The article entitled, ‘What is left of the BNF Left – Whither BNF’ published in the Botswana National Front (BNF) official organ ‘Puo Phaa’ online edition of May 31, 2020, has elicited our interest and astonishment.
We were left wondering why Cde Duma Boko found it appropriate to initiate a debate on such a wide range of issues – from the state of the BNF to weighty and complex questions such as the relevance of Marxism and the historical meaning of the Russian revolution in a party newspaper hastily published on the eve of a party congress.
If for the sake of general theoretical education and enlightenment of party members, such a discussion was deemed important it would have been better to initiate it through more detailed internal discussion documents channelled through party structures well before the party congress, to facilitate a more rational and enriching exchange of views. It is obvious that some of these issues cannot even be adequately dealt with within the columns of a party newspaper.
We were further taken aback by the acerbic tone of Comrade Boko’s polemic particularly the reckless abandon with which he unleashes a tirade of scorn and abuse on other Party members for the sole reason that they hold views other than his own.
Such a style of debate clearly does not befit the person of his office. It is politically irresponsible and unprincipled, as it engenders mutual rancour and disdain amongst party members and promotes the culture of intolerance and bigotry within our movement, and undermines its cohesion and unity. It is perfectly normal and in accordance with the BNF constitution and political traditions for members to coalesce around particular platforms on occasion, especially before party congresses, and engage in open and rigorous debate to strive to persuade other party members to adopt their positions. This practice constitutes the incarnation of the spirit and tradition of ‘Puo Phaa’. The purpose of such debate is not to engage in mutual mudslinging but to essentially:
Clarify the issues under contention within the party
Contribute towards the education of party members
Assist in correctly orientating members on the tasks facing the movement; and
Contributing towards cultivating the culture of mutual tolerance, contestation of ideas and entrenching inner-party democracy within the movement.
On various occasions in the past, Boko has contented himself with cursory remarks such as ideology ga e jewe (at the Tswapong regional congress at Lerala in 2018), that people should agonise on the possible death of BNF (at the launching of the booklets published as part of the party’s 50th anniversary celebrations at Oasis Motel in 2015) that BNF should be disbanded and merged with other UDC partners to form one party. All these caused a lot of consternation and unease amongst us as Boko’s utterances pointed to a covert intention to jettison BNF programme and policies without following the party’s democratic processes set out in its constitution.
We have been vindicated in our apprehension.
If his latest article it is no longer a question of partial differences on this or that party tactic, but fundamental conceptual divergences amongst various tendencies within our movement, the extreme right-wing tendency principally represented by the Boko and the genuine BNF Left on the programme, character, identity and direction of the Botswana National Front.
It is also not difficult for any discerning BNF member to disentangle the rational kernel from the mishmash of highfalutin verbiage, unrestrained self-adulation and rabid anti- BNF Left vitriol, which Boko spews every time he ventures into a public discourse on the BNF. He is consistent in his implacable hostility to any and everybody who incarnates the progressive ideas and traditions of our movement.
This much is pellucid in his article, every BNF member must be absolutely clear on this – to be or not to be, that is the question posed to the BNF by Boko in his article.
It is particularly revealing that while he claims to represent the genuine BNF Left as opposed to the extremist wing allegedly represented by ourselves, nowhere in his article does he make even the slightest attempt to analyse the situation within the party or anchor his arguments on the BNF programme, constitution or organisational norms. Boko appears to have no clue at all about the BNF constitution or organisational principles, which enjoins him as its principal spokesperson to articulate its programme and propagate its message in accordance with its organisational policy.
In his considered view everything is about himself, he wants to move and shake things in accordance with his own ideas, which were never discussed much less approved by any BNF structure. He even unashamedly proposes an additional qualification for BNF leadership, in his view it has to be someone with fundraising capabilities.
This is preposterous; it shows how alien the man is to the BNF’s political traditions. For us the priority is to consolidate the party and put on a sound organisational basis. Fund raising is an aspect political and organisational work to be collectively decided upon by the party leadership and structures, for once left primarily to individual leaders it becomes susceptible to serious abuse with all the adverse political consequences such as encouraging patronage and mortgaging the party to those with financial resources. We stand resolutely opposed to this bare-faced attempt to hijack our movement.
The BNF is not on sale to the highest bidder. In our assessment of leadership qualities, we attach more importance to loyalty to the movement as demonstrated by genuine acceptance of its programme and commitment to its values and principles as set out in its constitution and various party documents, and not cleverly contrived leadership criteria unilaterally introduced by Boko to suit his opportunistic agenda.
Boko’s reproaches the BNF left for being extremists who tenaciously cling to outworn ideas, hate anyone who does not agree with their views and strive to transform the BNF into a socialist organisation committed to a socialist transformation.
Here Boko engages in deliberate obfuscation and subterfuge, in a desperate attempt to cloud the issues under contention.
We ask, which outworn views he is referring to. Boko knows very well that we stand solidly on the BNF Social Democratic programme as well
From its inception the BNF has always been a broad church, which embraces various tendencies united around its minimum programme ultimately crystallised in the Social Democratic Programme adopted at the Molepolole congress.
We stand for consistent adherence to the BNF’s organisational principles of collective leadership, open discussion, principled criticism and self-criticism and collective and accountable leadership.
We hate no-one for disagreeing with us. It is Boko who has utter contempt for these principles and who-never misses an opportunity to denigrate the BNF Left, because he is conscious of the fact they constitute the main obstacle to the implementation of his covert agenda of divert our movement from its progressive path.
That BNF is not a socialist party is well understood by us.
But that does not mean that it is anti-socialist, as Boko seems to suggest. On the contrary, in its political physiognomy and ideological orientation, the BNF has always been pro-socialist – the very concept or strategy of the United Front on which the BNF was founded is of a Marxist pedigree, having been originally formulated by Lenin as a strategy for the colonial countries at the second congress of the Communist International held in Moscow in 1920.
Pamphlet No. 1, the BNF strategy and tactics document stands out as a seminal Marxist analysis of the Botswana situation then. The Social Democratic programmme adopted by the BNF at its Molepolole congress in 1995 also traces its origin from the socialist tradition.
From its inception, the BNF has always been a broad church which accommodates liberal democrats, Social democrats and an orthodox Marxist Leninists within its ranks. The BNF Constitution adopted at its Francistown congress held in Francistown in 2002 explicitly defines its character as a popular democratic movement which embraces various tendencies, united by their common commitment to a Social democratic programme.
Boko has consistently demonstrated his determination to subvert these constitutional principles by waging a campaign of vilification, slander and ideological terror against legitimate party members who do not subscribe to his right-wing views.
His latest diatribe against the BNF Left is a continuation of this campaign. Boko is not only intolerant but a highly divisive leader who has deeply polarised our movement and dispersed some of its best cadres.
During his very first tenure in office, he indefinitely suspended three members of the BNF Executive for disagreeing with him on the model of cooperation with other Parties.
Those comrades were suspended for well over a year without any hearing until some of them left the BNF and joined the Botswana Congress Party.
He has over time cultivated and nurtured this culture within some sections of our Movement to the extent that anyone who dares to voice an independent opinion or expresses the slightest doubt about the alleged infallibility of the Party leader is subjected to untold abuse and insults by Party members who mistake personal loyalty to the leader for loyalty to the movement.
This trend is beginning to adversely impact on party life and undermine its democratic character.
At the BNF annual conference held at Rakops in 2018, the chairperson of the BNF Veterans Association, Comrade Patrick Kgoadi was booed and prevented from speaking by these pro-Boko loyalists. Earlier this year, the BNF Secretary for Political Education Comrade Shawn Ntlhaile organised a workshop at Old Naledi Gaborone.
For the whole day preceding the workshop which was held from the late afternoon pro-Boko loyalists were posting in Puo-Phaa online that they were going to stone anyone who would criticise their leader at the workshop.
Hardly a day passes without these very same party members posting in the supposedly party paper Puo-Phaa online, countless pieces subjecting the BNF deputy leader, Comrade Prince Dibeela to insults and abuse, his only crime being that he has indicated that he intends to contest for the BNF Presidency at its coming congress in exercise of his rights under the BNF constitution.
To these party members, Boko is the BNF’s anointed monarch or life-President who should not be challenged. And yet neither Boko nor the BNF Secretary General has ever called these Party members to order for gross indiscipline.
This level of intolerance and political thuggery is an indication of the extent to which the BNF has regressed censure and criticism by Party members without anyone ever being threatened by violence by other (In its democratic credentials) under Boko’s leadership. It is completely alien to the political traditions of our movement. Comrade Koma who founded the BNF and led it for close to a quarter of a century willingly subjected himself to Party members.
Boko is clearly being disingenuous when he claims that he was a victim of sabotage. He has presided over the collapse of the BNF not least because of his gross mismanagement of Party affairs bordering on outright incompetence, his unaccountable and undemocratic leadership, the litany of political and tactical blunders which he has committed and his patent flouting of the BNF’s constitution and organisational norms and principles.
The BNF constitution provides that between conferences and congresses, the BNF Central Committee shall run party affairs, provide guidance and coordinate Party activities.
It follows that the Central Committee has to regularly communicate with party structures and (through the party president, secretary-general and Treasurer) and report to party members on its work during conferences and congresses.
In successive conferences and congresses, Boko has failed to submit written reports to account to members on the work of the Central Committee he leads or to provide any guidance whatsoever on the political and organisational tasks facing the Movement.
Worse still he has refused to call Central Committee meetings to discuss Party matters to enable the Central Committee to provide even a minimum of collective leadership to the Movement, insisting that Central Committee meetings should be motivated by individual Central Committee members, an outrageous proposal not anchored on any provision of our constitution. (To be continued next week)
BNF VETERANS ASSOCIATION*