Dead end for BNF and Umbrella

Members of the Botswana National Front (BNF) half filled Morwa Community Hall last Saturday to ponder on ways to compel the party leadership to have all BNF candidates to contest 2014 general elections under the BNF ticket instead of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). Attendants of the meeting which included the party’s ideologues, veterans, academics, lawyers, councillors and ordinary activists took a swipe at the BNF president Duma Boko for failing the party.

The entourage, which said it was dismayed by news reports that BNF candidates will use umbrella symbol which bears no party symbols, also wants answers from the Central Committee on why the November resolution to use a BNF symbol for 2014 has not been implemented.
The meeting which lasted for hours was chaired by former Youth League president and chairman of Kgatleng District Council, Tona Mooketsi. The Gazette team spoted senior party members in the vicinity among them University of Botswana academics Professor Monageng Mogalakwe and Dr Letshwiti Tutwane, Bontleng Councillor in Gaborone Central constituency Olebogeng Kemelo, attorney Dumezweni Mthimkhulu, Youth League publicity secretary Malatsi Mokhubame and other party activists from different constituencies.

Attendants who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity said they have resolved to write a letter to the party president and the central committee to seek answers and that they will hold their second meeting in Gaborone on the date yet to be announced where all constituencies will be represented.

“Botswana Democratic Party is going to win all the constituencies and Botswana Congress Party will come second in all the constituencies. We are leaving the electorates with no choice but to vote BDP or BCP. It took us 45 years to sell the BNF brand but still electorates preferred the BDP; how then is it possible to sell the Umbrella for nine months and expect a miracle to happen,” said an aggrieved party elder who attended the meeting.  The veteran said their house to house campaigns have revealed that Batswana do not know anything about the Umbrella. “Boko does not even have a campaign team and he cannot win any constituency” he lashed at the party president.

BNF secretary general Tapiso Kgosikoma said the party was not aware of the Morwa meeting, “it is hard for me to comment about the meeting because I do not know what was discussed at that meeting. All BNF members understand the process to be followed to air their views. If a resolution was taken by congress only the congress has the power to change such a resolution. We have an agreement with other umbrella parties that need to be respected and there is no member who can change that,’ he said.

Kgosikoma denied that the central committee meeting in November resolved that the Umbrella parties will use BNF symbol to contest the 2014 general elections. “I really do not understand their case, maybe it will be right if the party waits for them to forward their grievances then we can take it from there,” said Kgosikoma.

Contacted for comment, Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) secretary general Wynter Mmolotsi said, “We as the Umbrella parties discuss issues under the Umbrella platform at meetings arranged by the Umbrella. We will be having a meeting arranged by the Umbrella parties’ central committees on the 18th in Francistown where some of these issues will be discussed. I have to acknowledge that members of the parties from different constituencies are entitled to their views.”
Mmolotsi said that while some members of the BNF, BMD and Botswana Peoples Party dislike the umbrella model, the arrangement has been adopted by the parties congresses and consequently binding on members.
“The UDC project may be useless at the end of the day. The project days might be numbered and if it fails completely it means that the three parties are going to separate and when they separate they divide the vote leading to a weak opposition in 2014,” political analyst Lesole Machacha observed .

It remains to be seen whether the BNF will split as it had multiple times before because of intra-party feuds and factionalism. A major split occurred in 1994 when Botswana Congress Party (BCP) was formed. The party has also produced splinters such as the United Socialist Party (PUSO); the Social Democratic Party (SDP); the Botswana Workers’ Party (BWP); the Botswana Labour Party (BLP); the BCP; and the National Democratic Front (NDF).

In the past,  the party has stood by its leader in difficult circumstances. BNF founder, Kenneth Koma ruled the party for decades and survived numerous internal squabbles and splits until he voluntarily retired. His successor, Otsweletse Moupo survived a special congress meant to oust him and refused to go even though he was embattled and the party had lost ground, losing half of its constituencies in 2009. Already the current leader, Boko has won many battles and has flushed out dissidents including his erstwhile Vice President, Secretary General, Deputy Secretary General and other key members of the BNF politburo.