Under the tutelage and superintendence of its beleaguered and trouble-prone president Otsweletse Moupo, the fortunes of the Botswana National Front (BNF) continued to dwindle. Moupo had become more of a liability than an asset to the party as his glaring errors continued to dent the party’s image. Mmegi Correspondent DOLLY BYRONE THEBE makes a comparison of the Moupo and Duma Boko tenures.
Save for the 1998 debacle where the late Kenneth Koma , founding father of the BNF, could not avert a split of the party, he had laid a solid foundation for opposition politics. Even during the late Sir Seretse Khama’s time, the BNF, “posed a formidable challenge to the ruling BDP”, as the late historian Professor Thomas Tlou had observed. Because of his Marxist-Leninism believes, Koma believed in the inevitability of regime change. He believed that change will be occasioned by the material conditions on the ground.
Having laid the foundation, the ball fell on the court of his disciples and successors to build on the foundation the philosopher king had laid. Moupo took over the BNF after Koma following a bitter contest. He was the people’s choice and Koma’s anointed successor. Hope was written all over when Moupo assumed the BNF’s coveted hot seat. He started with a bang and it looked like he were the Messiah the BNF had been waiting for. He was popular with the grassroots and appeared to be injecting life into the party. However, with hindsight benefit, he flattered to deceive. Things started falling apart when his comrades lost confidence in him.
In one instance, Moupo became a subject of public ridicule when he could not respond to the state of the nation address. His personal woes impacted profoundly on the overall health of the organisation. The future of the BNF under his care looked bleak and uncertain. And something urgent needed to be done to rescue the situation. Luckily, the party (the BNF) needed no rocket science or its own South Africa based the late Professor Lawrence Schlemmer (political consultant) to prescribe a change of guard.
To the uninitiated, at the height of its factions, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) engaged in the late 1990s Schlemmer, a political strategist, to prescribe a life saving dose. And Moupo read the political tempo well and took the most logical and honourable decision. The decision was that of not offering himself for re-election in the 2010 party elective congress. This was intended to pave the way for a possible cleansing of the political demons that had tormented the BNF under Moupo’s guidance and usher a new period of hope and renewal.
As Moupo vanished from the political scene, it seemed with hindsight benefit, that a graduate of Harvard law school, Duma Gideon Boko had been quietly and secretly watching the then unfolding events at the BNF. And he wasted no effort in expressing his desire to take charge of the party. His desire to claim a stake at the political national stage was least expected. Albeit, a well known political firebrand who had cut his teeth in student politics, Boko, seemed content with preoccupying himself with his law firm and appeared indifferent to what was going on in the BNF. It came as no surprise that his road to power was not without controversy.
He met stiff resistance mainly stemming from the detractors who questioned the authenticity of his BNF membership. This was to be the first crucial test of his leadership and the fact that he overcame this hurdle gave early signs of his indomitable fighting spirit. Having achieved his dream of managing the affairs of the BNF, Boko embarked on the road of building and uniting the party around the cause of capturing state power. He proved to be a man of no small ambitions. As he once said in Parliament, “I am a dreamer of big dreams; dreams of immensity; dreams of intensity. I am a big dreamer, not just for my family and myself, but also for the country and every single one of its people”. Boko was to prove to be the doyen or Rolls Royce of opposition politics. His detractors ate humble pie as his performance exceeded expectations. Moupo had bequeathed him a weak and fragmented party, which to a large extent expended its energies on trivialities, which did not help the party’s big agenda of assuming state power. The party had been characterised by incessant internal squabbles, which from time to time undermined its efforts of dislodging the BDP. Boko knew too well that an ailing BNF would therefore, thwart his ambitions of taking state power.
And he had to fix the BNF if he were to use as a base to launch his national presidential bid. To achieve his aim, Boko focused on restoration of sanity and shifting attention of the party from narrow sectional battles to the big picture. Boko was very successful in bringing the warring factions together and rallying them behind the cause of winning the 2019 general election. It was under his able leadership that the opposition parties for the first time took part in the 2019 elections as a single united force. Opposition unity had been an elusive target for a very long time and Boko achieved a feat which any of his predecessors had failed to do. The BNF’s efforts to forge some kind of alliance with other opposition parties had been futile. The biggest stumbling block had been the BNF‘s big brother attitude and reluctance to sacrifice its identity for the sake of the greater good.
Boko humbled himself and allowed the BNF to work with other opposition parties as equals. Boko’s strength is his public oratory skills honed since his high school days at Madiba Secondary School.
He had been exposed to Marxist and Leninist literature at an early stage and this influenced and shaped his thoughts on world matters. In Gomolemo Motswaledi, he found a formidable and complementary partner. Motswaledi’s advantage was that he was a product of the BDP who knew his former party like the palm of his hand. A gifted speaker in his own right and together the two partners in crime moved crowds and swayed public opinion. The unfortunate and untimely death of Motswaledi during the 2014 electioneering season earned the UDC public sympathy. All the hard work Boko and his team put paid off. When Parliament opened its doors after the 2014 elections Boko proudly led a 19-man strong team of highly educated and knowledgeable Members of Parliament. Boko’s efforts were rewarded with increased representation. He had surpassed his predecessors. His arrival in Parliament unsettled the BDP and they knew too well that a tiger had arrived on their door step. Boko used his oratorical skills to effect. He did not try to invent the wheel but rehearsed with much clarity and flowery terms the same issues that the opposition had been harping on for many years.
His well prepared and delivered maiden response to the Budget Speech in February 2014 ruffled feathers. He highlighted the BDP abuse of power, in particular abuse of special nomination of Members of Parliament to overturn the will of people, “The opposition faced near insurmountable challenges. We faced little or no coverage from the State media especially from Btv as well as deployment of the BDF aircraft in BDP campaign activity.” Mocking the BDP for its poor showing in the 2014 elections, he said, “the elections shattered all illusions of omnipotence and invincibility on the part of the BDP.” The opposition raised the bar under his leadership and attracted a lot of attention especially among struggling and suffering masses failing to make ends meet. Under his leadership, the possibility of regime change loomed large. However, the opposition coalition suffered some setback in the 2019 elections. It failed to repeat the feat of 2014. And some quarters have pinned the blame on Boko for working closely with former President Ian Khama in a bid to unseat the BDP.
The partnership with the newly formed Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) was considered an error of judgement on the part of Boko. The BPF however, altered the political landscape in the Central District especially in Serowe, claiming three constituencies in the BDP traditional stronghold. To some extent, the BPF exploded the myth of BDP invincibility in the Central District and for the first time lost two Mahalapye constituencies and Sefhare- Ramokgonami. But the southern part of the country was not impressed by the close relationship between the UDC and BPF. And the BDP in the south benefited from a protest vote. Some quarters have pinned the blame on Boko for the failure of the UDC to assume power in 2019. Like any other mortal, Boko has his own weakness.
He fixated his eyes on building the UDC and somewhat neglected the BNF. Some elements within the party accused him of failing to promote inner party democracy and ridding the party of factions. But generally, Boko has done a commendable job in building the opposition into a formidable force. It’s not farfetched to accord him messianic attributes. He has instilled the big picture thinking and the opposition now looks credible. He will go down in history as the unifier of opposition movements in the republic and for causing so much distress and discomfort to the BDP. His commitment to opposition unity is unparalleled.