The disruptive force of the Serowe Consensus (Part 1)

The Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) has successfully pushed the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) out of its historic stronghold in Serowe.

Garnering three parliamentary seats in all the Serowe constituencies, BPF has essentially made history, becoming the first political party to unanimously defeat and oust all BDP candidates for parliamentary seats.

This first of many unique outcomes from this election, makes the 2019 poll a historic one in and of itself. The party has also won a few seats at local government level in Serowe, Nata East, Mosetse, Mmeya/ Mokubilo and Mokoboxane.

There are many factors that we need to dissect to understand what really happened. Chief amongst them, is former president Ian Khama who launched the single most lethal attack to the BDP’s legitimacy and sustained dominance in Serowe and other parts of the country.

Khama intentionally targeted the Central District and far rural areas because he understood his domain and his sphere of influence. His history combined with his family history and direct ties to the Serowe crown have for years rendered the Khamas and the BDP untouchable in most Central District constituencies, and even more in Serowe.

The Serowe constituency is not just made up of the mainland Serowe village. It includes neighbouring villages that have fallen under the proxy of the Bangwato tribe. These include Mmashoro, Moiyabana, Thabala, Paje, Dimajwe, Malatswai and so many others.

Essentially, most of these areas are very small villages that double as farms and cattle posts. The populations are largely underprivileged with limited access to full developments such as education, healthcare and any other modern amenities that urban dwellers enjoy.

In addition, cultural and royal sentiments run high. Loyalty to the throne is and has always been a conservative typical Mongwato’s source of pride.

Khama knows and understands this, which is why the ‘eseng mo go Kgosikgolo’ brand kicked off and spread like wildfire to appeal to the innate compassion and love that his subjects carry for him.

Even though the institution of Bogosi has suffered huge blows to its credibility and relevance over the last decades, those who are culturally nostalgic, still bear a sense of pride in it and will go to any lengths to protect it.

The Serowe vote, therefore, was an easy sell for Ian Khama. The majority do not vote on the basis of policy issues, economic conditions or whatsoever, but on whether a candidate has the backing of ‘The Crown’, and this makes for a very easy voter to sway. 

The BDP lost Serowe because the ‘Serowe Consensus’ viewed the party as working against the Crown. The Khamas made a case that the BDP’s new leadership was hungry for power, and that an attack on the Khamas was an attack on the whole morafe.

In the case of Tshekedi Khama, his calculated late departure from the BDP played a huge factor. He painted his sudden departure as a ‘crisis of conscience’, a path he could not bear to walk on anymore.

This essentially crippled the BDP’s ability to recover in the short amount of time that remained. Kgotla Autlwetse’s defeat also came as an expected surprise.

It would be remiss to argue that Autlwetse was an exceptional legislator by modern standards, but he also was not a terrible one either. However, the truth is BDP candidates were a collateral in the BPF’s raging war to completely oust the BDP from Serowe.

The outcome of the Serowe vote does not deduce that the BDP’s history of governance in that constituency was necessarily bad or ineffective, (even if it was), but simply that it did not identify with the proxy powers and interests that be.

Also, the lack of a solid political ideology and identity within Botswana politics in general, makes the majority of the vote susceptible to easy sway and influence from strongman politics and specific interests.

In the same breath, this is not to say that the entire Serowe constituency is politically homogenous. There are still strong BDP and other party loyalists in Serowe who have the ability to filter loyalty to Bogosi and vote on policy issues or on loyalty to the party.

It is also valid that there are many who genuinely buy into Masisi’s vision and philosophy of a new dawn. The BDP simply did not have the numbers and the time to establish a strong footing to counter and resist the entrance of BPF into their domain.

Everything happened so quickly and the BDP could not counter it quickly enough to divorce Khama’s emotional sentiment from the vote.

In essence, BDP found itself sandwiched between proxy wars in the Central District by an emerging strongly backed BPF and a hungry looming Umbrella revolution in Palapye, Shoshong, Mahalapye, Sefhare/ Ramokgonami and Bobonong. 

From a strategic point of view, the ‘Khama magic’ worked, but the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) also put up a good fight. Khama campaigned for the UDC in Ngami and Okavango and the party emerged victorious in those constituencies.

UDC also won Mahalapye, Shoshong, Bobonong, Sefhare/Ramokgonami, and Nkange, all places where Khama set foot.

To the credit of the Umbrella, Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and opposition in general have always had strong ties in the Maun and Ngami areas because of veteran politicians like Gilson Saleshando and Motsamai Mpho.

Dumelang Saleshando was guaranteed a win from the onset. He has always had a good brand as a legislator and politician, and he is just a good man who is easy to sell as a viable political alternative.

But more importantly, the UDC easily made a clean sweep in Ngami, Maun and Okavango because they fielded a very carefully selected, well respected crop of intellectual Ngami natives who have had illustrious careers and have firm roots and ties in those communities.

The Saleshando name coupled with Saleshando’s record in Parliament and Kenny Kapinga’s illustrious career in the Police Service and as a diplomat.

In addition, across the country, spanning from Nkange to Bobonong to Sefhare/ Ramokgonami, the Umbrella had a very esteemed combination of well-respected public intellectuals in former union leader Goretetse Kekgonegile; Never Tshabang, Taolo Lucas, Kesitegile Gobotswang, and the young Yandani Boko in Mahalapye. These easily made for irresistible political alternatives.

Khama’s influence may not have necessarily been as effective in these areas as it was in Serowe, but it helped to a significant degree.

The BDP had also grown less popular, and even with the growing resentment against Khama, it did not seem to matter as the focus was more on what the candidates themselves brought to the table courtesy of the Umbrella project. Why were these factors different in the South of Dibete?

*Bakang Ntshingane is a graduate student at Chonbuk National University’s Department of International Trade in South Korea

Editor's Comment
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