Friday, October 19, 2007

The African 'Front' in Perspective

Mmegi/The Reporter (Gaborone), 18 October 2007, Rampholo Molefhe

The 'front' in the experience of the African generations of the anti-colonial struggles was usually started to unify the nation for the purpose of confronting a universally perceived evil.

In most cases, such as Mozambique, the front composed of professional groupings, a variety of political detachments of the African intelligentsia and the working and peasant classes. They amalgamated into a liberation movement to fight a guerrilla war against the colonising power.

Besides Mozambique, similar patterns of the front had been established in Algeria to fight French domination, in Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau and in South Africa, first to create political alliance of the discriminated Bantu, coloured and Indian communities, and later the ANC, the Communist Party and the South African Congress of Trade Unions. Even as the specific formations of the front varied in different countries, they all had one thing in common: a common enemy. More specifically, a commonly perceived threat to national independence.
In this regard, the African front type organisations were not fundamentally different in their motivation from the Chinese front that united the Red and White armies of Mao Tse Tung and Chiang Kai Chiak against the Japanese invasion. The same might be said of the Vietnamese resistance to the French and American imperial domination prompting Nguen Van Giap to craft the theory and practice of 'Peoples War, Peoples Army'.

That experience compels the student of the process of revolution to attach to the political motive - national independence - the commitment of the liberation movement to armed resistance, often manifesting itself in the form of guerrilla warfare, fought to varying degrees according to the nature and severity of the threat to nationhood posed by the colonising force.
Generally then, the front was employed as a popular vehicle of military resistance for the purpose of achieving the political purpose of repelling the immediate threat to national independence. Rarely, perhaps never, was the front of the anti-colonialist type, devoid of a military confrontation with the colonising power in order to achieve the political end of national emancipation.

Needless to say, even as it is not the major focus of this contribution, the African fronts, in stark contrast to their Asiatic antecedents in China or Vietnam, invariably experienced great difficulty in making the transition from a fighting politically motivated army, into a government after ridding the nation of the external threat.

Case in point: South Africa, Zimbabwe, and to some extent Mozambique which took several years to outgrow civil war and to focus on the cultivation of a culture of the democratic governance, with all its attendant instruments of enforcement.

It was not an accident that the African fronts often faced the aforementioned dilemma. They were, in the first place, constituted by various groups which, in the absence of the 'immediate national threat' might have been in contest with each other for control of state power. Most of them crafted a common ideology of struggle - rarely governance - as they prosecuted the war of national resistance. Confronted with military victory over the aggressor, they were at a loss for a consensus on a national programme of governance for the previously disenfranchised groupings of the larger society.

In many instances, perhaps most, they reverted to the habits and protocols of the defeated colonial regime, undermining the very goals and ideals for which they had fought. The examples have become so commonplace that they form the norm rather than the exception to the rule. The case of Botswana raises a few curious departures from the general form and content of the front of the African type.

There appears to have been no immediate national threat except that of Afrikaner imperialism as perceived by the three chiefs who then travelled to Britain to invite protectorate status for Bechuanaland. In fact, some would argue that British colonialism in Botswana was in fact self-imposed!

The front was founded on the floundering unification of political groupings that were hardly at ideological variance with each other, finally dissolving into a front of individuals who could have, with fewer hiccups that in the year 2000, easily formed a monolithic political party of the Domkrag, Peoples or Independence type.

Thirdly, there was no military struggle against the coloniser; neither was there ever any purposeful commitment of the Botswana National Front (BNF) to guerrilla warfare to rid the nation of British colonialism or Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) rule.

Finally, in order to emphasise the second observation, there was no real revolutionary amalgam of diverse groupings - trade unions, farmers organisations, professional bodies, student groups - apart from the traditional 'women's wing' and 'youth wing' which could easily have been established under the more conventional 'non-front' formations at the BDP, or Peoples Party.
In other words, there has only been a BNF by label, but not by organisational form or political purpose. In the words of the founding agitator for the front, the late Dr Kenneth Koma soon after the 1984 general election, or thereabouts, this organisation was in reality the 'Botswana national front party'.

He proceeded to name the likes of Gaolese Koma and Gaositwe Chiepe as 'patriots' with whom he would form a government of national unity, or otherwise a coalition with the BDP.

He had already recruited Wellie Seboni, Raphael Sikwane, Botshabelo Bagwasi and several others, not on account of their leadership of other organisations, but because they commanded a following in their own individual right.
The campaign towards the 1984 general election, perhaps much more than any other, became a circus of personalities who had recently joined the front, most of them from the ruling BDP.
It would take little time before most of these recruits either reverted to their original parties or simply faded into the recesses of political history.

Most of them formed political gangs of various types, away from 'Mother Front' and named them according to the tastes of the members who shared common tendencies within the front, but disliked either Kenneth Koma's person, or his manner.

There was a Congress here, a United Front there, a BAM here and a Democratic Front there, collectively catapulting the number of 'opposition parties' into double figures, also giving the government Registrar of Societies much- needed training in reading constitutions.

In effect the stigma of 'go a lowa' represents little more than the tendency of like- minded individuals in a front that existed in neither form or content, to find their political homes elsewhere, as long as it was away from it.

There is in reality no fighting at the front. There is the urgent need for personalities to seek self realisation, and that will continue to happen until the reigning leader, Otsweletse Moupo, remains alone with the few delegates who upheld his leadership at the May special congress in Molepolole.

He, like the post-1984 Koma, has dumped the very 'socialist cabal' that brought him to leadership. He is now hobnobbing with strangers to the front tradition of the Botswana National Youth Federation. His floundering legal profession has made him easy meat for the manipulations of his imagined adversaries at the BDP who appear to find him a suitably malleable instrument for giving Botswana's democracy a handsome face abroad.

His only salvation, and that of the front, would be to declare the willingness of the front to dissolve itself into a unified political party on whatever terms would be agreed by the indispensable players in the opposition.

There is time between now and 2009 when the next general election is expected. It will take a brave leader of the front to do so, and to relieve the nation of the burden of the badges of the 'Return Soldier' who gained nothing from the Second World War, or any other.

Ratsie would have said: "A re tshentsheng bo-tallie".

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