‘Go tlhophiwa Masisi’- an explanation of the 2019 vote and its implications (Part II)

Lawrence Ookeditse

Challenges with strategic alliances in the opposition
When the BPF was founded, I publicly stated that they would cause a huge upset in the Central District. And they have. After the BDP, they’re probably the next most gallant party, an accolade they share with the much older BCP.

More than most, they’d feel they have done their job. Forget that they won only three seats. The reality is that Serowe, Phikwe East, Mahalapye West and Mahalapye East, Palapye, Sefhare-Ramokgonami, Bobonong, Nkange definitely fell because of the BPF either taking the BDP numbers to aid the opposition or the BPF having their own candidate win.
Had the opposition been able to manage their alliances well enough, another 10 or so constituencies across the country (these include VP Tsogwane’s Boteti East, Gaborone Bonnington South, Gaborone Central and Gaborone South) would’ve fallen. Managing the alliance well would have meant a UDC with the AP and the BMD lot still members. And quite importantly, such a UDC would probably still have had BOFEPUSU endorse it. But it was not to b – much to the joy of the BDP.

A significant factor also became dealing with the BPF. Do not listen to anyone who says to you that former president Ian Khama is a political liability. Having him fight on your side is a great addition. The key thing is how you then manage what would obviously be dicey relationships with certain voters. Khama probably delivered 10 seats in this election – three for the BPF and 7 or so for the BCP aspect of the UDC coalition. As such, it was a failure to manage the loose alliance with the BPF that also cost the opposition a few more seats.

In so far as this is concerned then, the opposition now has a job of figuring out how they would like to approach the next elections. The first step is a decision on its leadership. Wherever Boko is, he probably will be weighing options to step down as UDC leader. Dumelang Saleshando, back in Parliament, will be touted as a replacement. Nothing wrong with that. But the UDC will need to tread with caution. One of their options is to stick with Boko as leader. And this option would mean he also learns to tone down his militancy and his thinking that what he thinks is right is right. It is possible for a leader to tone down. The relentless Napoleon Bornaparte, Boko would know, attacked territory after territory but was later forced to abdicate in 1814 through the treaty of Fontainebleau and under pressure after a defeat in Moscow and European forces on him. Napoleon was able to still make a comeback and become Emperor, though not for long. Comebacks are possible.

Anyone who follows politics and leadership should know by now that every defeat holds the secret of victory at the next challenge. History teaches us this. Julius Caesar built a career over 40 years on rebounding from defeat largely. Boko is going to have to quickly muster the art of losing and keeping face, being resilient then relaunching. Either through option one above or option two below.

Option two is installing Saleshando as leader and getting him ready to lead the coalition to the 2024 general elections. He has the calm demeanor, likability, emotional intelligence and other qualities to lead. Coming back to Parliament should give him the confidence and respect that was probably shorn off after losing Gaborone Central. And like an ancient gladiator back dueling in the Colosseum in Rome, he shall be looking to take parliament by the scruff of the neck. This will only amplify his voice. And make no mistake, his being back and leading an opposition bench with a majority BCP representation demands that he inherit the coalition leadership.

The UDC ability to manage relations will once more be called upon. And it will be important to see how they’ll answer. Will the BMD fiasco repeat? Even if option two is considered and adopted, it would be unwise for the UDC to completely rest Boko. He has his own charm, and this charm has seen in his building a coalition that now competes for every inch of territory with the BDP. Gone are the days when the opposition would leave certain parts of the country without candidates because they stood no chance. They compete for every constituency. Critical is also that their packaging is far much better than ever, and their financing in this election matched that of the BDP. At some point, the Umbrella strategists may actually have been smiling, as they were outspending and outshining the BDP with their messaging and billboards. All this would not have been possible without Boko.

If I were at the helm, I’d go into the next elections with Saleshando as leader and Boko as his deputy. Saleshando would present the more clam face, Boko would be the more militant second-in-command who is also an astute fundraiser. There is zero malice in that. Its only logical and a better option than to lose him completely. And it would save the BNF. The BNF has survived changes of leadership, but it still needs an unapologetic militant reigning as its sultan. And at the moment, such a sultan is Boko. In his absence, the BNF easily reverts to an ancient behemoth weighed down by at times irrelevant ideological burdens. With him at the helm, it becomes an agile, pragmatic party at par with modern organizations. That’s not to say he is perfect or should be a leader for life – they probably need to now begin actually having a functional central committee that meets and actual structures that function and stage congresses regularly. But he remains an important factor to their relevance.

His militancy and borderline narcissism may not be appreciated generally by the voter but the BNF still needs it. Afterall, such institutions border on anarchy and often need a person who is able to dominate them – you think I am crazy? Consider why socialist organizations have always been basically dictatorships of one form or other (either an outright tyrant or of the majority proletariat as the Bolsheviks were at some point).

Lastly, the UDC needs to find a way to work with the BPF. The BPF is going to become the Inkatha Freedom Party of Botswana in the short and medium terms. Whether they will seek proper outward expansion in the long term remains to be seen. But they’ll be solid in that region for years. If the BDP beats the UDC to some form of working relationship with the BPF or its people, it’ll take another 50 years to remove the BDP from power. Equally, a functional relationship between the UDC and BPF may just see the BDP stay in power actually shortened.

South vs North?
There has been a great debate about whether we are now seeing balkanization of this country into regional zones with the South red and the North blue and gold or so. To find the answer in this you actually have to look at the map itself, and then also to consider whether there is a trend to that effect. A single election cannot be used to conclude patterns. As such, reject any notion that says Botswana is divided between the North and the South.
Strictly speaking, the division is largely along the eastern belt of the country and is not strictly South and North. The key distinguishing factor is not region as it appears to be social class. The eastern margin of the country is more urban. And in the more urban parts of this country, the BDP has emerged victorious including completely controlling metropolitan councils. This says to us that the middle-class has largely voted for the BDP as opposed to previously.
These are people who traditionally did not vote for the BDP under Khama. There is no prize for guessing. President Khama was largely seen as a President of the poor so much that the more rural an area is, you could easily guess they’d listen to him. The wealthier you go up, the less likelihood that a person listens to him. As such, the poor were not merely foolish to support or like him.
President Masisi speaks to and relates really well with the middle class. He has a type of finesse and class that speaks to them. His policy proposals from establishing small businesses to plugging Botswana to the world, busting corruption and liberalizing a lot of things, among them the leisure industry and ease of doing business, speak to the largely urban middle class.
Yes, BaNgwato in Serowe largely voted BPF whereas in Moshopa BaKgatla-ba-ga-Mmanaana overwhelmingly voted BDP. This is the typical voter behaviour even in mature democracies of the West – one usually has a landslide win in one’s home state. The issue is beyond tribal affiliation. In any case, you’d find that the election at constituency level would’ve been between people of the same tribe. Lastly on this matter, the North is not Serowe and the South is not Moshopa. The major issue appears to simply have been a case of whom the majority of people felt was unduly being undermined as discussed when I looked at the ‘Vote Masisi’ factor. Chieftainship would be a more sustainable argument actually.

This then brings us to a potential challenge for the BDP. At this very moment, the BDP takes and should take this victory and enjoy it. A question shall linger though in the minds of BDP diehards looking at the next decade. Would you want a BDP not hinged in the Central District? My answer is, no. It’s a no because the voter along the eastern belt is issue based. And issue based voters are unreliable. Ask the UDC if you think I am lying. What they do today is not what they’ll do in five years. Whereas under normal circumstances, the more rural (geographic location) voter is more likely more religious to party affiliation and sticks to their position more often than not.

We have gotten a huge part of the south-east of the country. Maintaining it will mean President Masisi and his administration deliver on the key issues: jobs, a thriving economy, a new constitution, reduced school class sizes and actual growth for businesses. Overall, the BDP should worry about a popular vote that’s now stuck below the 50 percent margin for two successive general elections; and wonder what the next general election brings. Performance in office will be critical for President Masisi retaining power in five years. Otherwise this may become a sort of Pyrrhic victory for the party in the next five years to the next decade.
In 280 BC, the Romans were defeated by the forces of King Pyrrhus of Epirus at the battle of Heraclea. But they suffered irreplaceable casualties from that battle. From this battle, he was never able to replace the dead commanders and soldiers. The new recruits were without courage and had no temperance. Winning the South for the BDP and losing the North given the traits discussed above gives reason for caution, and to seek to regain the North almost immediately to avert this becoming a Pyrrhic victory.

Did manifestos matter?

Yes they did matter. And any fair person will give it to the UDC. They had an easier and clearer manifesto. With a bad manifesto the BDP would probably have won by an even larger margin. Often after defeat, the temptation is to think what you sold got rejected, but there is a case for looking at what you gained and retained, then attributing it to your offering. It is not the often travelled route but is often the case. Had the UDC manifesto and messaging NOT been more astute, they’d have lost major ground.
In comparison, the BDP manifesto did not matter as much. If it had, then the performance would’ve been poorer. The candidates had a difficult time themselves selling a central message. The Bible for the BDP was Masisi. He was the saving grace and by far the most important factor. So important that many people still do not know who they voted for but they voted BDP. It became a ‘Masisi or nothing’ kind of election. And in my view alone, it is the best decision this country could have made. And with a mandate of his own, President Masisi should be able to attain legendary status.