As the new-kid-on-the-political-block, Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) celebrated its ‘muted’ first anniversary recently due to the coronavirus-imposed stringent regulations, some political pundits are already doubtful about its future. They wonder what it really holds for the party that has a strong presence in the Central District. Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE follows the story
FRANCISTOWN: The BPF was conceived some time in May 2019 and only officially registered by the Registrar of Societies a month later.
Disgruntled members who had a falling out with President Mokgweetsi Masisi, also staunch supporters of former State and party president, Ian Khama, formed the party.
Politicians who had lost primary elections at both the BDP and other opposition parties also joined the new party. As a breakaway party from the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) mainly, the BPF led by the then suspended BDP legislator, Biggie Butale, just within four months of its formation, threw the party’s hat into the ring and participated in the General Election.
The BPF’s plan as mainly articulated by its founding patron, Khama and the defiant founding president Butale, was to deny the BDP an opportunity to form a government. That would have been a first, since the BDP has been in power since 1966, when the country attained its independence from the British protectorate.
Unfortunately, the BPF won only three parliamentary seats within Serowe village, the capital of the vast GammaNgwato territory. This is the home of the former president, Khama. The party went further to win 18 council seats. Just this week, Topisi councillor Samuel Kenalemang crossed the floor from the ruling BDP to join the BPF ranks. There are promises of the party further unveiling its new catches from the BDP.
Khama further wielded his influence within GammaNgwato to make important assists at Mahalapye where the main opposition, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) re-wrote history by winning two constituencies that have been the BDP’s strongholds.The Khama influence would also be strongly felt at the Palapye, Shoshong, Sefhare-Ramokgonami and Bobirwa constituencies, four other important BDP traditional strongholds. As for Sefhare-Ramokgonami and Bobirwa constituencies respectively, Khama was bitter, as he strongly felt betrayed by Dorcas Makgato and Francisco Kgoboko and to him it was payback time. It’s unfortunate, because it seems the BPF’s narrow target of the vast CDC could not give them what they wanted because the UDC also lost ground mainly at its strongholds south of Dibete cordon fence with the BDP winning majority of the previously held UDC seats.
University of Botswana (UB) senior lecturer in politics, Dr. Kebapetse Lotshwao feels strongly that the BPF’s approach mainly as a protest movement was terribly misguided. He says in liberal democracies, political parties are formed for purposes of aggregating and articulating the interests of certain groups and classes.
“As such, political parties in these countries have clear policy alternatives and ideologies that guide them. The BPF, on the other hand, was not formed to advance any significant interests,” the UB academic insists. He adds that unfortunately, the party was formed as a protest movement by Khama and his followers, hoping to use it to remove President Masisi and the BDP from power, and replacing them with successors who would be more compliant to Khama’s interests. He posits that because the BPF does not represent the aspirations of a significant section of the population, “the party is a flop, and will not make any impact nationally. Its lack of appeal is also compounded by its association with Khama, the worst leader the country has had since independence”.
Lotshwao is adamant that under Khama, the state relied not on hegemony, but coercion. Another UB academic, political and administrative studies lecturer, Adam Mfundisi describes the BPF as a shocker to the political establishment when after being formed in the midst of a general election polled numbers to its rallies.
To him, the BPF caught the BDP off guard after dismissing it as a non-starter and it penetrated the BDP heartland, the Central District, particularly Serowe and its environs. “The BPF was not a flop, but a formation to be taken seriously because it had an indelible mark in the political landscape of Botswana,” says Mfundisi insisting that the Botswana political environment
He holds a strong view that the fortunes of the BDP have dwindled in the northern part of the country and the damage to its integrity and appeal remains irreparable.
Mfundisi concurs that the BPF has not articulated its clear vision and strategy since its formation rather than its minimum objective of crippling the BDP.
The future of the BPF, according to Mfundisi, is neither dim nor bright. He, however, encourages the BPF leadership to be, “strategic and see how they can strengthen opposition forces in Botswana. The party needs to adopt a clear vision and strategies to become relevant.”
Nonetheless, he observes that the BPF gathers solace from the fact that it has a strong appeal in the Serowe constituencies and its environs. He encourages the party leadership to galvanise that and posture into other areas to have a broad appeal.
The UB lecturer is adamant that the BPF is there to stay because it shares some reservations on how the country is governed by the BDP government. He has cited corruption, unemployment, poverty and others as having skyrocketed.
Justice Motlhabani, BPF spokesperson said this week that the party turned one year on June 12, 2020 and finds itself at the vanguard of actualising the first change of government from one political party to another in Botswana, in ‘our’ lifetime.
He firmly believes that this dream will come to pass and the BPF would be counted amongst those that have helped Botswana become a true and quintessential democracy. “Since its formation a year ago,” reminisces Motlhabani when he added: “The political movement has been at the forefront and in the frontlines of advocating for genuine transformation of the status quo and the business as usual mentality that has stagnated growth and progress in our country.” He is proud that his party has been instrumental in enhancing Botswana as a democratic pluralism, “by providing a voice of reason in the midst of the myriad of leadership deficiency, recklessness, lack of financial prudence and caution and the draining blunders characteristic of the CAVA regime.”
In only one year, he says, the BPF has decimated and completely destroyed the BDP in central and north of Botswana, garnering over 3,180 votes in Nata-Gweta constituency and over 2,912 votes within months in Boteti East and over 2,300 votes in Mmadinare constituency.
The icing on the cake was winning resoundingly, three constituencies and over 15 council wards that have been the preserve of the ruling party since independence more than 50 years ago.
“We have realigned and redrawn the Botswana electoral map and caused the BDP to lose 15 of its historic strongholds to the opposition collective. Overall, we are currently the biggest threat to the BDP,” he claims.He describes his party as a well run and professionally managed political organisation with a functioning secretariat and office. In Parliament the party MPs have provided alternative responses to the budget speech and State of Emergency (SOE) as well as prepared motions and questions for the betterment of all in Botswana.
The party’s core values of social justice, freedom of speech, a free thriving media, multiculturalism, equal opportunities for all, inclusivity and the belief in human achievement and ingenuity, Motlhabani says, are enduring “compared to the ruling party’s populist values and false promises”.
“Due to COVID-19 regulations governing gatherings, our party hosted a modest one-year anniversary commemoration ceremony of 50 people in Gaborone. We plan to host more events as restrictions are eased to welcome former MPs and councillors who are defecting from the BDP, adding to our growing membership base going into the next General Election,” declared an optimistic Motlhabani. Motlhabani says his party is also developing mutually beneficial working partnerships with other like-minded opposition parties to ensure 2024 would be a year like no other in the history of Botswana politics.