Monday, September 21, 2020

Some lessons for the BCP

A few weeks ago, immediately after the budget speech, I attended a BCP press conference at which their leader, Gilson Saleshando, literally ransacked and mocked the government budget as had been presented by the Minister of Finance.

Unusually cool, moderate and reassuring, I could not help but come to the conclusion that here was a man who had been thoroughly briefed by a team of economists who not only understood the stakes at play but were also as literate as to identify mistakes and start punching holes on a technical speech prepared and written by hardened technocrats.

The more I listened to Saleshando the more it dawned on me that the BCP was stealing BNF’s clothes, nicely lining itself up for the role and position of a de facto opposition.
There used to be a time when the BNF enjoyed massive support and unqualified goodwill from both the voters and the media.

That era is gone – probably for good.
A new kid on the block, with nothing much to show other than favourable media publicity, has just arrived and is marching with swagger.
The BCP’s first victim, or should I say casualty, has been the BNF.
But the BCP should be careful.
It’s too early to start savouring all the glory.

The real prize is in the hands not of the BNF but the BDP.
While the ruling party looks broken and fatigued, history teaches us that like a wounded lion, the BDP fights most ferociously when it’s limping.
As history will show, the ruling party has a ruthless way of always coming back to astound critics.

Which is why perhaps we have to wait until October before we start writing BNF’s obituary.

Even more importantly, that is all the reason why perhaps we have to wait until October before we start celebrating the BCP’s coup detat.
But there is no discounting the simple truth that the BCP is a political force on the march.

If only they could do a few things differently from the BNF!
The mistake that the BNF made was to get excitable when faced with the lure of usurping power. In a very big way, such behaviour has often tended to derail the maximum programme, to use the parlance familiar to BNF communists.

The BNF’s biggest crime over the years was to behave like a spoilt little brat from a wealthy family; always complaining and playing victim when things did not go their way.
The BCP should at all costs avoid such destructive pitfalls.

With a majority of Batswana eager to see the back of the ruling BDP, but at the same time immensely suspicious of the opposition, there is a window of opportunity for the BCP to deliberately and emphatically package itself as a fresh and potent political force capable of ushering a new era.
Having started so well, the party should stay focused and never lift the eye from the ball.

It is not enough to present oneself as a credible alternative (which they have so far done so well), the BCP should go further and formulate policies which the masses, not just the media, can easily identify with.
Perhaps it is inevitable that the media would want to influence as to dictate policy, but elections are won through a mass popular appeal.

That said it is to their credit that up to now the BCP have been able to brand themselves as an electable unit, an exercise that has repeatedly eluded the BNF.

But then political branding on its own is not enough.

The BCP should go much further and present themselves as a movement of ideas, different in every aspect from the BNF from whose womb they emerged.
For all its good media image, the BCP still has to expend a lot of effort, time and resources in winning a loyal support base that is necessary to translate nice looks into votes and ultimately seats in parliament.

Some skeptics, including myself, have repeatedly warned that the BCP was in a very crude way punching above its weight, that the party was more a creation of the media class than of the people on the ground.
The time is now for the BCP to prove us all wrong.

If ever there is a political party in Botswana that has misused its chances and failed to manage its success it has to be the BNF.

The BNF has to device a strategy with which they are going to manage success but also growth, for growth though desirable could be a double-edged sword.
The fault is entirely theirs.
Early signs are that unless like the BNF the party’s leaders start fighting like rats in a bag, the BCP seems poised to do some damage to the BDP. The BCP will be a strong match for the BDP.

Which is in itself not entirely bad for the BDP.

It would be in the BDP’s interest to spend a few years in the wilderness ÔÇô refreshing and shedding itself of the debilitating arrogance that prevents it from listening to the people.
And with the ruling party’s share of the popular vote being at its lowest since independence, the BCP’s upward march could not have come at a more opportune time.

And more – already a growing number of people inside the BDP are beginning to doubt not only the true value of President Ian Khama, but also his resourcefulness in times of a crisis.
His initiatives to surround himself with unthinking mascots can only work in favour of the BCP.
But humility will be BCP’s kindest guardian.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.