Opposition cooperation: shuttle diplomacy required

SHARE   |   Tuesday, 02 August 2016   |   By Adam Phetlhe
Opposition cooperation: shuttle diplomacy required

The 2014 General Elections have shown through the results of some constituencies that had opposition parties contested under the umbrella, they would have won these constituencies. Recognising this fact, it was announced by these parties that cooperation talks would start like yesterday to initiate and set in motion cooperation talks. But lo and behold, nothing serious and tangible seems to have unfold at least this far. Let us discuss the sustainability of coalition government in Botswana in particular and Africa in general. There has never been a coalition government in this country and if such could be formed, it will be the first of its kind. One would have expected therefore that this being the case, opposition parties would by now be miles ahead in talks with particular emphasis on visiting countries like Germany and the Netherlands where coalitions have reportedly existed with some measure of “stability and success” for sometimes, to benchmark. This would be helpful in terms of managing political differences which could potentially derail coalition, addressing the issue of ministerial and other key government appointments and related matters. We are aware for example that constituency allocation was one of the key impediments which contributed to the collapse of cooperation pre-2014 elections.

One may justifiably argue that these parties are competently and sufficiently endowed with human capital and expertise to deal with coalition challenges. Fair enough. But I will argue that this has to, in large measure, be complemented by external, tried and tested players of the game again for the simple reason that Botswana has never had a coalition government. Again and looking at past attempts to make cooperation tick, even the involvement of the conveners couldn’t help the situation. The reason why single party governments like that of the BDP are generally stable – in the context that government business is not hampered by disagreements in the party – is largely to do with such parties having a single political ideology, not having to consult another partner on government business and so on. Even if there is a smaller ideological distance between cooperation parties, it cannot be taken for granted. In Africa, so many coalitions have failed notably in Lesotho and Zimbabwe. Even if they lasted, government machinery is often moving at a snail’s pace or none at all with the biggest losers being citizens. Coalition governments require a lot of sacrifices since not all wishes will be met and based on the fact that cooperation talks are still to begin, it may reasonably be assumed that the usual movie may very well be about to show.   

The political quagmire Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) finds itself in is another major stumbling block which could potentially derail the umbrella project and by extension provide the BDP with much needed lease of life. In fact, the BDP prays day and night that the status quo remains for if the umbrella project succeeds, it (BDP) will have to prepare to occupy different seats in parliament. Given the critical importance of the BMD, one would have expected some form of shuttle diplomacy to brake the quagmire notwithstanding that the party has its own instruments to do so – the point is that the current status quo, if not dealt with ASAP, may have dire unintended consequences. The opposition is alive to this. Given the mammoth task of ticking all the right boxes to achieve opposition cooperation and the little time between now and 2019, it appears critical issues pertaining thereto may not be adequately deliberated upon, fine-tuned and endorsed – the result of which will be such cooperation highly susceptible to collapse. This will give credence to the statement that “coalition governments have a tendency to be fractious and prone to disharmony”.

BCP has expressed commitment to be under the umbrella shade but it appears the umbrella is blown away by the wind, man-made or natural. The seemingly apparent indecisiveness in the urgency of cooperation by UDC has justifiably, in my view, prompted BCP youth league to, if you like, press the panic buttons. BNF recently held its elective congress where the cooperation issue would have been prominent. I tried to find out if this was discussed but couldn’t find such from media reports. My apologies if I somehow missed it.  My point is that given how painfully slow cooperation talks are “moving” and the many critical issues to be discussed and agreed upon within the limited time frame; given the past history of how previous talks collapsed under almost similar circumstances and environment; and given the slow and timid response to extinguishing BMD fires, the forefinger may very well be on the replay button for us to watch the movie we have previously watched. It may be argued that there are behind-the-scene efforts dealing with the cooperation talks and other related issues but even if this is the case, nothing really demonstrates it because those whose bodies and soul are religiously attached to the project wouldn’t be publicly showing their discomfort. I have always argued and concluded that opposition parties are the sole architects of their own misfortune and downfall because they allow their weaknesses to outweigh their strengths to their detriment. Public sympathy could be on the way to desert you because you have, with respect, played a “victim card” for so long.

Adam Phetlhe    
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