As the opposition bloc under the guise of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) is still smarting from a major split that shook the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), resulting in the birth of the BMD’s splinter party, Alliance for Progressives (AP) recently, Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE and Correspondent SIKI MOTSHWARI JOHANNESS observe that even as similar events incessantly repeat themselves, politicians do not seem to learn anything from history
Events that characterised the BMD in the last few months clearly prove that history is not always the best teacher. Recent events in the opposition bloc have raised many questions as to whether the opposition will ever learn from past experiences. The confusion reigning supreme in the present opposition ranks is not a new phenomenon. It is the exact replica of the political imbroglio that engulfed the Botswana People’s Party (BPP) in the early 1960s.
Towards Botswana’s inaugural general election of 1965, a schism amongst the big three leaders of the BPP ensued. It gave birth to three small and insignificant political formations, Philip Matante’s BPP 1, Motsamai Mpho’s BPP 2 and Kgalemang Motsete’s BPP 3.
There are lessons through history that the three leaders quarrelled more over petty issues such as the location of the party headquarters and less over matters of substance. To this date, the BPP remains an insignificant player in Botswana’s political landscape, a clear indication that it never recovered from the political blunders its leaders committed six decades ago. The split humbled the BPP from a significant national political player to a regional party based in a corner of the North East. The BPP of today is simply a shadow of its former self, and it is struggling to win even a single Parliamentary seat.
With hindsight, it suffices to say that the BPP split is partly the reason why the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) enjoyed a 50-year uninterrupted rule.
Just like the split of the BPP, the BMD split cannot be taken lightly because it might be the one single factor that the Alliance of Progressives (AP) means the same old story of fragmentation, and disunity continues to dog the opposition movement.
For 50 years, the BDP proved invincible as it profited enormously from opposition disunity. It was only in 2014 that the party almost met its match when the opposition, with the exception of the BCP, fought the election for the very first time as a single unit, under the UDC ticket. Opposition unity caused so much damage to the BDP to an extent that there were serious concerns raised about the BDP’s future.
As for the opposition, everyone hoped that it was time to consolidate the 2014 gains and strengthen its position to prepare for the next election hurdle.
For a while, it appeared it was all systems go. Having witnessed the fruits of unity, the doubting Thomases in the BCP had less difficulty convincing their members to be an integral part of the UDC.
The BCP had learnt the hard way about risks of its policy of isolation. With the BCP on board now, the UDC fixated its eyes on the date of the next general elections to wrestle power from the BDP.
Less attention was paid to the internal affairs of individual group party members of the UDC. Early signs of trouble in paradise were shown by resignations of Bagalatia Arone from the BCP, and later, Isaac Davids from the Botswana National Front (BNF) to join the BDP.
Their resignations were deemed to have been fuelled by personal greed and taken lightly as some party leaders simply dismissed them as, “good riddance” when resignation letters were handed in. At this stage, no questions were raised about the sustainability of the UDC project; it was simply, “let them go”.
When it was thought that opposition unity was sealed and complete, disaster struck from the unexpected end, the BMD. The BMD fell apart and the UDC crisis management was put to a crucial test. And hell broke loose and a new party was born, the AP.
Ironically, the formation of the AP cannot be hailed as a ‘progressive’ development. It is instead a retrogressive step undermining the momentum of the opposition movement. The opposition strength could take a further severe knock if the AP would make good their promise of going it alone if the UDC does not meet their terms for admission. If the AP chooses to go it alone, the BDP will be assured of another term in power. The formation of the progressives could be a turn off to the voters who really wanted to identify and rally behind a strongly united opposition.
The BDP might benefit from protest votes at a time that the opposition under the banner of the UDC had surely made major inroads. Indeed the opposition woes have given the ruling party a lifeline. It is therefore, up to the BDP to take advantage of this offer and make hay while the sun shines.
Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who is also the BDP chairperson, is watching the opposition troubles with a hawk eye as he continues to harvest through his accelerated recruitment drive, which is seemingly targeting opposition party operatives.
Week in and week out, the BDP parades its new recruits for all to see their good work. This is an exercise deliberately led by Masisi who does not want to leave anything to chance. The national broadcaster, Btv hardly misses these launches making a point that the BDP new catches are given wider coverage.
At one of the rallies in Molepolole, where he welcomed about 10 former BCP and BNF activists, Masisi was quoted by the government Daily News having said: “All that we are receiving today are activists. They are very politically charged, highly agile, mobile and effective. Tell me, which serious political party or serious party chairman does not want that”.
With some people now disillusioned by the incessant opposition splits, the opposition bloc has a lot to do to maintain their requisite strength ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Out of frustration, following the formation of a BMD splinter party, the BCP president Dumelang Saleshando is quoted by a local newspaper having said: “It’s a regressive step. It’s a drawback for the opposition in Botswana”.
Violence is not part of the national culture. Batswana from all walks of life naturally abhor violence. Opposition parties have a tendency of resorting to violence at the slightest provocation. This alone has damaged their credibility, and more needs to be done to shed the violence tag. Today, they might be trading stones and insults, but tomorrow when in power, real exchange of fire could take place.
Anthony Morima, columnist and political commentator. wrote in his recent column that, “the Gaolathe/Mmolotsi faction should not worry about whether or not they will be admitted into the UDC after forming the new party. The numbers and party organisation will compel the UDC to admit them.
If this happens, the new party may in the remaining two years, regroup and give the UDC a realistic chance to wrestle state power from the ruling BDP in 2019”.
But, the public that makes up the requisite numbers are watching the BMD/UDC political battles with keen interest as they continue to unfold ,which might spoil the otherwise good chances of the opposition collective in 2019, more so that issues of trust have come into play in the midst of all these battles.