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 is BDP Secretary General