Through this write-up Real Alternative Party (RAP) seeks to probe the etiology of a political crisis within the older political parties of Botswana, with particular reference to the range of conflicts in the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). As historical materialists our political task (Real Alternative Party) is to delve beneath the surface, to unravel and understand the inner contradictions, the fundamental forces, processes, and class struggles that motivate and drive the political undertakings.
It is 2019: The campaign is underway towards the national elections in the midst of compounding disruptions and chaos incited by demagogic excess and populist caprice peddled by a distinct cohesive, oddball minority extreme challengers within the BDP. The readiness to listen to others and a firm – will to put own wishes aside seems to be of no interest between the BDP factional groupings as they stand unalterably opposed to each other. The effort by party elders to provide meaningful mediation is reported to have hit a snag. The factional divide has become so bad that both camps are resolute on tearing down the party`s brand without regard to the principle of loyalty to and affinity for BDP. Arrogance, mendacity, hypocrisy, blame-shifting and glaring self-interest is becoming the political order. On the debate stages, and everywhere else, anything goes. The contentious give-and-take of politics is seen as unnecessary and distasteful.
Relying on the local print – media reports, it seems the former President Ian Khama and President Mokgweetsi Masisi are incapable of working together on anything, even when politically and economically their interests align. We are told that, Ian Khama has come to view President Masisi as a “betrayer”, after choosing him as his most preferred successor. In a twist of events and within a short-space of time, Ian Khama has somersaulted to the extent of viewing Masisi`s use of the president’s executive orders and regulatory discretion as dictatorial. On different occasions Khama has raised and continues to raise complaints about “unfair” treatment by Masisi`s administration. Some of the complaints purported to have been raised by Khama include; refusing Khama to access the use of state – flights, removal of some staff at Khama`s public office, the refusal to hire Isaac Kgosi as the personal secretary of Ian Khama to name but a few.
Yet the gist of the matter we are informed by the press that certain secretive agreements were made and entered into between Ian Khama and Mokgweetsi Masisi during the succession transitory period and that such agreements have not been fulfilled by President Masisi. In the twist of events, Khama has now embarked on a political mission to redeem himself in defying the Masisi establishment and rail against his governance by exploring and employing several tactical trends. As the tension between Masisi and Khama unfolds, this is resulting in Masisi leading a fractured field of BDP membership.
Self-interest and addiction to unnecessary partisan feuding are the sorts of solutions that are being preferred. The anti-compromise virus is on vivid display for exploitation. The BDP of now is infested with unreasoning hostility and neurotic hatred that the right to oppose the leadership and effect motion of no-confidence on the presidency without consideration of repercussions has come into play.
However, neither Khama nor Masisi did cause the chaos. The chaos caused Khama and Masisi. For decades, the BDP through its previous presidents has allowed the demonisation and disempowerment of its “well-meaning” political professionals, career politicians, party elders and party structures. A case in point was when the late former President Ketumile Masire picked Festus Mogae to succeed him in 1998. Festus Mogae repeated history by handpicking Ian Khama to succeed him even though both Mogae and Khama did not perform active role within the BDP as they retired straight into politics from public service (they were from Public service and the army respectively). Similarly it can be argued that Masisi also somewhat benefitted from the exercise of ‘handpicking a presidential successor’, in that Ian Khama who chose Masisi to succeed him, allegedly had no “respectful” regard during his reign for party structures, especially in heeding advice from the party elders. In that light it can be argued that he, Ian Khama played a big part in reforming the internal party democracy of BDP to death.
Resultantly, the attack of intermediary party structures as unnecessary has brought into play; personal alliances, financial contributions, promotions and prestige, political perk, including endorsements of “dubious respectability”. In the place of internal party structures has arisen a burgeoning ecology of deep-pocketed donors, driving politics toward polarisation, extremism, and short-term gain. The party elders including political professionals and careers have been reduced to spectators while candidates and groups form circular campaign squads in the names of “New Jerusalem”, “CAVA” and thereby alienating general membership. Primary elections race now tend to be dominated by highly motivated extremists and interest groups. The paradoxical result is ideological polarisation. The chaotic situation has been subjected to exploitation by some savvy demagogues who can afford to make themselves heard above the din. The breakdown of BDP internal party democracy reflects the underlying reality that the very term party leaders’ has become an anachronism. What we are witnessing is only individual actors, pursuing their own political interests and ideological missions willy-nilly, like excited gas molecules in an overheated balloon. Hence, the BDP is mostly tied in knots by wannabe presidents and aspiring contestants. In real – meaning, Domkrag is going through an era of maximal individualism.
What we are seeing at Domkrag is not a temporary spasm of chaos but a chaos syndrome. Chaos syndrome is a chronic decline in the internal democracy of a political party system’s capacity for self-organisation. It begins with the weakening of the intermediary party structures including committees and the disregard of career politicians and party elders. As these intermediaries’ influence fades, party leaders, activists, and general membership all become more individualistic and unaccountable. The system atomises. Chaos becomes the new normal—both in campaigns and in the government itself.
The UDC leadership’ is not immune, either to chaotic musings. Like BDP, the UDC is navigated by a leadership which doesn’t care what their supporters and sympathisers think about their behaviour and they don’t need to care because their supporters have neither acknowledged nor cared to question the UDC about its centre-left fantasy version of politics, hence the reason its leadership functions like a self-sufficient outsider without customary political debts or party loyalty to the coalition project. Both the BDP and UDC share a commonality; their political reforms have pushed toward disintermediation—by favouring amateurs and outsiders over professionals and insiders; by privileging populism and self-expression over mediation and mutual restraint; by stripping mediators/ conveners of their advisory mandate.
All of their reforms have hijacked the entire political structures of the respective parties to promote an individualistic, atomised model of politics in which there are candidates and there are voters, but there is nothing in between. Having too much money to spend on the election race but with no political record to defend is regarded as necessary and tasteful. These older political parties no longer have either intelligible boundaries or enforceable norms, and, as a result, renegade political behaviour pays. The most pathetic political problem today is that the older parties have abandoned the establishment of their internal party democracy and this has produced more oddball and extreme challengers and thereby made politics less competitive. Demonising intermediary structures by BDP and UDC leadership has contributed to political disorganisation and amplified as well as accelerated the lack of opportunities for honest dialogue and creative give-and-take. The antagonists of party structures overlooked something important: Seniority and party structures rewarded teamwork and loyalty. The party elders and career – politicians ensured that people at the top were experienced. They brought order from chaos. They encouraged coordination, interdependency and mutual accountability. They discouraged solipsistic and antisocial political behaviour. A loyal, time-serving member of a party could expect easy nomination, financial help, promotion through the ranks of committees and leadership jobs. A turncoat or troublemaker, by contrast, could expect to encounter ostracism, marginalisation.
Politics seemed almost to organise itself but only because the party elders and career politicians recruited and nurtured political talent, vetted candidates for competence and loyalty, gathered and dispensed money, built bases of donors and supporters, forged coalitions, bought off antagonists, mediated disputes, brokered compromises, and greased the skids to turn those compromises into law. The career politicians excelled at organising and representing unsophisticated voters. They did much to stabilise the system and discouraged selfish behavior. They had a stake in assembling durable partnerships, in retaining power over time, and in keeping the government in functioning order. In essence, the role of intermediary structures is to hold politicians accountable to one another and prevent everyone in the system from pursuing naked self-interest all the time. So really, chaos syndrome impedes progress of political growth and national development as it organises to counter governing process. The more intrinsic hazard with chaotic politics is the embrace of corruption and relentless extortion – peddling, which is the real problem in the now unfolding political disagreements. In the final analysis demonising and disempowering party intermediaries, career politicians and party elders, is like spending decades abusing and attacking your own immune system. Eventually, you will get sick! Reversing the spiral will require observing and respecting party intermediaries, treating all constituents fairly (being the leader of all of the people), and fighting against the pernicious in-group, out-group bias by focusing on shared identity. Responding in a hostile way only serves to aggravate situation and does not augur well in the transformation of the political development of Botswana and if not checked can lead to acts of deadly conflicts and regretful repercussions.
Good leadership demands taking stalk of seeing things with openness and the possibility that things can be resolved positively. Self-appraisal is a as it helps one consider his/her flaws or ignorance. Applying tolerance even at the tragic moment of discomfort and difficulty, demonstrates emotional and rational maturity. The nature of democracy as a trade-off must also be accepted; no one can have everything they want and therefore disappointments must be tolerated in order for the entirety of the politics to function. Personal craven agendas including corruption, populism, individualism, royal absolutism, intra-dynastic struggle and political nihilism deserve no respect or accommodation in Botswana politics!
Real Alternative Party