Dumelang Saleshando appears to be relishing the new attention he is getting. He has learnt the harsh lesson that a united approach matters more than going at it alone. Having been deflated by the 2014 horrible loss at the General Elections, Dumelang Saleshando appears to be back enjoying his political game again. The life wire is all thanks to the ongoing open romance with the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) which upstaged Saleshando’s Botswana Congress Party (BCP) at the polls by amassing 17 MPs against the BCP’s three. Saleshando lost the parliamentary seat he had defended against the then BDP heavyweight Dr Margaret Nasha for two terms to a political novice, Dr Phenyo Butale of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), a leading partner in the UDC formation.
Political preservation attempts and pride had made the BCP shun the Umbrella project, using the conflict over allocation of constituencies as a pretext for pulling out and going it alone against the ruling party – Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and the UDC. And now with wounds of a severe punishment for going against the tide, BCP has been forced to beat a hasty retreat – with clear signs that they otherwise risk turning into a political relic.
It has not been easy for Saleshando. Self-preservation has stood between him and some of his closest soldiers in the BCP. What appears to have been a fear of being reduced in stature and ultimately losing their commanding voice and primed seats at the high table, a clique vainly tried to divert and distract Saleshando from securing the high seat at the UDC.
And now Saleshando wears a new posture – there is more purposefulness in his poise – very much seemingly enjoying his new found friendship with other youthful leaders of the UDC. When skeptics were still hoping that Saleshando would dump the project, he swiftly crossed the border with his new comrades for a bonding escapade.
Having spent the greater part of 2014 at odds with the other opposition leaders as he stood to project himself as better than them, the humbled Saleshando appears to be playing catch up. Every passing occasion, he talks with more passion and increased eagerness of a person who now fully understands the script of the big picture. Supporters of opposition cooperation have not hesitated to attack him and his party for selfishness which they claim denied the combined opposition its biggest chance of taking over Government. With BCP as part of UDC, they are convinced they would be Governing by now.
What works for Saleshando is that while the three other parties – Botswana National Front (BNF), BMD and Botswana Peoples’ Party (BPP) – negotiated as individual entities to form UDC, his party is now negotiating with the conglomerate, which places them in a good position to win some concessions.
The UDC is also more welcoming and hence likely to do all to ensure that BCP becomes a permanent member of the union. Positive body language is not from Saleshando alone – his usually critical youth league is already addressing joint political rallies with UDC youth league. As things move, the internal protests of those in the BCP opposed to joining UDC are dying down or at worst they are denied the platform to disrupt continuing talks.
Some of those who couldn’t stand the UDC have since decided that the ruling party was a better home for them. More are expected to trek across as BCP moves to seal their romance with the UDC with a full marriage.
While last year the party turned down opposition unity ahead of the Goodhope/Mabule by-election and ultimately fielded a candidate, the party has moved cautiously to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to cooperate with UDC in all by-elections.
Now as the green brigade adjust to a new life of singing from the same hymn book with the orange brigade, they look to their leader for the pace to keep and the amount and level of smooching to smoothen the relationship.
Nasha, Saleshando rivalry
One such occasion was the weekend rally to welcome former National Assembly Speaker Dr Margaret Nasha who has decamped from her longtime party – the BDP. Ironically it was Saleshando who humiliated Nasha at the polls when he first entered Parliament in 1999. Their rivalry continued on the Parliamentary floor when Nasha was made a Specially Elected MP and Minister and later when she was elevated to the position of Speaker. He served two terms, and ranked as the youngest MP in the house.
At the weekend Saleshando welcomed Nasha with open arms, saying it was clear that the latter couldn’t stand the regression and corruption under the BDP government. “She had to ponder whether to remain with the party as it was or wash her hands of it,” he said.
He said the opposition should not worry about the use of money by the BDP in an attempt to win over voter support, saying that a similar case in Nigeria backfired when Goodluck Jonathan lost elections despite using US$2.4 billion to buy favour with voters. “He used the money to buy all possible, including some of the pastors. God refused to answer and this will happen in 2019,” he said.
He said those who watched political debates in the run up to the 2014 General Elections would have doubted that he would one day stand alongside Boko on a common course. During the debate, both leaders went neck to neck against each other though Boko’s states-manly presentation won him more kudos.
Saleshando said at Nasha’s rally that the task of defeating the BDP is a heavy but possible one. He proclaimed his readiness to push from his end as he joins BPP, BNF and BMD in edging the BDP out of power. He said there was no need to look back with nostalgia, but to look forward to a better life. “Together we can take our country forward,” he said.
Saleshando’s future in UDC
In politics positions matter – people agree and disagree on the basis of what is in it for them. What is Saleshando possibly looking to and what is his position of strength to get what he wants? In the run-up to the 2014 General Elections, he fancied his chances at State House. This time around the humbling at the polls means he is negotiating for something lower. He has possibly come to terms with the fact that Boko would for now remain UDC’s top man. It is on the second and third position at UDC that he would possibly be aiming. Ndaba Gaolathe carries more power since his party has the biggest number of MPs in the UDC fold. The leader of BMD as such under this arrangement would always be protected by his members to have a bigger role in the UDC. At best Saleshando would become UDC Vice president – a usually ceremonial position while Gaolathe retains the all-powerful Secretary General seat.
It is the historical hostilities between the BNF and the BCP that pose a big risk to the UDC, meaning that a lot of effort would have to be invested in restraining past ego issues from creeping in. The only possible saving grace for the UDC would be if the anti-BNF crew in the BCP undergo a major shift into full converts of the project or jump ship. The ruling party is most likely to scale up its attacks and recruitment drive to distabilise the UDC and individual member parties. Most political observers harbor discomfort of the close relationship between BMD and BDP and warn of the possibility of UDC collapsing once the majority of BMD members choose to retrace their steps to their former party – the BDP. This is often given credence by the fact that a number of MPs that had left BDP to form BMD later rejoined it. Even President Ian Khama, who is often accused of being the reason the BDP broke up in the first place proclaimed even last Friday that his party would score a landslide in 2019 since it was the protest vote of his former party members that helped the opposition in 2014. There are still three years to go and a lot of political developments to take place. UDC faces its biggest test of welcoming a new member in its fold – it might be a still-born or healthy baby with a lot of opportunities.