I have come across what in economics is called the “law of indifference”. “When goods offered on the same market are so much alike that it is a matter of indifference to the buyer whether he takes the one or the other, then it is true that he will not pay a higher price for the one than he will for the other”
(Rist et al).
It seems to me that in their co-operation efforts the opposition parties want to suggest to their members that it does not really matter which party they vote for, as long as it is an opposition party. They are in effect trying to create an environment where the political equivalent of the law of indifference comes into play.
The problem is that the goods they place in the market are not much alike. It is therefore obvious that our opposition parties are stuck with an untenable proposal. They want their members to pretend that the goods being placed in the market are much alike and that buying one or the other is a matter of indifference.
I am here assuming increased risk of uncertainty or collapse of government replaces higher price in the political version of the law of indifference. People vote for political parties for different reasons. They recognize their vote as buying more that power to control state resources. They also buy stability. I remember reading some time ago an article by one Dr. E. Botlhale where he looked at the economic value of the vote and the issues that inform the choices that voters make. It seems to me that our opposition parties do not read what some of our informed people set out in the public domain.
At the heart of the BDP success is a very simple philosophy. Identify one individual and make him president. Once the individual is identified the party invests time and energy marketing the one product. The law of indifference does not come into play. The slogan of the BDP for the last elections, still no alternative, is very telling.
The BDP saves itself the trouble of having to educate its potential voters that the goods in the market are much alike, and that it does not make a difference whether the voter buys the one or the other. The only time the BDP comes close to applying the law of indifference is when it suggests that the opposition is not offering any different programs. The BDP smartly suggests to the voter that it does not really make much sense to change the goods because the price is the same.
The advantage of taking this route is that it eliminates the need to propagate the position that the goods are the same whilst at the same time displaying differences. The minute you display differences in the goods in the market, in the form of political party membership and identity you negative any suggestion that the law of indifference applies.
If one has regard to the history of the BDP one will realize that the BDP did not introduce a situation where the law of indifference applied to them. At a very early stage they identified Seretse Khama and decided to make him president. Even though he was not the founder of the BDP, a conscious and deliberate decision was taken to make him president. I am not unmindful of suggestions that he was chosen because of his status as kgosi of BaNgwato. I submit that having identified his potential, the founders of the BDP were smart enough to exploit this and at the same time to ensure that there was only one product in the market.
If one follows the formation of BMD one cannot help but see similarities between them and BDP in this regard. They chose Rre Motswaledi as their product. This explains why they could not resign from the BDP to join the opposition. They have seen the BDP model work successfully for more than four decades. In a way suggestions that BMD should have joined the opposition are a bit insensitive to this. The emergence of Rre Khama can be attributed to implementation the BDP model and method. I submit that contrary to popular myth Rre Khama was not brought into politics to eliminate the BDP factions, but rather to restart another cycle of BDP rule.
Rre Khama was fully conscious of the BDP model and why he was approached. He knew before hand that the BDP wanted to use him in the same manner that it had used his father, as a rallying point. His visits to various places and interactions with the various communities are his way of delivering on the mandate of starting another forty year cycle. Accusations that he is a populist demonstrate a failure to grasp this.
The opposition is wasting time thinking about co-operation models. It has to appreciate that Rre Khama might feel strongly that his true measure is whether he achieves what his father did, a thirty year bonus for the BDP, after his term ends. The opposition therefore must move quickly to identify an individual that they want to make president and invest their resources rallying around this individual.
The opposition should realize that Rre Khama is thinking both short term and long term. They likewise should have a short term and medium term perspective. The only way that they can have any realistic short term success is to eliminate differences in the goods they place in the market. Any process of cooperation that retains differences in the goods but which then asks consumers to pretend that there are no differences is with respect doomed to failure.
Given their familiarity with the BDP model one would think that BMD will be warm to my suggestion of rallying behind one individual. They have seen its success. They only need the courage to increase the distance between them and the BDP. BCP and BNF might prove a problem but not an insurmountable hurdle. The question for the opposition can never really be; between the three, Rre Motswaledi, Rre Shaleshando and Rre Boko who do we rally around? Such a question is pregnant with seeds of discord.
The most viable option is to identify someone not particularly active in any of these political formations and to rally behind him or her. The leaders of the various opposition political parties will serve as deputies so that they can deliver their followers. This process of rallying around one individual will also make letting go of party colours and symbols easier. I know that BCP has achieved some measure of success with BAM but that is small time compared to dealing with both BMD and BNF brands.
Opposition co-operation is being reduced to a variation of the indifference law, in that, instead of keeping the goods much the same, the opposition wants to vary the goods and keep the price the same. The goods are the various political party colours, names, policies, ideologies and programs and the price being our vote. This arrangement does not feel natural. Further if the price is constant and the goods vary the people will be inclined to seek to make choices. After all our people jealously guard their right to choose. What would inform their choices? The leadership of the various opposition parties will not be in control.
The attributes necessary for opposition cooperation are inherent in all the major opposition parties. The BMD is familiar with the BDP model and is trying it. The BCP has gone through a process of changing party colours. The BNF professes to be a front of various strains. It is these attributes that each party should bring to the table. Anything else perpetuates variety and does not advance the interest of consolidation of democracy.
The process I suggest is very simple, no changes to party constitutions are necessary, all that has to be done is that each party convene a special congress where the motion to be put to the vote is “That our party rally behind Mr. Knox Die Ding to ensure that he becomes president of the Republic of Botswana at the next general elections.” The practicalities of ensuring that Mr. Knox Die Ding become president will then dictate the relationships and deployment of both human and capital resources and the abandonment of some cherished brands and peculiarities. It would also necessitate convergence of policies and programs for the leader and his team instead of the half way house of a minimum program that some have suggested.
The opposition can draw lessons from what happened with Dr. Koma. He was not really a charismatic orator. But the likes of Dabutha, Rantao, and Kavindama would work the crowds such that by the time he came to speak he was preaching to the converted. I see no reason why the same cannot be done for Mr. Knox Die Ding. All that is required is for the current leaders of the various opposition parties to concede ground in the interests of consolidation of our democracy. If they are really keen on consolidating our democracy they will not find what I ask too high a price.
We are in a transition phase in the consolidation of our democracy. Our people like incremental rather than seismic changes. Rallying behind one individual allows our people to enter a new world in a familiar fashion, brave but cautious. That is the Setswana way.