- BCP, BNF tension rises over silence around congress
- Saleshando does not rule out challenging Boko
- Pilane says Saleshando and BCP have always been better organised
- Asserts there is no way Boko can defeat Saleshando
Concerns are rising within the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) that leading partner, the Botswana National Front, may be dragging its feet on the much-anticipated UDC congress where the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) could assume the presidency of the coalition opposition formation that the BNF guards jealously.
Incumbent UDC president Duma Boko is the convener of meetings and concerns are that he seems to be more concerned about the election petitions that are currently before the courts than he is about anything else. The UDC has several pending matters that demand attention, among them setting a date for the much-anticipated inaugural congress where the coalition party should elect its leadership.
Asked for an update on preparations for the UDC congress, UDC spokesman Moeti Mohwasa said he has not heard anything about the congress. “I am not aware of any plans for the congress,” Mohwasa said.
The presidency of the UDC seems to be among priority points for the two major parties in the coalition, the BNF and the BCP, which are led by youthful leaders who are of almost the same age, Boko and Saleshando. Now aged 50, Duma Boko has led the UDC since its establishment in 2012 and has run for elections twice, performing exceptionally well in 2014. The story of the BNF is a reversal of the BCP and its 48-year-old president, Dumelang Saleshando’s. The party performed badly in 2014 but shocked many under the UDC by doing exceptionally well in the recent general elections.
Despite their inconsistent working relationship, Boko and Saleshando’s credentials and political astuteness are an engaging topic of interest to many across political divide. Boko’s UDC presidency to was a temporary arrangement and it appears that the BCP and its leader are interested in it, especially that they consider themselves the biggest party now with 11 MPs to four for the BNF.
One of the founders of the UDC, Sydney Pilane, says when the UDC was formed, certain positions had to be filled, including the presidency. “There was some debate whether it should be Boko or Motswaledi,” Pilane recalls. “The BMD decided, after intense debate, that the position should be held by the president of the BNF ex-officio pending an elective congress when a leader would be elected.
“The BMD decided to defer to the BNF purely out of respect and the recognition that the BNF must be honoured for building opposition politics in Botswana. It was then natural that the BNF would have its president hold the position. It was not about which individual; it was about which party. The BMD was also aware that there would be no UDC if the position was not given to the BNF.”
In an interview yesterday (Monday), Saleshando would neither deny nor confirm that he intended to challenge Boko in the presidency of the UDC. “I cannot say right now,” he said. “It is still early days. My priority is to lead the BCP to reflect on the just-ended elections. We also have the two important meetings to look forward to – the constitutional amendment conference and the elective congress. The future of the BCP in the UDC shall be discussed at relevant forums.”
An unlikely option could be a compromise. But Pilane doubts that the congress will ever take place. “Is the UDC heading towards elections? I don’t think so,” he said. “The BCP want it so they complete their takeover of the UDC. The BNF know this and do not want it. The recent call by the BCP youth, a mere proxy of the BCP leadership, was issued to test the waters. If there is a UDC congress, which I doubt, Saleshando will successfully challenge Boko, the BCP will win most positions, and the BNF will have to succumb or the rupture will occur. Of course, a realignment within the UDC could take place long before then.”
Asked why he thinks the BCP and Saleshando would win easily, Pilane returned: “The BCP is by far more organised than the BNF, has by far more resources than the BNF and would easily get more delegates to a UDC congress than the BNF could ever hope to do.”
Known by some as the enemy of the BCP, Pilane continued: “The BCP has stayed intact while the BMD, the BNF and the BPP neglected their own growth and organisation and concentrated on building the UDC. There is a question concerning how much of the BNF remains. If they follow the registered UDC constitution, the BCP will have many more delegates to the UDC congress than will the BNF, and the BPP’s very small numbers will make no difference. The BCP will ensure it.”
While the BNF has a history of battles with their leaders, the same cannot be said about the BCP or Saleshando. Boko has already survived more internal battles than Saleshando who seems to be well-respected across BCP structures. The BNF’s make-up and revolutionary mindset may subsequently cost Boko the seat, should the parties agree on a open contest because some BNF members fed up with Boko may swing towards the BCP.
The BCP youth have already called for Boko to vacate the seat, signalling perhaps that they are indeed ready to lead as suggested by their 2014 slogan. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Saleshando enjoys sympathy across all ages compared to the aggressive Boko who is never afraid to advance his convictions even if it means ruffling up feathers. In a conservative society like Botswana, the Harvard scholar seems to have taken time to change who he really is to accommodate the mindset of his electorate where over-confidence is often mistaken for ill-manners.
Should he be ousted, the future of Boko in politics would become anybody’s guess. But in all fairness, he has proved to be a force to reckon with and his absence from the BNF – or even the UDC – could spell doom for both brands that he currently leads. His achievements, some may argue, are second to none in the history of Botswana opposition, though the reality is that Boko’s political shortfalls match his prowess.
Repeated efforts to speak to the man in question proved fruitless as he did not answer his phone.