The emergence of a new party, Alliance of Progressives(AP) poses interesting questions for the future of Botswana’s politics in general and opposition politics in particular.
There are those like the Sunday Standard columnist Spencer Mogapi who argue that the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) has exhausted its progressive potential and even urged Ndaba Gaolathe to form a party. Emmanuel Macron of France who on the basis of the experience built a party within a year and proceeded to win a landslide electoral victory. In our view such analysis is seriously flawed and simplistic. It fails to take into account France’s much longer and democratic political tradition of over two centuries which implies a much more politically conscious electorate.
In the second place it ignores the particular conditions which gave rise to the Macron phenomenon.
For almost 60 years in the post war period, France has seen the alternate interchange of governments between the right wing Republican party and the Socialist party which has increasingly jeffisoned most of the aspects of its erstwhile leftwing programmatic tenets. The crisis of capitalism in France has sharply brought into focus the convergence among these mainstream parties and engendered a serious crisis of legitimacy for them. It is this popular disaffection among the French electorate which Macron took advantage of under his pretentious but essentially false banner of neither left nor right. This struck a responsive cord among the masses who have over the years seen the right wing and so called left parties carrying out basically the same liberal policies.
In contrast Botswana has a much shorter democratic political tradition of just over 50 years during which only the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has been the governing party. In recent years, the ruling BDP has increasingly presided over massive unemployement deepening educational crisis, massive corruption, high levels of poverty and socio- economic unequalities. It is these socio-economic contradictions which constitute a material basis for the progressive decline in the BDP’s mass appeal and the discermible thirst of the masses for political change and the upsurge in the popularity of the UDC.
The disengagement of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) from the UDC is not likely reverse this trend because the BMD has never really been a serious force within opposition politics. It has never been tested such political limelight or influence it has enjoyed has largely been on account of its association with the UDC, especially its main constituent party the Botswana National Front (BNF). Even the parliamentary seats which it holds are from traditional BNF strongholds which it is not likely to retain once it contests them on its own. In fact by the very fact of disengaging from the UDC so shortly after its (UDC) inception undermine the tenous basis of its initial political goodwill and it may be punished for betraying the people’s project.
That would micre to the benefit of the UDC. In the ultimate analysis politics essentially signify the struggle of living forces. On this basis parties emerge take shape and are organised around a particular banner or programme underpinned by a totality of definite socio-economic interest and ideological traditions. It is these which define their existential space, political outlook, identity and self-conceptualisation. By these fundamental criteria BMD is on the whole much closer to the BDP than it is to the mainstream opposition parties. Most of its leaders are not only conservative in ideological outlook, but retain residual political allegiance to the BDP. This explains why its
The BNF comrades will recall that the original formulation of the United Front outlined by comrade Dr Kenneth Koma in Pamphlet No I was premised on the understanding that because of the incomplete and inclivate crystallisation of classes and the structural and organisational weakness of the working class, the forging of an alliance between the working class, the petty – bourgeoisie and even some sections of the bourgeoisie was a strategic imperative. In this respect all the opposition parties were uncritically limited together as potential allies in the struggle against the neo- colonial BDP.
The successive attempts to forge all inclusive opposition alliance in 1992/93 (PPF), 1999 (BAM) and most recently in 2011/2012 (UDC) were all based on that strategic perspective. The experience of the UDC in particular the manner in which the BMD has conducted itself to date is a definite pointer to the fact that the assumption underlying that original perspective no longer holds not every party which professes to be opposed to the BDP should be embraced by the UDC. The popular adage that politics is a game of numbers only holds if all are genuinely committed to common cause.
A political movement which embraces within itself members who are pulling in different directions can neither be strong nor effective as a fighting force. It is better to remain with a membership which in absolute terms may be smaller but more cohesive. The combined forces of the BNF and BCP are capable of rebuilding the UDC as a more formidable and vibrant force. Both of them are tried and tested in opposition politics have a large and fiercely loyal following. They are both from a broadly progressive social democratic tradition. Their activists have a talent affirmity to each other. Their common experience of the last two decades of largely fictitious contrived differences and mutual hostilities and attempts to accumulate each other have made them realise the folly of their actions.
More importantly, they have a solid contigent of well-trained and experienced cadres with the willingness and capacity to traverse the length and breadth of this country to spread UDC message, revive the movements structures pep up the morale of activists and defend the UDC against hostile attacks.
The UDC has successfully rooted itself among the masses as demonstrated by its consistently impressive electoral performance in a series of post 2014 bye – elections. This support is not likely to be that much affected by the emergence of the new party for the reasons advanced above. The BDP would be committing a serious political mistake if on account of the formation of this new party it undermined the threat posed by the UDC in the 2019 elections.