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The BNF and the October Revolution (Part I)

October 17 was the 98th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution in the former Soviet Union. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the Eastern bloc because of Stalinist degeneration this world-historic event continues to reverberate around the globe. For the first time in the history of humanity  workers captured state power and created their own government which survived for 74 years. They demonstrated beyond any shadow of doubt that capitalism can be overthrown and replaced by a workers government.  The October Revolution inspired millions of people across the globe.

For Lenin, as for Marx and Engels, a socialist revolution was essentially a world revolution because it was challenging capitalism which had established itself as a world system. The Russian revolution was a prelude to a socialist revolution in Europe until Joseph Stalin invented the reactionary formula of ‘socialism in one country’ which ultimately led to the collapse of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc.

With socialism established  as a world system, according to Karl Marx, only then ‘will human progress cease to resemble that hideous pagan idol, who would not drink nectar but from the skulls of the slain’.  Whoever is mesmerized by superficial bourgeois progress forgets that such progress is not possible without dragging the vast majority of the people though blood and dirt, misery and degradation. Indeed it is like drinking nectar from the skulls of human beings.

The question is which progress do we recognize?  The progress we recognize is  best captured by the statement attributed to a certain British reporter for the Guardian;  ‘If manure be suffered to be in  idle heaps, it breeds stink and vermin. If properly defused it vivifies and fertilizes the soil’ . The wealth of the country is like manure. If it is concentrated in the hands of a few people ‘it breeds stink and vermin’ – passion killings, burglaries, street urchins, theft, corruption, etc but if it is ‘properly defused it vivifies and fertilizes’ the country by ensuring the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.

Progress for us must mean adequate water, food, clothing and shelter for everyone. It must be a civilization which ensures that the benefits of modern science, arts and technology are enjoyed by the majority of the people without endangering the ability of future generations to meet their needs from the same environment.  For that reason, the October Revolution continues to be celebrated by socialists and communists across the globe.

The inspiration from the October Revolution at the launch of the BNF  is captured by none other than its founding philosopher-politician Dr Kennth Koma himself. In his seminal booklet, the Second Phase of the African Revolution has  now Begun Dr Koma begins his  analysis of the anti-colonial struggle in Africa, its disastrous failure and what needs to be done by casting his argument within a broader dialectical materialist perspective.

‘The original antithesis, the prime cause, of what is happening in the whole world today, is the challenge that the October Revolution in 1917 offered to the status quo of oppression in the world.  The ideal to struggle for is no longer some imaginary golden age in the womb of the forgotten past. The ideal is not only realizable but also the Land of the Soviets became the torch-bearer of what social dreamers  in past ages had fabricated in the fertility of their imaginations. The reverberations of the October Revolution never left the world ever since’.

The BNF  National Democratic Revolution and its tactical position of  the United Front made our struggle an integral part of the world revolutionary struggle against landlordism and imperialism. Both concepts of the National Democratic Revolution and the United Front have their genesis in Lenin’s thesis on the National and Colonial Question for the Second Congress of the Communist  International in the 1920s.  These strategic and tactical positions were geared towards forging the unity of the movements of the workers of all countries and the national movements of the colonies and semi-colonies around Soviet Russia and an alliance of all national liberation movements.

Given the revolutionary zeal and enthusiasm of the socialist  founders of the BNF a socialist party should have emerged from the ranks of the BNF by now.  It is little short of extraordinary that countries like the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho,  the kingdom of  Swaziland, Mauritius, Ethiopia, Somalia, Benin,  Angola, to name but a few, have communist parties  while Botswana does not have one.  

This year the 98th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia coincides with the  golden jubilee of the BNF in Botswana. This is the opportune moment  to  pause and ask the question; why has a socialist or communist party eluded the BNF for so such a  long time despite the big dreams of our founding fathers and mothers?  And what are the implications for our struggle?

The advent of a socialist or communist party with its own national political newspaper would qualitatively transform Botswana’s political landscape beyond recognition. Botswana has many political parties but these are all petty-bourgeois political parties. The country has also witnessed a proliferation of private newspapers and some private radio stations but all them are part and parcel of the bourgeois press. None of them challenges the capitalist establishment.

They take it for granted and operate within its confines.  The birth of a communist party would mean that for the first time workers would have a genuine and consistent spokesperson because a communist party  is the advanced detachment of the working class that champions their cause. At a party level the formation of the piston engine of  a socialist or communist party within the  BNF providing ideological direction would  put an end to the BNF’s stunted growth and ideological floundering and enable it to function like  a proper united front.

In the absence of a revolutionary core the United Front, the  BNF or even  UDC has little or no capacity to deliver comprehensively and consistently  on the democratic demands of the struggle.   

The question of the quality of change we must expect if the UDC assumes state power in 2019 is best answered by none other than Dr Koma in his book, The Second Phase of the African Revolution has now Begun  when asserts that,

‘’The Second Phase of the African Revolution, correctly understood is the National Democratic Revolution. The National Democratic Revolution cannot be carried out under the leadership of a mass organization, pure and simple. It can only be carried out by an alliance between mass organizations and a socialist party. The socialist party must provide the ideological leadership, otherwise the people sacrifice for nothing’.

The BNF or UDC lacks the piston engine of a socialist party that  provides ideological direction and guarantees the realization of the demands of the  Second Phase of the African Revolution or what is but the same thing, the National Democratic Revolution. Such is the influence of neo-liberal globalization today that the average BNF intellectual has somewhat grown rather weary  or hostile to ideological questions required for the qualitative transformation of the Front.

The few revolutionary intellectuals who raise these issues are denigrated and  demonized as being ‘anti-UDC’. Far be it from my thoughts to seek to pooh-pooh prospects of a UDC government in 2019. But the point must be emphatically made that in the absence of the piston engine of a socialist party within the  BNF/UDC the much anticipated change will not go far enough in terms of liberating our people from the shackles of imperialism and remnants of the feudal mode of production. Strictly speaking, the current BNF is not  a united front in the true sense of the word. It is more of a Stalinist class collaborationist popular front where workers are placed under the compromising leadership of the so-called ‘revolutionary’ petty-bourgeoisie in an anti-Leninist fashion. Not even the multi-organizational United Front Dr Koma dreamt about at the BNF congress of 1988 has materialized.

Successful National Democratic Revolutions in China and Vietnam were ‘an alliance between mass organizations and a socialist party’.  The Russian revolution demonstrated the ‘continuous’ nature of the democratic and social demands of the revolution. In Vietnam the Viet Nam Communist Party enjoyed the organizational and ideological autonomy to provide leadership of mass organizations such as the Red Workers Association, Red Peasants’ Association, Communist Youth League, Women’s Association for Liberation and the  Red Relief Society. This United Front was set up after the establishment of the Viet Nam Communist Party. A similar situation prevailed under Mao Tse Tung in China.

In Cuba although the first steps towards the unity of non-revolutionary forces or mass organizations dated back to 1957  Fidel Castro concentrated on building his socialist July 26 Movement first. This he did to avoid finding himself ‘in bad company’ or trailing after capitalist forces.  Only in 1961 after the socialist July 26 Movement had established itself as a considerable force and its strategy for the struggle had been tested in practice as a decisive political force in Cuban society did Castro turn his attention to achieving broader unity or a united front.
In his book, History Will Absolve Me,  Castro explained his position ;

 ‘…at that moment (before 1961)  it was  a thousand times better to stand alone than in bad company. Why is it that back when there were just 120 of us in arms, we weren’t interested in broad unity with all the organizations in exile, while later, when we numbered in the thousands, we were interested in that broad  unity?  The answer is simple: when there were just 120 of us, unity would have meant a clear-cut majority for conservative and reactionary elements or representatives of interests that were not revolutionary, even though they opposed Batista. We would have been a tiny force in such a union’.  

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Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

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