When the UDC was founded some of us were apparently fooled into thinking that we were pursuing the idea of a United Front which has always been a BNF strategy of bringing about genuine independence to this country by mobilizing all democratic and patriotic forces. I personally dismissed as a conspiracy theory what some BNF members told me that the leadership of the three parties, the BNF, BMD and BPP had a grand plan to eventually make the UDC a political party that would substitute for their disparate political organizations. Only now is it becoming clear that indeed while the rank and file members of the BNF had a in mind a United Front some of their leaders had a grand plan of ultimately disbanding the BNF and or merging it with the BMD and BPP. The proposal of a merger has caused something of a stir within the BNF membership who clearly understand that in the fight against imperialism, neo-colonialism and the remnants of feudalism disbanding the BNF has never been and will never be an option. Clearly, our leadership failed the test of accountability to their members on this score.
The main purpose of this article is not try and rekindle the debate per se but to draw the attention of the BNF members, particularly its leadership, to the time-test position of the party on the United Front. This position dates back to 1965 when the BNF was founded and therefore it is absolutely unacceptable for the BNF leadership to be either ignorant or oblivious of it. My views against a political merger were clearly articulated I an article in penned in response to a statement made by the late Gomolemo Motswaledi to the effect that in 2015 the congresses of the three UDC parties will meet and decide whether to merge into one political party (see Sunday Standard , 0109/2013). Let me add that further details on my objection to a merger will be carried by my forthcoming book titled, In Defense of the BNF: Volume One.
Subsequently, I wrote several newspaper articles designed to help the founders of the UDC to consummate the organization as a United Front. None of that advice was taken on board, and strictly speaking, the UDC is not structured or constituted as a United Front. Though BNF is numerically the biggest party in the UDC its leadership within the UDC is at best, far too weak, and at worst, non-existent, not least because the leadership is not focused on strengthening the BNF. The fact that UDC campaigned for the 2014 general election on the basis of a liberal manifesto which was completely silent on traditional BNF policies, including Social Democratic policies endorsed by all three cooperating parties, was clearly indicative of a grand plan to dismantle the BNF.
Regarding the so-called UDC manifesto I must take this opportunity to set the record straight, regarding my role or the lack of it. I deliberately ignored this matter during the campaign because I wanted us to stay focused on fighting the BDP. With elections gone I must clarify my position. The general impression BNF members were given was that I was part of the team that wrote the UDC manifesto. As a matter of fact, I was part of the team that negotiated and wrote UDC policies, not the so-called UDC election manifesto. The UDC policies were not even used to write the UDC manifesto. The two documents are poles apart. Some comrades go to the extent of accusing me for the liberal so-called UDC manifesto because it is alleged that after being invited to join the manifesto team I walked out. Nothing could be further from the truth - I was not invited to join the UDC manifesto team, which, to all intents and purposes, was apparently single-handedly authored by the BMD. Those behind these maneuvers reckoned that it would be easier to persuade the BNF members to disband their party had UDC won the elections on a banner that was not even BNF. How can the BNF leadership be focused on defending the BNF when their ultimate aim is to disband it? Consequently, it is ironical that while the United Front is a BNF concept as a political party we are losing ground to other parties within UDC. The BNF leadership lacks the basic understanding of the United Front and the fact that to strengthen UDC they must concentrate more on strengthening their party (the BNF), and not UDC. And as a matter of principle all BNF members must be BNF first and only UDC second. Some of them have confused loyalties.
When article 8.4 of the UDC constitution states that ‘the structures, authority and powers of group members of the Umbrella shall be subordinate to the power and authority of the Umbrella’ it effectively establishes the UDC not only as a political party, but a super political party whose authority cannot be challenged by the individual Central Committees of the BNF, BMD and BPP. This article runs counter to the principle of a United Front. Furthermore, Article 3.3 defines the Umbrella ‘a registered political party’ and yet none of the central committees of the three cooperating parties was mandated by their congresses to form a new ‘political party’. On the contrary the BNF Mochudi Congress resolution of 2010 was loud and clear in mandating its Central Committee to go and negotiate some form of cooperation with other parties subject to one fundamental condition – never to compromise the ‘soul’ or political integrity of the BNF. The other anti-United Front clause is Article 7 on the Individual Member. A party is formed by individual members hence this article. To the best of my recollection BNF members at different fora rejected the idea of individual membership of the UDC. In Botswana everybody is free to form a party of their choice. What is unacceptable is for some people to mischievously try to form a new party at the expense of the BNF. Again why is the UDC constitution already operational before it is formally adopted and debated by party structures?
In its headline story titled ‘UDC partners may merge in 2015’ Mmegi, (June 11, 2013) reported that, ‘The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) will hold a congress in 2015 to determine its destiny, president of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), Gomolemo Motswaledi has said. He told Mmegi that at the congress, the UDC partners, BMD, BNF and BPP will decide whether to merge and form one party or maintain the status quo. Motswaledi is UDC secretary general’. This statement by Motswaledi has now been fully restated by the UDC (see Sunday Standard 15/03/2015 ) which envisions the holding of the last congresses of the three parties before the 2019 general elections and their merger into a single party .
At the just ended BNF Leadership Forum the proposal to disband the BNF and merge it with the BMD and BPP was formally presented as an agenda item but without proper consultation of the general membership. The agenda item only vaguely stated ‘UDC- the Way Forward’ as an item to be motivated by the Central Committee. The BNF Constitution is silent on how much time the Central Committee must give members to mull over agenda items and no accompanying notes are provided for members to know exactly what the items are about The tendency to give members short notice is part of the strategy of stifling debate so that the ideas of the leadership should prevail. Thankfully, although BNF members were ambushed they were vigilant enough – they actively deliberated on the matter in three groups and unanimously rejected it outright, including the proposal to have a shared office of the three cooperating parties. A shared office would have been one step towards merging the parties – exactly what BNF members do not want. There was not one dissenting voice from the floor. So far so good, but I suspect that this non-issue will again rear its ugly head at the July conference and it must again suffer tissue rejection.
What then is the position of the BNF on the United Front as expressed in the basic document of the party, Pamphlet Number 1? We quote lberally from Pamphlet Number 1 in order to illustrate this critically important point. After describing the modern petty bourgeoisie or ‘Elites by education’ Dr Koma provides this advice regarding the United Front; ‘From this characterization, it is clear that the section of the Botswana nation which forms the basic force in the United Front should maintain its autonomy within the Botswana National Front’ (page 26). Here Dr Koma had in mind the ultimate assumption of the working class leadership of the Botswana National Front that the founders of the BNF envisaged – maintaining their organizational and ideological independence both within the BNF and the broad United Front of democratic and patriotic forces. This was considered impossible by the founders of the BNF in 1965 because, as Dr Koma goes on to explain,
‘their class consciousness is as yet non-existent. They are not politically organized and where there is some nucleus organization, they have fallen under the influence of the pro-colonialist International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. It is obvious that unless and until it can join the United Front as a force independent from the political parties, the working class in Botswana cannot and will not play the role of a basic force in the United Front. And it is obvious that without a working class ideology, the working class in Botswana will remain on the level of trade unionism – concerned with wages and conditions of service’ (page 26).
Getting to the crux of the matter Dr Koma states that;
‘They (the basic force in the United Front) should unite with their allies in the national democratic front (currently these are the BMD and BPP, to some extent BOFEPUSO), but they should not merge, except under very exceptional conditions favourable to the independence of their orientation. This means that while we are certainly for unity, we are not for a merger. We are not for a single party. Here we disagree with those protagonists of national unity who disseminate the thesis that it is in interests of the struggle that in all cases there should be only one party. We are for independence and autonomy within the United Front. We reject the one party system as a general panacea’ (page 23).
The quotation above is the central message of this article. The BNF leadership must be fighting for the independence and autonomy of the BNF within the UDC, not a merger. I have no doubt in my mind that had Dr Koma not met his untimely demise and managed to compete his book, The Vietnamese Experience of the United Front he would have driven this massage further home on the concept and application of the strategy of a United Front. It is however reassuring to learn that one comrade is working hard at trying to get this book completed and published. We look forward to reading it.
Since a proper United Front requires working class leadership Dr Koma then sounds this warning, mainly to the revolutionary intellectuals and the class consciousness working class, on the dangers of lack of a working class leadership of both the BNF and the national democratic front,
‘We submit that form the elements which constitute the basic force of the United Front not to have their own party or organization, not to maintain the purity of their orientation, is to condemn the whole movement to the pace of a snail and to obscure the fact that the national democratic front is an organizational weapon for specific tasks at a specific phase of the movement… for the basic force to join the United Front without their organization is like a general who shouts hysterical slogans about going to the battle when he has neither a gun nor an army’ (page 23).
The current BNF leadership is absolutely nothing about this second and admittedly difficult condition for a successful United Front. Surely any BNF leader who has read and internalized these words cannot make the suicidal mistake of trying to persuade his party to disband so that UDC becomes their party. But these are not just mere words because in its practice or attempt to forge a national democratic front with other democratic and patriotic the BNF (with the exception of the current leadership) consistently applied these principles. We do not seem to learn any lessons from our past. An important historical point that merits our attention at this juncture is that from the Peoples Patriotic Front (PPF) of 1991, to the Botswana Alliance Movement (BAM) of 1999, through to the much looser Electoral Pact of 2003 (with the exception of the UDC of 2012 within which the BNF leadership is inclined towards a merger) the BNF has consistently opted for a United Front which guarantees and protects its organizational independence and autonomy as a party within the national united front of other democratic and patriotic forces. In all attempts at forging a united front with other parties the BNF has steered clear of a merger because ideological differences between these parties cannot be wished away. When other parties started calling for a political merger the PPF and BAM collapsed because as far as the BNF leadership of that time was concerned they had crossed the red line. Today it is the rank file who are to the left of their leadership as demonstrated by their historic resolution at the Leadership Forum. This is exactly what the BNF congress resolution of 2010 sanctioning talks that led to UDC meant when it mandated negotiations with other political parties subject to one condition – ‘not to sell the soul of the BNF’. Tragically, it is not only the ‘ soul’ of the BNF that is threatened but the party’s very existence is under threat, and most ironically, from the very people entrusted with the role of leading and defending it! Given this state of affairs it is important to emphasize that it is the bounden duty of every BNF member to stand up and be counted and do everything in their power to defend their party so that the sacrifices of so many comrades, dead and living, were not in vain.