Olebile Gaborone’s defection from the Botswana National Front to the Botswana Democratic Party will have a devastating impact ÔÇô not just to the BNF but to the entire opposition project.
It stretches credulity to start to treat Gaborone as an ordinary member ÔÇô not of parliament, not of society and certainly not of the BNF.
He is a senior member of the Tlokweng royal family who has spent a reasonable length of time as BNF Vice President. He has had a stint – though not by any measure remarkable – as Leader of Opposition in parliament.
In a very terrifying way, what Gaborone’s defection does is not only to sap away the opposition momentum but also risks condemning their politics as a doomed cause.
That is tragically unfortunate.
When, together with Outsa Mokone, we interviewed Gaborone in his office as Leader of Opposition following last year’s State of the Nation address, it could not have crossed my mind that seated before us was a serial carpetbagger who exactly a year down the line would have retraced his political footsteps back to the BDP.
Though radiating a deeply pleasant personality, he struck me as generally visionless.
The one thing that most impressed me about him was his steadfast resistance (refusal is more like it) to join the traditional BNF politics of backstabbing, scheming and a pervasive use of acidic language.
At the time, he accused the BDP, specifically President Ian Khama, of what he called a cargo mentality ÔÇô inferring that Khama was behaving like Father Christmas who saw his job as no more than delivering little goodies to a hunger-stricken, somewhat dirty-faced populace the president was all too keen to (mis)treat as his children.
He struck me as a true gentleman who had unfortunately lost his way into politics ÔÇô a blood sport as the less charitable have been wont to call it.
During the interview, Gaborone made no attempts to allay or refute suspicions doing rounds in the BNF at the time that his personal proximity to Khama made him an easy pick for the predatory BDP.
True to his character, he saw nothing inherently wrong relating with Khama as for him politics and personalities could always be easily separated.
It would seem like from the onset Gaborone’s career inside the BNF was overlaid by a mistaken belief that he would one day become the party president; very much a by-product of his sentimental unrealism. It was this unrealism that also set the tone for his lackluster performance as Leader of Opposition, going as far as to confuse his aborted bid for the position of party president.
While I supported his principled withdrawal from what was threatening to become a bloody race, I still felt that the decision was somewhat tactless and evidently self-serving.
Gaborone blames the BNF of trampling on its own constitution.
He is adamant that the current party President, Duma Boko ÔÇô who he labels a member of another party, the National Democratic Front, should never have been allowed to contest BNF leadership.
Some have labeled Gaborone’s decision to withdraw from the BNF race as cowardice.
Overall, I think it was a principled move that put the interests of the ailing BNF ahead of his personal needs.
We shall, of course, never know if he stood any chance against Duma Boko. But that is inconsequential.
What is wrong as to be both unpardonable and un-principled is for Gaborone to now turn around and abandon the same party he had wanted to lead simply because he could not get what he wanted.
This to me is the epitome of exactly the kind of cheap politics he so courageously and morally fought against from within the BNF.
How better off is the BDP of today from the one he left some years ago to join the BNF?
This is a central question that will for a long time to come dog, follow, haunt and contaminate his political stature.
A failure to sufficiently answer this question would lead detractors to say he has left the BNF not just because he could not become a party President, but also because he thinks the BDP offers him easy largesse, say a cabinet post or, perhaps more appropriately, a diplomatic post, especially because having expended all his political capital, he is now truly a spent bullet that has reached the sunset of his political career.
So much about Olebile Gaborone the carpetbagger!
The real question that the BNF and other opposition parties now have to face is just what does Gaborone’s defection to the BDP mean?
For the BNF this amounts to no less than an implosion.
It is the long term sustainability of the party that is now at stake.
Opposition parties are on the verge of embarking on cooperation talks.
Gaborone’s departure, I am afraid, has taken the sting out of the collective effort.
If not properly managed we may see the entire edifice collapse as each party recoils into fighting in its own little corner.
The upshot of it is that the BDP will emerge much stronger.
Perhaps Ian Khama was, after all, not so far off the mark when he told his party’s last retreat meeting that the BDP’s creativity should never be underestimated.