Monday, December 6, 2021

Picking the pieces: Suave communication and less combat underlines Ntuane’s second coming strategy

For the first time in more than a decade Botsalo Ntuane fancies his chances of rejoining the BDP top table. The last time he was anywhere near that table he received a stinging rebuke from the master for being divisive.

The upshot of it all was his departure into the wilderness. He ended up creating the Botswana Movement for Democracy.

The rest, as they say is history.

It is an irony in terms that Ntuane’s second coming into the BDP high politics is a direct result of the battering that the old juggernaut recently received at the hands of BMD, his own brainchild.

The story that has culminated in BDP’s unceremonious loss of grace at the General Elections last year is the story that easily rhymes with Ntuane’s personal political career. For Ntuane a quest to become BDP Secretary General is much about the BDP as it is about the self. It is an attempt to close a political chapter of a story full of tragedy ÔÇô for the BDP but also for himself. The BDP and Ntuane are for now linked at the hip. The two are intertwined. For Ntuane the BDP is not going to re-ascend without him, just as he will not re-ascend without the BDP.

This much is affirmed in his treatise “Reform Agenda Conversation: 23 Discussion Points” in which he states upfront that his decision to run for the position of BDP Secretary General was prompted by the party’s terrible showing at the polls last year.

He could easily have added that he was among the casualties of that poor showing when he lost a parliamentary seat to the Botswana Movement for Democracy which together with Gomolemo Motswaledi he founded.

Ntuane’s campaign treatise makes for an interesting read ÔÇô not so much for what it says as what it does not say.
The loss of ground that BDP suffered last year merits a proper context. It is not a small setback delivered by internal tactical and strategic mishaps. Rather it is a result of a major shift of political tectonic plates brought about by years of decay, complacency and inertia.

Under a different electoral system, the BDP would, following last year’s General Elections be out of power today. BDP received fewer votes than the BDP. He does not concede this unmistakable fact. For a man of his intellect this is a glaring omission.

Thankfully, Ntuane is awake to the abiding public frustration with the BDP.
But still he deliberates opts to behave like an infernal optimist.

Comparing what happened last year to the situation as it was in 1994 is to underestimate the resolve of the elements that make the opposition today. In 1994 the opposition was led by individuals whose determination, resolve, ambition and indeed confidence to state power were doubtful.

Today’s opposition leaders have their eyes on nothing less than the ultimate preferment.
Ever a shrewd strategist, Ntuane cleverly calls for far reaching reforms as a way of picking up the pieces. Reforms once saved the BDP, they can yet do it again, he argues in his treatise.
It pains Ntuane that the BDP has long ceased to be a party of ideas. He reluctantly concedes that public attention has shifted away from the BDP.

He however believes that such public skepticism can still be turned around.

In his treatise ÔÇô perhaps out of sheer optimism – Ntuane falls prey to exaggerating the BDP’s eagerness to reform. Quite rightly he posits that “only an open, critical and honest conversation can usher changes that will constitute a Reform Agenda for retaining power in the next polls.”

But does the BDP current posture show any appetite for such a far reaching conversation? Existing signals are not so encouraging.

Until recently, the BDP chief rainmaker, President Ian Khama even refused to accept that the party had suffered any major setback at the polls. President Khama took unkindly to those BDP members who even vaguely made emphasis of popular vote over constituency margins.

That on its own is telling; there is a deep reluctance to even start accepting that there are problems. And how do reforms happen when those at the helm do not accept that there is anything wrong in the first instance?

But still, Ntuane’s expenditure to rally the democrats to a debate so that this year’s Congress might be fought on ideas is enticing enough. It prescribes a break with the past ÔÇô however halfheartedly. But without first conceding to the existence of deep-seated problems by those in power such a rally to arms will no doubt fall on deaf ears.

Related to that is also a self-imposed reluctance to accept the elementary fact that part of BDP troubles stem from a reality that the party has become a captured agency. Ntuane stays clear of highlighting and apportioning blame of poor performance on the current leadership.
This too coming from a man of his intellect is disappointing.

The people who control the BDP today are not the people who share a vision of the ideals for which the party was created. There is no polite way to go about.

Today’s leadership is infinitely elitist and deeply materialistic. The outlook of this leadership makes them obliviously detached from a rural populace that has always constituted the bulk of BDP support.

Until the party is rescued from this cartel even the mouth watering plethora of reforms suggested by Ntuane will at best seem cosmetic.

Privately, many BDP members concede that many of the things that cost the BDP its share of the popular vote were self-inflicted. Those include corruption, insensitivity, detachment and a failure ÔÇôrefusal is a better word ÔÇô by the party leadership to engage with the media.

Again Ntuane chooses not to say the extent to which perceptions of corruption, especially by those closest to power has rubbed off the BDP. This cannot be dismissed as a mere omission.
It is deliberate. And the reason can be that he does not want to offend the status quo. He has missed out on a big opportunity to state the obvious.

BDP outsiders, and indeed many sympathisers will view this as not just disingenuous on his part but also unpardonable.

Additionally it is instructive that Ntuane’s pitch is not explicit when it comes to restoring the BDP to its founding ideals.

Any “Reform Agenda” that does not recognize the fact that BDP has gone astray will fail.
The BDP has to be delivered to its rightful owners. These are the largely rural poor, many of who have never filled a single tender document but who for decades have time after time voted the BDP back to power.

These are the unforgotten souls who over the last few years have not only been sidelined by the moneymen that today control the party, but have also watched helplessly as an elitist culture crept into their party and ultimately made them feel unwanted and also out of place.
These are the people who have not filled a single tender document in their lives.

Ntuane argues that contrary to popularly held view, it was the BDP internal processes, rather than Professor Lawrence Schlemmer that came up with a raft of reforms following the 1994 troubles.

While there is some truth to it, Ntuane deliberately overstretches it.

Following a trouncing at the 1994 polls, there was a lot of soul searching inside the BDP. Unlike the situation today, there was near unanimous agreement at the very top of the party that it could never be business as usual. Everybody agreed that there had to be a change. There was however no unanimity on what kind of change had to happen. Vested interests and entrenched differences led to ramblings on the way forward.

It was only after Professor Schlemmer delivered his scalpel that some form of serenity prevailed on what sacrifices were going to be implemented. Schlemmer’s input in saving the BDP post 1994 should not be glossed over.

To say the professor’s prescription was bitter is to understate the pain that the patient had to go through before swallowing the medication.

Among other things Schlemmer recommended the retirement of the BDP godfather, then president Sir Ketumile Masire. That was an earth shattering event in the BDP galaxy.

Over the last few years the BDP has become a party of personalities where strongmen outshine institutions.

As a result intellectual capital is one commodity that has significantly lost its premium in the BDP under President Khama. This casts people like Ntuane into a specter of being endangered species. They exist somewhere in the periphery.

By insisting that the coming Congress should be premised on ideas, Ntuane might, not for the first time be unwittingly placing him at odds with the strongmen that run the party today.
Ntuane says “the party must lead government and not be subordinate as is the case presently.”

Is this a possibility under the current leadership? Is this not a kind of thinking we have heard all over before that once led to some people like Ntuane blotting out of the BDP to form the BMD?

But still Ntuane’s attempt to put his thoughts down on paper has been a worthwhile effort.
For example he questions an official party position that the BDP has 700 000 members. Elsewhere a psychiatrist would be called in to evaluate the mental stability of party men making such wild exaggerations.

This figure is not only bizarre it is also laughable.

“For example can it be correct that we have 700 000 members when in 2014 general elections we received 302 000 votes and not all of them from members of the party? Can we have such a high number when the ANC in its last audit reported 1.2 million activists out of a total population of 50 million?”

While he makes no mention of such things like the alcohol levy and corruption at the intelligence services at least we have a vague idea of what Ntuane stands for in his attempts to become BDP Secretary General.

If he wins it is important that he adds further building blocks to his treatise.
For us in the media we might be encouraged to see him roll back an entrenched culture of hostility towards the media and academia.

“It is evident that pound for pound the opposition is out-boxing us in public communications. We need competent spokespersons who will make our voice heard by articulating policies and defending the organization.” This is a result of contempt for the media personified by the top leadership.

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