Whither BPF?

Apart from ousting President Mokgweetsi Masisi almost by any means necessary, what does the country’s newfangled political outfit, the Botswana Patriotic Front, really stand for? A closer look reveals a disappointing little. As illustrated here, it is a party of people with diverse interests whose spiritual leader, Ian Khama, has suggested that the party was formed to destabilise Masisi and the BDP, writes TEFO PHEAGE

Even before its maiden launch this coming Saturday, the newly-formed Botswana Patriotic Front already has a sizeable number of sitting councillors despite never having gone to the polls. Inspite of this rare achievement, some posit that the party is nothing but a cabal of frustrated politicians who may disband after this election, should the BDP win.

The BPF’s spiritual leader, former president Ian Khama, is clear that it is about ousting President Mokgweetsi Masisi whom he accuses of betraying him. In this Khama is flanked by like-minded troops, albeit with many different agendas. Some are after Khama’s money, some want to ride on his popularity and influence for self gain, some yet are slaves of tribal territory while others owe Khama their allegiance for standing by their side in times of need. It is an intriguing association.

The BPF was founded by people who fell out with the electorate and Masisi. Some had lodged complaints with the party hoping for a miracle but did not get relief while some were sidelined as a result of change of leadership. The party has already destabilised the BDP and indications are that victory is not as certain as before.

The BPF was registered recently and is led by the MP for Tati West, Biggie Butale, who cut his teeth in politics in 2014. He lost the BDP primaries to Simon Moabi by a margin of 500. Other notable politicians said to be BPF members have chosen to remain faceless under the comfort of a wait-and-see approach. One of these is Tshekedi, Ian Khama’s younger brother whom many had expected to become the BPF’s first MP alongside Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi who has always maintained that she is BDP. There is also Guma Moyo and Prince Maele who seem to be shunning the BPF.

But what really does BPF stand for? There is nothing really much to tell about this apart from ousting Masisi. As already illustrated, it is a party hosting people with diverse interests. Its spiritual leader, Khama, suggests that the party was formed to destabilise the BDP and to fix Masisi. This is clear where Khama even pledges to support other opposition candidates to prop them up and increase their electoral chances against the BDP. The party has not yet released its manifesto which could provide hints regarding its ideology and priorities, if any. Many political observers are looking forward to the manifesto to compare how Khama wants Botswana under the BPF and how he wanted Botswana under the BDP. Interestingly, Khama was tipped to be the BDP campaign leader before his fallout with Masisi.

The nagging question, therefore, is what will happen to the BPF if Masisi wins? In Botswana, as in many other African countries, opposition parties become more active only during election seasons and disappear when the elections are over. Khama seems to have invested handsomely in these elections in order to heal his bruised ego. Should Khama lose, he would have been dealt a heavy blow that could even affect his health. The former army commander may at this time heed widespread advice to disengage and enjoy his retirement while building his philanthropic image and legacy.

It is not only Khama who would be confronted with a harsh reality of life, so will the other who may find themselves isolated and politically irrelevant under a party that has not stood the test of time. History has shown that opposition politics is a no-go area for those who have been with a ruling party. Many choose to go back while some vanish into oblivion. Others, like Venson-Moitoi, do not have the stamina to run a new opposition party which may in turn eat into their hard-earned retirement packages.

BPF spokesperson Roseline Pansirah has defended the party’s formation, saying the BPF is not BDP and should be judged on what it brings to the table. “Our focus is on growing and sustaining the party,” she says. “We have a sound manifesto that shall speak to Batswana after it is launched. We shall call a press conference on Tuesday to discuss a lot of matters to clear a lot of issues.”

But can the BPF survive without Khama? Most opposition parties are established around personalities and usually lack a strong base and experience. Without Khama, his influence and money, the BPF’s chances of survival are minimal. It is worth noting that most people have joined the party in support of the Kgosi-Kgolo, as Khama is famously called by his tribal subjects, and push the “Eseng mo go Kgosikgolo” slogan. Yet the BPF may, like other frail opposition parties, seek refuge under the opposition coalition of the Umbrella for Democratic Change. But the opposition parties in the UDC have a proven record of failure to take a unified stand. The collapse of opposition alliances and their failure to agree on models of cooperation have resulted in the parties splitting the vote, thus posing no electoral threat to the BDP.