Amid confusion, uncertainty and backstabbing the long awaited united opposition christened Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) was delivered on Friday by the leadership of contracting parties Duma Boko (BNF), Dumelang Saleshando (BCP), Ndaba Gaolathe (BMD) and Mbaakanyi Lenyatso (BPP VP). As the dust settles on the brouhaha which threatened to derail and render the project stillborn when members used different platforms to attack and ridicule the leadership, historians and political pundits have receded to their quarters to analyse the new partnership. The party presidents have remained steadfast and steered negotiations through turbulent waters with one thing in mind – to achieve unity and topple BDP in 2019. Even as the quartet paraded before the newshounds, hugged and smiled for the cameras on Friday, some observers remained unconvinced that it will be smooth sailing to 2019. Behind the scenes, there is more than meets the eye, as power brokers are busy at work. The looming joint venture has caused a huge public outcry, distress, wild speculation and heckling in the public arena. Now the speculation is over. An air of unity washed over the Oasis motel in Tlokweng on Friday – the same venue the parties met to announce the collapse of negotiations in December 2011 – when Boko announced that they are undoing their past mistakes. Warning that the journey will be tough, Boko implored his charges to be tolerant to criticism – in fact he applauded a barrage of attacks from members and the media, which he said demonstrates that they really care about opposition unity. "This unity is a love supreme, love for the wellbeing and welfare of others," he said.
The Friday launch brings fresh memories of the collapse of the first Umbrella unity talks when the BCP –led by Saleshando – pulled out in December 2011, citing irreconcilable differences. The party would later suffer an embarrassing loss at the 2014 general elections, which forced them into a hasty retreat to rekindle relations with UDC. A groundswell of public opinion from different quarters, among them trade unions and general membership put the blame squarely on the BCP door, accusing them of killing prospects of regime change. On simple arithmetic calculations a united opposition, which collectively won over 53% popular vote, would have won the 2014 elections under the First Past The Post (FPTP) simple majority system used in Botswana’s democracy. The new UDC leadership collectively accepts the blame for failing Batswana in 2014, but Boko reiterates that failure is good as it builds to success. The jury is still out on the shape and form the partnership between UDC and BCP will take going forward. But long before the much anticipated unity is solemnised there are intense debates within the opposition ranks as members try to rationalise the conclusions made by negotiating teams. The UDC name has been retained while a new identity – yet to be designed by experts – will be adopted. Two Vice President positions have been created at the expense of a Secretary General in a 16-member National Executive Committee (NEC). Constituency allocation is such that BNF gets 22, BCP 17, BMD 14, and BPP four. Membership could be directly through the UDC or automatically through a contracting party. "We will evaluate this arrangement going forward," says Boko, refusing to entertain suggestions that there was ever consideration for the name UDC+. Although it appears a minor thing, the UDC+ caused serious division recently when members questioned the need to change identity. While some suggested that UDC+ is appropriate and in line with global nomenclature signifying additionality because BCP was not part of the tripartite alliance in 2014, others thought such was unnecessary.
The allocation of the constituencies settles the debate centred around two major views. While some believed that as a late comer the BCP should come underneath an already existing arrangement, members of the party – which garnered a massive 20% popular vote in 2014 – strongly felt that they are a big player in opposition politics supported by the numbers and therefore deserve better. Clearly some concessions had to be made, with each party bending to accommodate the other as confirmed by the two presidents. Ahead of the announcement, Saleshando was tipped to take the powerful Secretary General position but it emerged that it does not exist in the new structure and now the BCP man is neck and neck with Gaolathe in the Vice President position. There is a school of thought that this brings Saleshando closer to state power as he stands a good chance of becoming the country's VP should the UDC emerge triumphant in 2019. It also points to the opposition leaders’ eagerness to position themselves to benefit from the automatic succession constitutional provision should they gain state power. This demonstrates that there was serious bargaining behind doors which resulted with a compromise of creating two deputies for the president while phasing out Secretary General position. The arrival of BCP into the UDC has removed all kinds of excuses about fragmentation and vote splitting. All eyes will be glued on the three musketeers to deliver state power to a united opposition.
Duma Boko – BNF
His flamboyant dress code and love for finer things in life capped with a polished Queens’ language aside, the Mahalapye native has defied critics and detractors inside and outside his own party, who questioned his leadership credentials, with equal measure. After inheriting an ailing BNF, which had suffered numerous splits torn apart by deep seated factionalism Boko wasted no time cracking the whip. Rogue elements running amok were soon shunted out into political wilderness and silenced while those who remained were converted. Boko had made it past the first hurdle and entrenched himself as a decisive and firm leader. Disobedience became history at Phua phaa – the BNF slogan. As promised and with a little push from trade unions who had running battles with government, Boko took the BNF to a negotiation table with other opposition parties – a feat that had eluded veteran politicians in the mould of Phillip Matante, Dr Kenneth Koma and Motsamai Mpho. Having brushed aside critics Boko looks and sounds more convincing than ever about his determination to cause regime change in 2019. And with the support of two of the most highly rated politicians in the land the opposition looks menacingly close to clinching government, save for a miracle or the EVMs. The Harvard trained lawyer-cum-politician whose public image in political space has transformed tremendously to an erudite, highly confident leader exudes sheer determination, passion and grit about him. Even within the ruling BDP the reality that Boko could become the next President – assisted by Gaolathe and Saleshando – is beginning to dawn on them. The relatively young age of the three leaders make them appealing to the youth, who make the majority of the population. The youth appear to have lost confidence in the ruling party. Recent elections have also demonstrated that voters are becoming more sophisticated and respond to challenges they are facing to effect change.
Dumelang Saleshando -BCP
Perhaps the most difficult task for Boko, Saleshando, and other umbrella leaders will be managing historically difficult relationships. The long standing egotistic contest between BNF and BCP is legendary. On the other hand, the BMD could be wary of the BCP warming its way closer to their big brother, with fears that the latter could undermine the former. The BCP has committed to ensure the success of opposition cooperation agreement. Already BCP has tasted success through a MoU entered into with UDC for cooperation in by-elections. The BCP has already paved the way in what the opposition believes is an attempt by the BDP to rig the 2019 general elections. The party is suing government, challenging the constitutionality of the amendments of the electoral Act, which abolished supplementary registration and introduced the controversial Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). The man leading crusade is Saleshando, who in the past was seen as aloof and steadfast that BCP can defeat the BDP alone. Since 2014 Saleshando has been reduced to a humble man after losing Gaborone Central parliamentary seat to Dr Phenyo Butale of the BMD, despite having crushed the BDP twice before. Seen by some as a power monger and a schemer who fought to be the second in command, Saleshando's tone on Friday defied such observation. But with the VP position in hand and a whopping 17 constituencies – despite having only two MPs in Parliament – the BCP have definitely dealt a good hand. It is on the face of it, a good deal considering that the party just missed a win by a whisker in many constituencies they fielded candidates. "These are my brothers. I am my brothers' keeper," said Saleshando, drawing a Biblical citation to buttress the point of unity.
Ndaba Gaolathe – BMD
Son of former Finance Minister Baledzi Gaolathe and born in September 1972 Ndaba is a graduate of George Washington University (two Bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics and Economics) and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The soft spoken mastermind and shrewd strategist is the cog in the wheel of the new UDC. Gaolathe is expected to protect his turf at the UDC against advances by the new more experienced and organised partner in the foursome – BCP. This challenge is compounded by the need to prevent disgruntled members from his party returning to the BDP, where some agree they may still harbour ambitions after the departure of Khama in 2018. The BMD was formed by disgruntled BDP members who broke away to form a splinter party in support of the late Gomolemo Motswaledi – the founding president of BMD and former ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) secretary general. Gaolathe's meteoric rise in politics was almost accidental, fast tracked by the dismissal of Motswaledi as BDP Secretary General and later his death. His leadership has been muddled by internal fighting, mudslinging and controversies at BMD, but he has managed to calm the storm. There are still clear signs of divisions in his party, which distracts his attention at the parent organisation the UDC. His political mastery and foresight has entered a new phase to ensure his own survival at the top of his party, at the UDC and in seeing to it that he delivers on the UDC mandate.