The contest for second highest position in the opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) took a new turn on Friday when Molepolole North MP Mohammed Khan entered the race just weeks before the Francistown congress in July. Khan will now face Reverend Dr Prince Dibeela for the position. Uncharacteristic of the BNF of yester-years the ongoing contest for central committee positions is devoid of open factional sparring, mudslinging and dirty campaigns. Such peaceful contest flows between the two VP aspirants, with each pledging to support the other regardless of the outcome. To buttress the point, the two have even set up an appointment for tomorrow (Monday) to agree on "rules of engagement" because "(we) still need each other to take the movement forward even after the congress". Peace in the BNF has largely been credited to party president Duma Boko who, upon taking over office, admonished trouble makers and brought relative peace, civility and respect for leadership. In an earlier interview BNF spokesperson Moeti Mohwasa said preparations for the congress, which will be attended by delegates from the 57 constituencies, are going well. He, however, declined to discuss the campaigns, saying the party has taken a position to keep them low key.
On his recent disappearance from the political landscape Khan said he has been recuperating after he was taken ill due to an accident he was involved in last year. He said he finished consultations in his constituency on Thursday, and has been given the go-ahead to throw his hat in. "Looking at the current political developments in opposition parties there is a lot of work to be done. We need aggressive and proactive leadership to take necessary steps to arrest the haemorrhage of members to the ruling party and to extinguish internal feuds. We must live (Gomolemo) Motswaledi's dream that the centre must hold, and make sure the core of the UDC doesn't fall apart. Otherwise, we are going to disintegrate," said Khan, quick to caution comrades. Khan says challenges in opposition parties should be addressed now to avoid disastrous outcomes from primary elections ahead of 2019, with instability becoming the order of the day.
He is convinced that he is the right man for the job, "considering that (I) have the experience of diffusing problems between comrades (in Kgalagadi and Central district) which often lead to us losing elections as some disgruntled members failed to reconcile". "Without undermining my competition, my opponents have not been tried and tested like me," he said. Khan believes that in these challenging times the UDC needs strong leadership that will listen to advice. He said one of the weaknesses is that some in the leadership do not engage and utilise the huge human resource capital that the UDC has. He said he has tried to advice the leadership but his suggestions have not been heeded. Khan, who stepped down as Secretary General in 2010 to focus on the campaign to wrestle Molepolole North from the BDP, says the VP is a less hectic position. He has in the past held positions of Treasurer, Publicity Secretary and deputy Secretary General.
Relationship with BDP
Khan is seen in some quarters as being too close to the BDP because of his relationship with some ruling party activists and leaders. He denies the allegation, saying the relationship is purely business and has nothing to do with politics. He reveals that the BDP has on numerous occasions made offers to recruit him to cross the floor but he turned them down. "I disagree with their cosmetic approach and policies towards assisting and improving the livelihoods of Batswana. Until they fix these things I will never agree with them. It cannot be right that half of the diamond wealth from this country is going to a single family from outside, while our people wallow in poverty," said Khan.
Khan already enjoys support from Kweneng Region and Tlokweng. MP Same Bathobakae of Tlokweng confirmed on Friday evening that she is 100 per cent behind the Molepolole North legislator. "I was just setting up campaigns and paving the way for Khan while he was away. I have given him my support for VP," said Bathobakae, a longtime activist and the only female opposition MP. She commands support in party structures, which could improve Khan's chances of winning.
Reverend Dr Prince Dibeela
Reverend Dr Dibeela – Secretary for International Relations at UDC – hopes his past involvement behind the scenes in organising and running errands for the BNF coupled with recent activism at the umbrella will carry the day. Until Saturday, Dr Dibeela was the interim Regional Chairperson for the Southern Region, where he was given a temporary assignment to set up structures in seven constituencies in the region being Lobatse, Mmathethe/ Molapowabojang, Goodhope/Mabule, Kanye (North and South), Jwaneng/Mabutsane and Moshupa. "My friends, family and other comrades have approached me and persuaded me to contest the vice presidency. They believe I am qualified for the position. I enjoy support from different regions, which are spreading the word about my candidature. Whoever wins on the day I will respect the decision," he said.
Dr Dibeela says politics is not about shouting at political rallies. He explains: "It is not true that I am new and have not been active in the BNF. I have been involved in opposition politics since the early 90s, but could not be openly active because I was leading the church. I was one of the conveners of the 2002/04 pact between BNF, BPP and BAM. In 2006 I co-chaired the Umbrella Talks with Lebang Mpotokwane, which brought together Gilson Saleshando, Otsweletse Moupo, Bernard Balikani and Ephraim Lepetu Setshwaelo (BAM). Unfortunately the talks collapsed. I undertook assignments by former BNF president Moupo to mediate in disputes between party members around the country".
He, however, rose to political prominence during the 2011 public sector strike when he lended support to workers. He would later contest the 2014 general elections under the UDC ticket in Mmathethe/ Molapowabojang and lost to the BDP. Prior to that, his address was Johannesburg, South Africa where he led the UCCSA covering five Synods from SADC countries including Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, SA and Zimbabwe making up 3000 congregations under a total 5-600 ministers. Dr Dibeela is well travelled. As president of the Council for World Mission followed by 15 million Christians around the globe, Dr Dibeela also had an office in Singapore.
He is confident that such travels, international exposure and formal training in Community organising coupled with connections in the community will come in handy for the BNF and the UDC. Dr Dibeela further argues that Boko needs a strong right hand man because he has too many responsibilities as Leader of Opposition in Parliament, and also President of both UDC and BNF. He says the BNF has a wealth of history around community organising citing the example of political classes during the era of Dr Kenneth Koma. Dr Dibeela believes the BNF is a sleeping giant because structures are not functional. His primary task after being elected will be to re-awaken the giant by setting up structures and revitalising them to have a strong BNF and a strong UDC, he says. "We need community organising to reignite passion for our members to read and understand politics," he said. His other priority area is to address financial vulnerability in opposition politicians, particularly to withstand huge financial losses pre and post elections which lead to them being easy prey for BDP. He plans to set up financial counselling before and after elections to mitigate the impact of financial losses suffered during campaigns.