should invest all our efforts and resources in at this point in time, to ensure that after the two parties have come to an agreement on the strategies for the next general elections they begin to engage in parallel negotiations on how best they can establish one political organisation subsequent to the 2009 elections.
This should be a priority regardless of how the parties perform in the elections.
This, I believe, is the project for the future and should be the focus of attention, especially for Comrades Saleshando, Setshwaelo and Bayford, Presidents of the BCP, BAM and NDF, respectively.
The three of them have so far shown distinctive leadership and management qualities as well as some high level of maturity – a situation that has brought credibility to them as leaders.
I wish they could, therefore, use those qualities inherent in them to ensure that while they prepare for the elections they also look beyond 2009.
I am aware that they still entertain some hope that there could be a possibility of bringing the other parties, which are no longer in the talks, to the negotiation table.
This is fine, as patience and hope in a leader is a virtue; but I must, with due respect to my leaders, emphatically repeat that time is no longer on their side as there is no hope whatsoever that the previous talks can be revived.
I must further emphasise here that though Batswana had hoped that opposition talks would result in a two-tier political system similar to what prevails mainly in countries in the west such as the United States, that optimism has faded away.
This has certainly failed to materialise hence they should now accept the reality that ours is forever going to be more of a three-tier political system as is the case in the United Kingdom where there is the Labour party, the Conservatives and the Liberals with other smaller parties in the periphery.
Some people would argue, for instance, that there is very little that separates the Labour party and the Liberals and that they should therefore forge an alliance or even unite.
That of course won’t happen because whatever little differences exist between the two are fundamental, and that is what separates them from each other.
My conclusion is that the differences between the BCP and the BNF are so diverse and wide as to be fundamental and cancel out chances of ever engaging in any serious talks on cooperation.
The two parties should, therefore, happily go their separate ways not withstanding the repercussions of such a move.
This is politics and it is one particular game in which sometime people have to take the most difficult and unpopular decisions ever.
* Philip Bulawa, a Botswana Congress Party Central Committee member responsible for Public Education writes from Townsville, Australia