The Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) has just emerged from the most grueling and bruising battle with itself. Many of its members have been emotionally hurt and discouraged by the events leading to the party Congress in Bobonong and the violence that ensued on the day of the Congress. In the aftermath, there has also surfaced, disturbing rumours pointing to the possibility of losses of the majority of its sitting councilors to the newly formed party, and to some UDC contracting parties. In light of the above, it is necessary to send a cautionary message as well as set the record straight with regards to this one aspect of the BMD saga.
Let me preface my submission with a brief assessment of the context within which all these feelings of disappointment and uncertainty amongst BMD members developed. It must be noted (and this has been stated many times before) that the problems currently engulfing the BMD have their roots in the failure of some among our numbers to accept the results of the Gantsi Elective Congress. Those who had lost at the Congress quickly held on-the-side meetings and resolved among other things (a) not to accept the results, (b) to do everything in their power to render the elected NEC dysfunctional and ensure that it would not last six months in office. They were confident that with the support of the then BMD president, their mission would come to fruition with relative ease.
So intense was personal thirst for political glory that the ensuing rejection of Congress outcomes quickly escalated into a protracted and disgraceful crisis that culminated in the Matshekge debacle. It is thus, important to point out categorically that the Matshekge ‘battle’ was only a culmination of events, actions, inaction, indifference, physical scuffles, and vociferous verbal attacks. All these were indicative of an acute lack of perceptive leadership between the 2015 BMD Congress and the 2017 Congress. As a result, those of our members who did not subscribe to the principle of Strong Institutions but embraced the notion of Strong Man have since left the BMD to form a new political party. This sad and painful development has caused confusion and alarm within our ranks. However, it should be noted that not all those who were aggrieved by the protracted infighting within the BMD have left the party. Some of those remaining are amongst the people that are struggling with questions of whether to stay in the party or to look for a new political home. Undeniably and unfortunately, these include some councilors and some senior people in the various party structures.
I must admit that some councilors have indicated to me that they have joined the new party. I wish they had not done so, but I respect their decision to follow their hearts. However, one thing is clear to these BMD defectors who have joined parties that are outside of the UDC – that the BMD will identify and field suitable candidates in all the constituencies and wards that they won under the banner of BMD of the UDC before they moved to the AP or BDP. This applies to all those who defected to other UDC contracting parties. The BNF, BCP, or BPP will field candidates from their ranks in areas held by those who defected from them. This Fact should be known to those who are desirous to leave the BMD for any political parties whatsoever (and I repeat, I am not aware of any such councilors or MPs).
Further, I would like to highlight the following, with regards to the question of Incumbency in the UDC. A retrospective look will reveal that “incumbency” was amongst the set of criteria that were used to allocate wards and constituencies to UDC contracting political parties. I know this because I was part of the team that represented BMD in the 2011 unity talks. It was also agreed, as a working principle, that incumbency belongs to the parties and not to individuals. That is, individuals are free to leave their parties anytime they wish, but the ward or constituency remains with the party it was allocated to. This form of incumbency was adopted during the recent negotiations that ushered BCP into the UDC. I refer to it as a working principle because it seeks to maintain the balance between the UDC partners in terms of ward/constituency allocations. MPs and councilors in question, if any, must know this so that they are clear about what they are getting themselves and, by extension, the UDC into.
There is an argument that some MPs and councilors have been expelled from the BMD and are free to join any political party they like. It is true that the individuals may join any parties of their choice, but the wards will not follow them because they belong to their parties. The UDC as a collective gives its contracting parties the right to discipline their members, and it respects decisions of such parties. Individual parties within the UDC must also show that respect for decisions taken by parties in their dealings with their members.
To buttress this point, let’s imagine a scenario where party A of the UDC expels a member, and the individual joins party B of UDC and is immediately restored in their ward/constituency, now at the new UDC party. That would not only be tantamount to a reversal of the disciplinary action taken against that individual but it would also come out clearly as punishment to the party that would have expelled its member because it would automatically lose the ward or constituency. That would lead to anarchy within the UDC because parties would avoid disciplinary action against their members in fear of losing their wards/constituencies through these kinds of reinstatements. As UDC partners are not free to openly recruit from one another, people might begin to encourage those they have interest in to disobey their party structures in order to attract disciplinary action that would trigger their move to their new attraction within the UDC. The incumbency rule, if applied properly will prevent these unfair practices. It is thus important for those who are contemplating a move from the BMD to be clear about the implications of their decisions, lest they find themselves having to contend with unexpected consequences of their ill-informed actions.
In closing, I would like to appeal for calm amongst the BMD members. Now that the political upheaval has abated, BMD councilors and MPs are hereby called upon to ponder their political future more carefully. There is more that unites us than what separates us. As such, we will continue open dialogue with those affected to resolve all outstanding issues. Those who wish to follow established procedure to come back to the BMD are most welcome, and will be received with open arms. Those of our members who have their doubts and fears are assured of unconditional acceptance and inclusion. It is our sincerest wish for all of us to come together with one mind and unison of purpose to usher in a new government from the grassroots up.
Dr Tlamelo Mmatli (PhD) is the Member of Parliament for Molepolole South and BMD’s Vice President.