Thursday, July 18, 2024

The night all hell broke loose: blame it on the bully in the pulpit!

Much has been said about the need for opposition parties to cooperate at general elections in order to avoid vote splitting and remove the tired Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).

This perhaps explains why the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) elicited so much excitement and hope for a change of government. In fact, there is little doubt that the coalition has transformed the competitiveness of national politics in Botswana.

The universal truth is that the UDC has generated a huge surge of support for opposition politics, having landed on the political scene like a golden child, mainly because since 1965, all attempts to unite opposition parties for the purpose of dethroning the BDP were unsuccessful. 

Thus, the creation of UDC has been like an act of God and any opposition party that sought to operate outside of the coalition risked being branded anti-God and deserving annihilation in the cruelest of manners.

In terms of the management of the coalition, it is noted that the Botswana National Front (BNF) has always acted as a father figure and arbiter of opposition politics in Botswana, hence it seemed sensible to have its leader at the helm of the UDC, at least during its formative years.

Other member constituents of the UDC did not object to this transitional arrangement precisely because it was just what it was, an interim arrangement necessary to allow the coalition to consolidate its place in the political landscape.

It is also important to note that consultations that culminated with the formation of the UDC were, to some large extent, in response to demands by public sector trade unions whose members had embarked on a long public sector strike demanding salary increments.

In their endeavor to push for opposition cooperation, public sector trade unions committed themselves to supporting opposition parties at the 2014 general election, on condition that the parties were in cooperation of some sort.

To this end, it is safe to say that not a single opposition should claim any credit whatsoever for making opposition parties transcend self-interests and coalesce for the purpose of the removing the BDP from power. In the same vein, the UDC leadership shouldn’t be anyone’s entitlement, even as there surely are certain individuals who had invested a disproportionate amount of resources and emotions in ensuring that the project crystalized. .   

Whereas it is true that a coalition is likely to have the greatest impact when all key opposition parties operate as a single unit with one unambiguous election message, such partnership must nevertheless be fashioned on a coalition of the willing.

One of the least attractive and most mischievous habits of the UDC is to project themselves as the only legitimate, broad-based people’s project that is serious about removing the ruling BDP from state power.

It is this posture that seems to make the UDC believe that any other opposition party that is not too keen in becoming a part of the UDC at the present moment stands to prolong the misery of our people hence is an enemy of the people and that is the extent to which our so-called government-in-waiting is intolerant and bigoted.

 In its association with self-contained, self-governing, individual opposition parties, the UDC has demonstrated poor leadership in one constant and emphatic way – it has been bullying and destabilizing them willy-nilly in an attempt to ruin their future.

There is ample precedent for the UDC’s use of coercion to arm-twist other opposition parties to take a seat in the coalition against their will. In the past voters were urged to reject opposition parties that opted to go it alone, citing that such parties were agents of the BDP.

Lately, the UDC has been colluding with some power hungry, over-ambitious con men to sow seeds of disharmony and fracture some opposition parties that query governance issues. 

The leadership of the UDC occupies a privileged position – what the former US president Theodore Roosevelt called the bully pulpit [a position of authority that provides the holder with an opportunity to speak out and be listened to on any matter].

Leaders who enjoy this privileged position would be expected to use the power of influence and persuasion rather to insult, name-call and/or bully others into identifying with their worldview. Of course, those who realize that their influence is limited would most likely resort to bullying.

The UDC leadership in particular its president Advocate Duma Boko who also dabbles as the president of the Botswana National Front, has mastered the art of using the bully pulpit to coerce other opposition parties into cooperating with or submitting to the UDC’s playbook.

Cheered on by his unflinching hit men, the UDC president has perfected the skill of mocking, denigrating and bullying those who differ with his worldview. He has taken to investing more at attacking and shaming people from within the opposition ranks who disagree with him on how the opposition collective has to be managed, than targeting the predatory ruling BDP.

The tone of his ranting, his use of provocative and tribally charged language, his enthusiasm to belittle his colleagues and his rhetoric about his educational achievements are tactfully designed to publicly discredit, vanquish and end the political careers of anyone and everyone in the opposition ranks (in and outside of the UDC) who disagree with his personal preferences.

The UDC president tends to relish labelling colleagues and meddling in the internal affairs of other opposition parties in the most disparaging ways and attacking their character in ways that without doubt project him as a prolific bully in the pulpit.

We do know that the UDC president has always been a good man, an intellectual with innate sensibilities and strategic savvy, not the kind to favour expressions of prejudice but his pettiness and vindictiveness since becoming a celebrated head honcho of local politics, are extreme and undoubtedly offend the basic norms of an aspiring national president. 

We also do know that properly used, the power of influence and persuasion (the bully pulpit) can aid leaders to get what they want and get to where they aspire without behaving like a mischief maker whose mission is a matter of life and death.

Furthermore, we know that most political leaders like to appear before cheering crowds of useless, good-for-nothing idlers but rousing worthless airheads by bullying the very leaders whose parties are believed would add value into a coalition could, in no small measure, alienate potential voters and project him as a dangerous fella on a personal mission.

There seems to be no bounds to the UDC president’s bullying tactics, yet these skills at belittling other people has diminished his ability to lead. More critically, his bully tactics has not only demonstrated poor leadership but has helped him push away swathes of unaffiliated voters.

An aspiring national president should demonstrate the basic qualities of integrity and grace and should treat others, especially the small man with some diffidence.

Whereas most politicians on a campaign trail would want to play to the gallery, serious contenders to the state presidency make at least an effort to rise above pettiness and the pervasive use of their position to harass and malign others.

Batswana do not live in a totalitarian state and would not aspire to create one where the leader would naturally get his way all the time on any matter. Aspiring leaders predisposed to the value system of Nazism deserve to be consigned to hell on earth.

Mocking other leaders of opposition parties for refusing to enter into a chaotic marriage of convenience is a mundane political strategy that typically appeals to converted cheering zombies who venerate bullies and snobs.

An aspiring state president should seek to expand the coalition by influencing and persuading those who seem not in a hurry and/or are reluctant to board the train, even as it may seem to be taking forever.

Thus, Advocate Duma Boko should use the power of the UDC presidency to persuade others to support his endeavours rather than whip his adherents into frenzy by bullying others, inflaming tensions and fuelling splits in other parties.

The uncomfortable truth is that the UDC president’s bad-tempered, threatening style and his disdain for basic norms of political rapprochement frustrates rather than build the coalition which explains its stagnation in spite of the initial massive public goodwill.

In a conservative democracy such as ours, stoking tensions and fuelling splits for political mileage, ridiculing others from a position of power and privilege and exaggerating one’s worth would certainly make it difficult for one to expand their support base.

Broadly put, UDC president’s style of politics modelled around bullying as political machination deviates from the norms of civil politicking and will continue to alienate a broader section of Batswana voters and keep the BDP in perpetual power.

More critically, the UDC president’s divisive tactics project him as untrustworthy, immature, polarizing and too risky to be entrusted with the leadership of the country.                

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