BDP did not ‘ bless’ Hon Arone

 If Messrs Kavindama, Nshimwe and Toto who remained opposition even after enjoying CEDA never  faced accusations of being  bought, why should Hon Arone  be treated diff erently?

It is inconceivable that the art of  political  craft  can  be transacted  without  propaganda. Since  time immemorial  the two  have been  bridesmaids  and so  it  shall  be so until  the end of politics.
I am minded   to  reflect  on  the  use  and effect  of  propaganda  in the  current  round of  floor  crossing  and  defections. This phenomenon  has been  part of  our  political  culture and  if one were  to view  it with less  jaundiced  glasses,  the vibrancy  of our democracy owes  in  part  to  the  freedom  to   switch  parties,  whether   the defector  is  an unknown  foot soldier or an elected  representative  at  the  level  of  legislator.  Every  round  of defection is  met  with  hoots of glee  from the receiving entity  and  howls of  derision  from those left  bereft. It is a phenomenon that  evokes an  almost  formulaic response only   to  settle  down  until  the  next episode. That  is how politics rolls  in Botswana and it is  best  left  this way.
Be  that  as it may  it is  necessary  to  correct  a certain narrative, amounting to  propaganda, which  if  left to blossom  might  assume  the status  of  fact. After all  it  was  Josef Goebbels, that infamous  Nazi  practitioner  of propaganda  who  ventured  that  a lie  repeated often enough becomes the truth. Last  weekend  the BDP  received into its  fold  the Okavango lawmaker Bagalatia Arone  following   a period  of frenetic  speculation   if indeed  he  would serve  divorce papers  on   BCP, the  party  on whose ticket  he  had  been returned  for a second term to  parliament. As  per  formula  when the defection  occurred, BDP   was in celebratory mood  and  naturally  the  other  side  was  downcast. But  in seeking to  come to  terms  with Hon Arone’s  defection,  besides  the  barrage of   abuse   to which he has been subjected,  a consistent  refrain from  opposition  activists  and spokespersons was that  he, to use a trending term, has been ‘blessed’ by  his  new  party. Since  last  year,  mainly  precipitated  by  disagreements over how  to approach the so called  umbrella  project,  BDP  has  attracted  new  members  from the  opposition, mainly  BCP.
Almost  without exception the  defectors   have been  dismissed  as  purchasable  elements  who are only  embracing the ruling  party because  of the  music  of  hunger   growling  in their  bellies.  As  a method of  propaganda  this tactic  is  meant  to  demean  the defectors   as   politicians lacking  in principle and hence only  worthy  only of public opprobrium and  contempt. Obviously  this  approach is also  meant to salve  the  wounds of  activists  of the  party  jilted. Further  it  makes  for  a  simple  explanation because   anyone upset by  the defection  can  spew the propaganda  with abandon and with no  need  for corroboration. In this  game of  musical chairs,  BDP  also  experiences  the heartbreak of  activists including  elected representatives decamping  to  the opposition. Not  on a single  day  has  the  party  ever  accused  any of them  of being  blessed.  In fact    if  not  remaining  silent in the face of loss,  the ruling  party, except in rare instances, would rather express  regret  at  the departure  of a valued member, no matter how lowly their standing in the organisation  and wish them well  in future endeavours.
We  look  to political  scientists  to explain  why  the opposition  goes all ballistic with  insults and abuse when suffering losses  to  BDP, and yet  the  latter  does  not  react  in similar  fashion. It could  be a case of  political   maturity  and a recognition on the part of BDP that  where  freedom of  association is entrenched  in the  constitution,   movement  of  functionaries  between parties  is  a defining  fabric  of our  democracy. The reality  is  politicians  defect  for  a  myriad  of reasons  including disaffection  with their   erstwhile parties, ideological  and personality differences, aftershocks of internal  power contests and  of course  better  career  prospects  in an alternative  organisation.  For instance current efforts  at  mounting a combined umbrella against  BDP  in 2019 by  ideologically diverse parties, some of whom can hardly see eye to eye,   is all about massification  of numbers which in turn  increases  possibilities of attaining power  with its enhanced career prospects. All else  that  is  being said  is propaganda. So  the  narrative  that  suggests every defector  to BDP  has been  blessed  is  a self serving  tactic  that obviates  the  need   to  confront  much more fundamental  push factors  prevalent  in  the opposition.
In the past  the argument  was that  BDP has a pile  of cash  which  it distributes to  defectors. This assertion  could  not  bear scrutiny  because  many  who  defect to the ruling  party  remain  in the  same  personal circumstances as many  ordinary BDP  members. In any case  as   a Friday  newspaper  just reported, BDP  also  struggles to  pay its bills. Where would it get the  money  to bless  all  the  hundreds of    defectors  making way  into  the fold. Anyway, when this propaganda  became too  weak to sustain,  a fresh fig leaf put forward was that  government  empowerment  schemes is the  new currency  used to  lure defectors. Again  not true. Since  it achieved  the  level of economic  development  to practise  a form of social  democracy  with its attendant  welfare   state, BDP  government  has  remained  committed  to  the principle  of  providing  equal opportunities  to Batswana. This is irrespective of any sectarian consideration  including  party affiliation.
Every single  voice  accusing Hon Arone  of being bought  are themselves  beneficiaries  of BDP public and social policies  which have never been denied to  them  because  they belong in  opposition.  That  is  how Botswana, at  least  under BDP works. The fact  that   somebody  joins BDP, applies for  a government  scheme, and in the process qualifies for the assistance  does not  translate  into  being bought. Any Motswana at  any time can apply  for  these schemes. Since the advent  of  the developmental welfare   state,  no citizen has been turned away  from  applying for  a scheme  because  they  are   in opposition. On the  inverse  many BDP  supporters  have  failed in their  bid  for empowerment packages but they  have never thrown toys out of  the cot  and  left  for the opposition. So why did Hon Arone join BDP?
In his own words at  a rally in Ramotswa  his departure  was informed  by a desire  to  embrace  a more positive  and affirmative  form of politics  against  the negativity   and see  no good, hear no good and deny all good grievance politics  of  the opposition. Surely  a man  is allowed   his Damascene  experience just as others  believe  their road  to Damascus  is  leaving  the BDP and  joining  the opposition. All is fair in love and  war. Let’s then turn to the question;  has Hon Arone benefitted    from  a  government scheme? The man himself  says  its public  knowledge  that  he applied  and received assistance from CEDA  like  many other Batswana  for a tourism  project. Now is   this act of citizen economic empowerment  on the  part  of the BDP  government   the juicy carrot  that led to  his  departure?  Past evidence doesn’t bear this theory  out. For instance the late  Hon Kavindama  who was  legislator  for Okavango  in his lifetime also  benefitted  from   CEDA  for  a tourism project. Given that opposition lawmakers  seem fond of  the hospitality sector, Hon Toto  who represented Kgalagadi South  in the past parliament  also took a CEDA  loan  to establish  a lodge.
Another  former legislator  from the 10th parliament, Hon Nshimwe who represented  Chobe, a constituency  neighbouring  Okavango stated  on record  in parliament  that he  has benefitted  from CEDA  for a tourism project, as indeed is his right  as a Motswana. This is precisely what BDP wants all opposition beneficiaries of empowerment  schemes  to say  and  by so doing encourage  their supporters  to follow  suit. If Messrs Kavindama, Nshimwe and Toto who remained opposition even after enjoying CEDA never  faced accusations of being  bought, why should Hon Arone  be treated differently? The  answer is  self serving  propaganda because  in this round  of defections  the pendulum  swung the other way.   Therefore Hon Arone  is not a blessee.
Botsalo Ntuane
*Botsalo Ntuane is BDP Secretary General