Wednesday, May 22, 2024

UB don weighs in on Umbrella collapse

The devil is in the details. That is the incisive take of University of Botswana professor, Zibani Maundeni, as he dissects what went wrong with the uneasy alliance of the political parties.

Maundeni, a senior lecturer in political science and author of the book Civil Society, Politics and the State in Botswana, observes that the first round of opposition negotiations collapsed primarily because the parties were intent on carrying their old identities into the umbrella.

“It is public knowledge that the first round of talks collapsed, partly because there were too many parties negotiating and too many interests to accommodate. A multi-party negotiation constituted a complex matter that warranted international negotiating experts to guide. And yet, such expertise was not sought and would not have been readily available as the matter ÔÇô negotiating a coalition for purposes of winning elections ÔÇô would not easily attract international support,” says Professor Maundeni.

The negotiating parties were in error in that they wanted to build an umbrella while leaving intact the four existing parties ÔÇô the Botswana National Front (BNF),┬á the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) the Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD).

“This is a near impossibility. Either the umbrella replaces the existing parties and becomes the main opposition party or it becomes another irrelevant small party existing side by side with the BNF, BCP, BPP and BMD. In the latter case, the umbrella would not have any value. In short, either the umbrella replaces the existing opposition parties that then become extinct or it becomes irrelevant as all others in the past. It seems that the negotiating parties were not ready to replace themselves with a new umbrella party,” observes Maundeni.┬á

And so can the umbrella be resuscitated?

Maundeni proffers that it can only receive a new lease of life if the remaining negotiating parties are willing to subsume themselves under the umbrella and are willing to make it the main opposition party.

“They will have to promote the umbrella and neglect their existing parties. That is the reality of the situation. The negotiating parties may also need to invite experts who have handled successful complex international negotiations before ÔÇô local and international experts. They can also learn from the Botswana Democratic Party that commonly invited international expertise when introducing major reforms that have the potential to disrupt the internal operations of the party,” he says.

Further, Professor Maundeni says the negotiating parties will have to understand that an umbrella is a major political reform that will necessarily attract resistance from within the parties.

“It is important that major reforms should be preceded by targeted research that could help to enlighten the way. Such research should review all models of pre-election cooperation, outline advantages and disadvantages of each, recommend that which could work well in the Botswana political environment. Such a research could also help develop the capacities of the umbrella to handle internal divisions that could emerge and will emerge. The reforms that introduces the umbrella calls for high class leadership that should be guided by high class research,” he says.

Maundeni while noting that most recent coalitions in Africa were forged in the post- election period, often after disputed elections that generated violence and created humanitarian crises, says it is in such situations that the international community got involved and dispatched experts and diplomats to ensure that governing coalitions were formed.

“But when Botswana went without the leader of the opposition in Parliament recently, the crisis was not sufficient to attract the intervention of the international community. However, it was sufficient to compel the BNF and the BMD to suppress internal opposition and to forge a parliamentary opposition coalition. Thus, crises commonly compel parties to forge coalitions. But serious crises compel the involvement of the international community who insist on and sponsor a governing coalition. Whether post-election coalitions could work in Botswana would depend on whether there is a crisis or a major crisis,” says Professor Maundeni. ┬á

Asked whether the BNF and the BMD who hold divergent ideologies can work together in a coalition, the political analyst says that will depend on the determination of their leaderships, the manner in which they handle internal resistance and the emergence of crises that compel them to work as a coalition.

“I think the determination of the leadership is high enough, but so is the internal resistance. Thus, the determination to forge a coalition promises success, but also poses the real danger of further weakening the parties through internal resistance. ┬áIn terms of crises, the BNF has been in slow decline and this is a debatable matter and the BMD faces defections that could also lead to decline. On the other hand, if the coalition proves successful, it is the BCP and BDP that could experience defections and possible decline. Thus, the stability of the coalition will most likely attract more people, but instability will drive more people away. “Only time will tell,” he says.

Maundeni predicts that if the BNF-BMD coalition proves stable, the BCP and possibly the BDP could suffer greatly.

“There are elements within the BCP who favour coalition politics and could jump ship if the BNF-MBD coalition proves to be stable. There are also elements within the BDP who are ready to jump ship if they see a stable and functional opposition coalition. In contrast, if the BNF-BMD coalition suffers instability, BCP and BDP would be the beneficiaries. So, it would be in the interest of the BCP and BDP to destabilise that coalition. And, it would be in the interest of the BNF and BMD to protect the coalition and make it functional,” observes the political analyst.

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