The BDP split: End of an era?

There is no doubt Botswana politics is entering a new era. After 44 years of de facto single party rule under the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) the party has experienced serious internal divisions over an onslaught against Barata-Phathi faction members by President Ian Khama and his allies in the A-Team.

Alleged corruption, preferential treatment skewed in favour of the A-team and failure by the BDP president to follow the party constitution are matters that have dogged the party under Khama. The feuding culminated in the announcement on Saturday that the Barata-Phathi faction has decided to bolt and form a new party. The vanguard members of the new party are suspended BDP members Botsalo Ntuane, Sidney Pilane, Kabo Morwaeng and MPs Guma Moyo, Kgosi Tawana Moremi, Winter Mmolotsi Gabriel Mangole and Mmoloki Raletobana. The rebellion signals a dramatic change in Botswana politics. With an estimated 20 MPs, the Barata-Phathi breakaway is bound to give Khama a big headache. Does he dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections? And then come elections will the new party prove to be a formidable political force?  How will it work with the opposition? Will the splinter party be able to change the face of politics in Botswana? Will Khama tone down his rigid stance on certain issues such as the alcohol levy?

The envisaged party will be presenting a list of demands for change to Khama - not that its members will consider remaining in the BDP. They just want Khama to rethink some of his strategies. Either because Khama himself decides to change or because some of his own lieutenants within the A-Team prevail on him to change, it is granted that, the challenge presented by the new party will become a catalyst for internal change within the BDP. It is clear that the new party will have representation from across the country. The delegates are unanimous in who the target of their wrath is - Khama. This is reflected in their anthem - "Saule We Saule O Mpogisetsang!" (Saul Oh Saul Why do you persecute me!) and their talk of "Mogolo (elder) who refuses to listen".

How different will the new party be from the BDP? This is a party whose members still love the BDP. Would the BDP have split if Khama had not ascended to the helm? The new party has been formed out of frustration with Khama and his style of leadership. The new party will therefore be looking to recruit members from the BDP itself - those who are disgruntled with Khama. It will be looking at getting non-aligned voters who have not been comfortable with either the current opposition parties or the BDP. Already the party has the support of seven MPs. The BDP will become the latest of the major ruling southern African parties to split. Zambia's Movement for Multiparty Democracy and the African National Congress in South Africa have already split. Already in Botswana, it has been seen how the formation of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) acutely weakened the Botswana National Front (BNF). Right now the BNF is seriously suffering from a crisis of leadership and support. Will the BDP suffer the same fate?

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