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Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

Mutlitudes of Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) activists descended into the cradle of party splits that is Palapye only to be locked out of a hotel transformed into a barracks. The invitation cried “party retreat”.

The reality though, an arrogant display of wilful political divide which walked unsuspecting members into a new culture of exclusion and hierarchy.

The architects of the retreat CAVA – a shadowy faction in this long season of political unease – delivered a rendition of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD)’s Bobonong Congress, but without dogs. Fully clad security guards manning meshed barricades blocked all entry points and turned away a poor, docile and inoffensive membership. The regimented occasion served as an instrument of suppression against those that sought to express contrary views. The romanticised channelling akin to that of cattle hurried into a crush began with a tedious process of accreditation kilometres away from the main venue.

What followed was an orchestration by the CAVA brigade in a highly militarised and scaringly securitised gathering only convened to endorse President Mokgweetsi Masisi. For every three members of the BDP was a member of the intelligence and security cluster. Clearly part of this costuming reminiscent of fascist and communist agitators of past was meant solely for purposes of intimidation.

The first concern of a drift away from precedent was a highly constitutionalised invite which caused undue alarm amongst Democrats. With the National Council only a few weeks away, the financial pinch of travel was felt grudgingly by ordinary members as organisers and prepped up guests were placed in the lavish Majestic Five Hotel.  Politics of course can involve making some unpalatable decisions. However, politics by its true nature should represent leadership in development. One fundamental ability in leadership is listening, and allowing multiple voices to converge and more importantly count for something. The pear-shaped, top heavy and factionally skewed programme and the tone set by party chairperson Slumber Tsogwane pointed to the order of the day. Protect the President at all costs and pay little attention to those in attendance other than the chosen few.

A summation of the retreat is that under unprecedented security for a BDP event, the elephant in the room trumpeted away with no one willing to confront it. Save for some appeals from the floor for former President Ian Khama and successor President Mokgweetsi Masisi to engage and resolve their differences, which were not stated anyway, the President himself in his lengthy opening skirted around the matter.

In fairness to Masisi, his was a measured approach to the event. The sedate keynote address was reconciliatory and called for inclusiveness in an environment beaming exclusion. Heartening was also a deliberate effort at embracing constitutionalism of a presidential contest. Hon Pelonomi Moitoi-Venson reaffirmed her right to contest.

Except for a few undesirable mishaps, probably aimed at embarrassing Khama and Parks Tafa, the event was calm and unbefitting of the battle ready fortress. Khama sat solemnly with

other party elders amidst palpable tension because instead of mediating between the two men, some elders have chosen sides and are scrambling over themselves to endorse Masisi. How will the elders mediate in future when they have taken to subjective and conflicted bias in a matter where they should be neutral? Past these divisive and shameful video recordings lies class in former Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe and Daniel Kwelagobe.

Kudos must go to Masisi who in his closing remarks reached out and invited Khama for lunch indicating in the process he was ready for talks. Sweet to the ear was his terse admonishing of those fuelling the fires of enmity between him and predecessor. President Masisi says they must back off. So apt is the message, especially to the elders who have been tripping over one another via video endorsements.

Then there is a horde of self-anointed lackeys that should also embrace the call to back off. This gang of devices of division and destruction purports to support President Masisi. It is actually their antagonism that propels those who have taken sling shots to fire at Masisi. The king’s dog must never think it is the king of dogs. Constitutionalism equates the membership of all and service rendered to a subcommittee of the Central Committee is for the benefit of the party and not for self-edification.

The wisdom that should derive from societal troubles is that when two people fall out, the sanctity of state institutions should not be compromised. The state security apparatus is obliged to be non-partisan in their exercise of duty. Seeing Brigadier Peter Fana Magosi parading as “Bodyguard Numero Uno” might lead one to wonder if the intelligence sector has not been manipulated either by those in authority for their own profit; or have played on the paranoia of some to manipulate events to the satisfaction of the agents.

As the philosopher George Santayana put it, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Democracy is fragile. Many freedoms are under assault in this supposed new BDP. Certain words and language are forbidden; ideas deemed offensive to some members of the party have become taboo because the “leadership” feels unsafe in the face of divergent opinion. All these provide a fertile breeding ground.

In this poisoned, polarised and heavily securitised environment enveloping the BDP it remains a matter of speculation how this will end. It is a testing time. The outcome of the worthless retreat points to an elephant that remains pregnant with uncertainty overflowing. And it is not that long ago that the BDP split – and the cause – selective justice and exclusion!

It will be catastrophic to forget dispositions in the immediate distant past!

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