Batswana were treated to yet another spectacle in a dramatic week in opposition politics when Ndaba Gaolathe announced a new party, a day after Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) leadership proposed power sharing between warring factions of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). Hardly 24 hours later, and as predicted, Gaolathe announced the formation of Alliance for Progressives (AP) in a packed hall at Ave Maria at Kgale View in Gaborone on Wednesday night, to a rapture of applause and ululations. The announcement came while the UDC was still awaiting the lapse of the seven days they had given the parties to give feedback to the mediation team. Now, the UDC will meet one side of the BMD on Tuesday night to chart the way forward following the Wednesday announcement by Ndaba and his followers. Ahead of the meeting where they will provide feedback on the power sharing proposal, the National Executive Committee of Sidney Pilane led faction of the BMD would have met on Monday where they planned to consider proposals from Ndaba camp, before the latter bolted out. Now that there is no need for power sharing Pilane and his team will present themselves as the legitimate BMD, after which they will submit four names for inclusion in the Central Committee of the UDC. Insiders in the BMD deny that they will seek to replace Ndaba with Pilane as the second vice president, claiming that their primary focus is to concentrate of reviving and assuring their members in different structures that the party is alive, after a two-year hiatus caused by the fallout between the Central Committee elected in Gantsi 2015. It is alleged that Pilane has abandoned the ambition to ascend the UDC vice presidency previously held by Ndaba, at least for now, after it emerged that since the announcement of two vice president the constitution was never amended to accommodate the new arrangement. Hence, Dumelang Saleshando remains the only Vice President to UDC leader Duma Boko.
The road to BMD split
Pilane’s first attempt to snatch BMD presidency was in 2011 when he was defeated by Gomolemo Motswaledi. He resurfaced after Motswaledi's death to identify, house and pay an independent pathologist to investigate the cause of his death. Pilane sponsored a faction at the BMD Youth League and Women's League Congresses in 2015, ahead of the Gantsi congress. Although he claimed not to be seeking any position in a letter dated May 12, 2015 Pilane's intention to snatch the party from Ndaba was known. It became evident soon after the Gantsi congress that the new BMD Central Committee was paralysed due to deep seated divisions along factional lines. The factionalism played itself out when Pilane applied for re-admission into the BMD mid-2015, when his application was rejected in Gaborone North but later accepted in Kgatleng West. For two years, since 2015, there was paralysis at the BMD as the two factions ran parallel structures. In 2017, a deeply divided BMD travelled to Bobonong for an elective congress which disintegrated into a violent clash between the factions. Despite the violence Pilane's faction went ahead with their congress at Matshekge Senior Secondary where they elected him president. The Ndaba faction, after being denied access to Matshekge, held their own congress at Bobonong CJSS. Ndaba camp approached UDC to mediate in the fallout but were dissatisfied with the verdict delivered on Tuesday. By September 2017 Pilane had total control of the BMD, after Ndaba left to form his own party. It is clear that Ndaba camp never trusted the UDC to deliver a verdict favourable to them, which was to order a re-run of the elective congress where they expected to defeat Pilane and his followers. It was not to be. The UDC instead proposed power sharing between the factions, which Ndaba could not stand. Ndaba's mistrust of the UDC started earlier with the arrival of Botswana Congress Party (BCP) into the coalition, which diluted his influence in the coalition. Ndaba receded into the shadows after his BCP counterpart Dumelang Saleshando was shoved in and elevated to the position of second vice president of the UDC, a position that never existed before.
With another member of the UDC, Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) having boycotted the BMD mediation process on grounds that they were not consulted properly and that due process of admitting BCP into the executive was not followed it remains to be seen how things will pan out. It is not immediately expected that Boko’s leadership will reach out to smooth things out with them, mainly because they are seen as close to the Gaolathe and that they could be on their way out of the UDC. It is suspected that the disregard they have faced could be arising from the belief that they do not carry significant numbers because as a regional party based mostly in the north east, they do not have a single Member of Parliament in the area or even a high number of councillors. However, observers do not rule out the possibility that Boko could rise above this and seek the repair of relationship so that their UDC project could remain relevant to many who have believed it carried their hopes of ensuring a regime change in the 2019 General Elections. Boko has already released a schedule of meetings that will take him around the country to update the UDC followers about the recent developments, particularly with regard to BMD and the grounds on which the party split. This has become urgent now since members will otherwise remain confused about the whether the opposition was still worth it to invest their time and resources in. With the leader of BCP now his running mate, it is likely that they will spare no effort in demonstrating that the UDC has not been harmed by Gaolathe’s faction departure. Having learnt the bad consequences of going it alone, BCP are expected to become the leading preachers of the value of opposition unity. In fact, they have long started this campaign, raising alarm against the possibility of BMD split when claims grew that Gaolathe and his team had made their minds about bolting out of the UDC. This means that there is a possibility that UDC will continue disparage Gaolathe who some have already dismissed as a power hungry person who does not want to be led. They believe that had he had the wishes of the UDC at heart he would have worked at reconciliation that choosing to move out. However, a lot will rest on the UDC and how it moves forward to see to it that it keeps the ship on course and even at some stage reach out to seek a working partnership for the 2019 General Elections.
There are those who feel that Boko will have to improve his leadership style of both his party the Botswana National Front (BNF) and the UDC for both parties to succeed. They feel he listens more to himself and his praise singers than those who fairly offer their critical views; that he is barely involved in key issues and matters that affect his party. It is most likely that he is likely to return to his party – the BNF – from which he draws the mandate to lead the UDC to find more people calling for a change of his leadership style. The fact that the UDC split under his watch has also not won him friends. Whichever way one looks at it the road ahead for the UDC will not be smooth, a lot more difficult to navigate than it has ever been. Going forward he will have to listen more to his critics and lead in the party cells, meetings, Parliament and everywhere where is expected to.