Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Our hatred of Ian Khama has blinded us to the folly of opposition

Even for those of us weaned on a robust, liberal world view, events of the past week have been grossly unnerving.

Many of us had now come to believe that the long running drama that has been so much a character of the opposition had come to an end.

It turns out we were terribly wrong.

For the last few months, after they announced a raft of initiatives, including forming an umbrella party, it had almost become an article of faith that opposition parties now seriously wanted to take over power.

But from what happened in the last few days, when the BMD policy chief said one thing and his Chairman said the other, many people will now find themselves compelled, once again, to reflect and consider the seriousness of our opposition parties.

The behavior of our opposition politicians to speak in turns so early in what promised to be a groundbreaking cooperation deal plays right into the usual narrative about them ÔÇô that they cannot be taken seriously, that they are too disorganized to be entrusted with the immense authority of running a country.

It may sound silly, even conspiratorial by some of them but this line of disunity and disorientation plays into the hands of the BDP.

In fact, it is this failure by our opposition parties to take themselves seriously that has up to now served Ian Khama so well.

For a long time, it has guaranteed him a splendid sales pitch that if opposition parties cannot get their house in order, how on earth can they be expected to run a country!

Our biggest problem is that hitherto our collective analysis and interpretation of Botswana’s opposition has been based not so much on reality, but rather on a romanticized world view, where all that is BDP is bad and all that is opposition is good.

To paraphrase Snowball’s maxim in Animal Farm, a great novel I first read at high school: “BDP bad, opposition good.”

There is no question that the BDP has turned out to be a nasty piece of work, but it begs belief that no attempt is ever made to interrogate the opposition, least of all by the media.

Anybody who dares to ask them uncomfortable questions is labeled a Khamarite who has been bought by the BDP to stall regime change that they want to get without first proving they deserve it.
Our failure to ask opposition parties difficult questions has driven us to swallow all the drivel that comes from their side.

Although they want us to see them as distinctly different from the BDP, the fact of the matter is that many of the opposition’s leading lights who, as a matter of fact, would make it into cabinet were their desperate parties to someday run this country are as tribal as the BDP ÔÇô if not worse.
Personally, I have no offence with their catechism that “Khama is a bad man.”

What I, however, find troubling is the endless tactical errors that are committed by the same opposition.

Why was it necessary, for example, for a reputable man like Ndaba Gaolathe to go public against the core principles of his party adopted at a congress that happened only a few months ago?
By casting such severe doubts on the efficacy of the umbrella, Mr. Gaolathe has entangled the BMD into a spider’s web from which it will be hugely interesting to see how they will come out ÔÇô with their integrity and credibility intact.

I have known Gaolathe to be a very close personal friend of the BMD leader, Gomolemo Motswaledi.
The two confer and discuss a lot of things.

In fact, to Gaolathe, Motswaledi is no less than a family retainer.

So the question that naturally comes to mind, is “does by questioning the very essence of what is everybody’s hope, Gaolathe playing a kite-flier; expressing the views that are also privately shared by the BMD boss who is also his closest friend?”

Whatever the answer, it is not an exaggeration to say through Gaolathe’s comments, BMD has not only betrayed its cooperating partners but has also left in the lurch its own supporters who had always believed that an umbrella was the only hope to get rid of the BDP.

Gaolathe’s behavior, whatever his intensions, will, I think, ultimately prove a final betrayal.
Already, there are suspicions that by so saying the distinctly honourable and usually measured Gaolathe was actually preparing the ground for BMD exit from the negotiations with other parties.
May be we were too hasty to put too much trust in the arrival of the Botswana Movement for Democracy.

Rather than add substance to what we already had as opposition, events from last week have proved beyond doubt that the new comers are nothing more than a firm of disjointed Public Relations practitioners.

Nothing more, nothing less!

What I find most depressing about Botswana’s opposition is not so much their numerous losses at the hands of the BDP over the years, but rather their failure to learn from such losses.
I have said elsewhere before that compared to the ruling party the opposition has demonstrated a horrendous intolerance to criticism.

The upshot of it has been that the media tends to pander, conciliate, placate and appease opposition parties for fear of being publicly abused.

That to me is a kind of appeasement that is as unsustainable as it is counterproductive. It is a form of placation that neither helps the media nor the opposition parties themselves; least of all the values of democracy as we have grown to know them.

I think events of the past week have proved me right.

We need to do more to ask our opposition parties what it is that they stand for, or we risk going down with them.


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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.