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The BMD bloodbath – could it have been avoided?

The past week, social media was ablaze with commentary on the bloodbath that was the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) Congress. The showdown was perfectly foreseable. The cup of discontent had been simmering for quite a while and it was only a question of time before it began to overflow.

Days after, the belligerents continue to trade invectives across the smoldering wreck of their once seemingly formidable political outfit. Yes, we have been down this road before. I recall how, as a young prosecutor, I was assigned a docket on the Palapye riots, out of which the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) emerged. In one case, a Mercedes Benz belonging to a prominent political figure was ruined and a young Botswana National Front (BNF) activist stood alone to face the wrath of the law.

I vividly recall an occasion when devoid of means, the young man hitched a ride back to Gaborone in the government vehicle I was using. Oh yes, we had hearts. We had no issues giving an accused person a ride in a deserving case. But we never befriended them, or accepted any favours. And boy, they were many and often, of a very personal variety. A young lady once offered me a hug in front of a supermarket. By the time it dawned on me that I had seen her in court among an accused person’s relatives, I was reeling from a blistering kiss straight on the lips. My good friend and fellow prosecutor, Bafi Nlanda, had the same experience. To our credit we declared our experiences to our bosses the next morning.

It was quite clear that the young man was in distress. Those for whom he had allegedly thrown stones had moved on. Alone, he was left to answer for the violence he allegedly committed. He cut a pitiable figure narrating how all those he stood with had since deserted him. The warmongers who had promised to fund his defence were now speaking in tongues. The glue of comradery had lost adhesivity. Short of a miracle, he was almost certain to do time for malicious damage to property.

Miracles do happen. Joao Salbany made a motion for a permanent stay of prosecution arguing that his client’s constitutional right to trial within a reasonable time had been violated. At least four years had lapsed before the state had decided to proffer charges. The magistrate ruled that the motion was neither frivolous nor vexatious and referred the matter to the High Court for determination. Deflated, I surrendered the file for re-allocation. The High Court permanently stayed the proceedings, I am told.

It is not remiss for people to fight for causes close to their hearts. As the saying goes, unless one stands for something, they will fall for anything. How one fights for a cause, however, is another matter altogether. Violence may be necessary,

and has been necessary at times, to liberate a people from a dictatorship. We owe democracy and most of the first generation rights we enjoy to violence. I doubt, however, that the kind of violence that unfolded in Bobonong was of the variety aforesaid. It had no potential for unseating the Modubule faction, restoring the membership of those expelled or permitting access of the delegates allegedly denied access to the congress. For the Modubule faction the violence carried no hope of consolidating the party base. It is not unreasonable to surmise that one or the other of the factions had the specific intention of dealing the party a mortal blow.

Which brings me to my main point. This morning I was musing with some trade union clients of mine on categories of entities that are genetically wired for mischief and senseless violence. I counted, among others, political parties, trade unions, and sporting clubs. These organisations of undoubtable societal importance are home to the largest share of society’s hooligans and have a natural draw for rancorous and cantankerous characters. The possibility that their inevitable tensions can spontaneously degenerate into lawlessness is ever present.

That is especially true where dispute resolution mechanisms that exist do not render violence an needless option. Constitutional dispute resolution mechanisms ought to be designed with the possibility of internal party strife in mind. I have always been of the view that such must be externally and independently chaired. Whilst resort to violence may betray ignorance and indiscipline, it may also betray a frustration when constitutional processes of dispute resolution cannot be invoked to level the playing field.

The strength of any organization and its long term sustainability depends, in no small part, in assuring the rank and file that justice, as an outcome, is a matter beyond the predatory hands of its most powerful members. If the Modubule faction “lawfully” persecuted opponents and usurped power against popular will, their success in so doing betrays the weakness of the constitutional framework. If the touted popular strength of the Ndaba faction cannot not be invoked to reverse the faction’s present predicament that speaks to even greater constitutional frailty.

Why the Ndaba faction waited until Bobonong when it was all certain that they would not be permitted access to the venue is difficult to fathom. Could it be that they were not confident in the merits of their case? The arguments I have read on social media seem somewhat populist and tend to avoid an honest enquiry. Why have the parties avoided the courts?

Chief On Friday



Purging the DIS

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