The relationship between the three most senior positions at the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), that of the President and his two deputies has in my view, broken down irretrievably. And this is if the recent social media revelations about the highly charged UDC meeting attended by the three is anything to go by. At this meeting, social media informs us that Advocates Duma Boko and Sidney Pilane were on the firing line of Rre Dumelang Saleshando with the latter receiving the most brutal of the fire. With these revelations, it tells us that one thing is almost certain for the three gentlemen: this far and not beyond. With this background though, opposition politics should firstly be rescued and preserved because 53% of voters in the last general election voted for the opposition. Secondly and in the context of multi-party democracy, this country requires strong opposition to hold the ruling party accountable. On these two grounds, the opposition in general has a fairly reasonable following to be salvaged.
The UDC has of late and in the recent past been in the news for all the wrong reasons precisely out of its own making. Without going as far back as the beginning of the conflict at the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), matters came to the head at the recent UDC congress where palpable divisions on the way forward became apparent. Major and far-reaching decisions were not taken on the sustainability of the UDC in terms of inter alia the adoption of the new constitution which would have officialised the status of Botswana Congress Party (BCP) as a full member of the UDC and the relegation of the status of the congress to that of a consultative one with no powers to take binding decisions. The failure of this ‘consultative congress’ to take far reaching resolutions that would have somewhat eased tensions within the UDC and which in the process would have created a conducive environment to better and properly manage it, was on the basis of the implosion currently in full swing, a lost valuable opportunity to prevent the implosion.
Parallel to the foregoing, tensions within Botswana National Front (BNF) and the BCP on how Boko was running the UDC grew by the day where suggestions from some members of these parties were lobbying for their parties to disaffiliate from the UDC. At the heart of these tensions amongst others were arguments by these members that the fourteen constituencies initially allocated to the BMD before its split that led to the founding of the Alliance for Progressives (AP) be re-visited because according to them, the BMD no longer had the gravitas to successfully manage and secure those constituencies in 2019. Given these tensions and the purported failure or inability by the Boko led UDC to transparently engage in finding solutions thereto, it was arguably predictable that matters would come to the head sooner rather than later. The UDC as at this point is probably beyond redemption and cannot under the current leadership, be redeemed.
Another highly held view for the UDC troubles is the arrival of Adv Pilane at the UDC. There is a strong feeling amongst Pilane’s detractors that since his arrival, the UDC started to experience the internal strife currently taking place. These detractors argue that Boko has deliberately failed to prevail upon him over a wide range of issues like for example the classification and mandate of the UDC congress referred to above. Consequently some put the UDC troubles, rightly or wrongly firmly at Pilane’s doorstep. Politics is largely or at times about perceptions and the perceptions on Pilane’s role in the UDC seem to be carrying so much currency that it has somewhat become the gospel truth. Shouldn’t the UDC leadership have approached this perception in a more political than legalistic manner? That is, accepting that Pilane was already in a leadership position at the UDC, was it not incumbent on such leadership to appreciate and recognise this perception particularly in the context of the rank and file membership and the dire consequences it was likely to create if left unattended? I think the UDC leadership should have with the greatest of respect and in recognition of the ‘swelling’ perception on Pilane, asked him to take a back stage in the interests of preserving the UDC project. This I argue, would have done a lot of good to Pilane in the eyes of his detractors. They would have said much as we have issues him, we nevertheless recognise and appreciate his stepping back as an endeavour to save the UDC. Like I have said, a legalistic approach may be perfectly valid and arguable but wouldn’t save the situation like the political one would. Political solutions to political problems should been the way to go in my view.
I have noted above that 53% of the electorate voted for the opposition in 2014. Admittedly, this percentage may have taken a serious knock given the negative unfolding events but generally speaking and I want to believe, it can be restored and increased. All it needs is a responsible and responsive leadership. It is very likely that the BCP will bolt out of the UDC after its July congress if the murmurings doing the rounds are anything to be believed. Saleshando’s utterings at the ill-fated UDC meeting has almost if not set the tone for BCP disaffiliation. And so is the other section of the BNF which is also likely to lobby for its disaffiliation from the UDC as a vote of no confidence in Boko’s leadership. In the likely event of these eventualities, Boko and Pilane will be left in a precarious and untenable position to command overwhelming confidence and support. While I cannot authoritatively say for certain that a huge number of BNF/BCP members support Boko and Pilane or not because I do not have the numbers, I will nevertheless support my proposition on the balance of probabilities and the recent poor showing by the UDC in the recent Moshupa/Manyana parliamentary by election. It could be argued and fairly so that the UDC has been posting impressive by election results at both council and parliamentary levels under Boko’s leadership. But the prevailing mood seems to suggest that this feat is no longer achievable given the latest toxic atmosphere at the top of UDC leadership. It is almost a question of this far and not beyond. Most of the BNF/BCP members are reported to have allegedly snubbed the BMD and by extension the UDC by either abstaining from the by election or voting for the BDP. Reportedly, this alleged snub was the cause of the recent ill-fated UDC executive meeting.
To salvage opposition politics, Rre Dumelang Saleshando and Hon Ndaba Gaolathe are better placed given the debilitating state of the UDC under Boko, to make opposition politics somewhat relevant, compelling and appealing. I am not suggesting that they are political messiahs or saints but that they are the ‘better devils’ under the prevailing circumstances who can give the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) a run for their money given that it (BDP) has its own fair share of internal problems to be exploited. Saleshando and Gaolathe in the present political climate are fairly grounded individuals in their own right with a possible appealing pedigree to the electorate. It is not in dispute that Gaolathe was voted in on the vibe and momentum of moono in 2014 and that Saleshando, by his own admission, lost because he was not part of that moono. It is equally the case that Boko was also voted under the same circumstances. But back then, issues of bad leadership were not palpably evident and damaging as it is the case now. The leadership back then was viewed as fairly responsible and responsive. These important leadership ingredients are seriously lacking under Boko with the result that the UDC is crumbling right under his watch with him hopelessly and haplessly watching like a goalkeeper beaten by a majestic free kick. Like I have noted above, Boko is facing some mutiny of some sort at the BNF and UDC with the reversal of this process very highly unlikely.
With the UDC painfully imploding in the most dramatic and spectacular fashion, and with those who believe in opposition politics almost definitively left in the lurch, I strongly argue that Saleshando and Gaolathe should stand up and be counted in the name of securing, maintaining and furthering opposition politics in this country. The political game has turned into a penalty shoot-out where injured players can no longer be called upon to save the team. Judge for Yourself!