An order for the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) to hold a congress to elect new leadership was scheduled to take centre stage at a national executive committee meeting yesterday (Saturday), after the national working committee escalated the issue to the higher authority. Party spin doctor Winfred Rasina said late Friday that the National Working Committee had considered the recommendations from the UDC, which were delivered to them on Monday, and resolved at the Thursday meeting to refer it to the NEC in view of its magnitude. He said the decision was made to give the matter thorough consideration because as a member in good standing the BMD feels duty bound to assist the parent Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to resolve the matter sufficiently, recognising that the coalition has never handled a similar dispute. "We don’t have a problem with the recommendations although we may not agree with everything. As a member in good standing we are duty bound by the constitution of the UDC to comply and abide by its guidance, this notwithstanding that we have our own constitution," said Rasina, refusing to discuss the details of the verdict further.
But even before BMD takes a position on the verdict, the body language of the leadership already shows that they have accepted the instructions to avoid deliterious repercussions invited by non-compliance. Sidney Pilane, the BMD president elected at a violent congress in Matshekge Hill School, set tongues wagging and broke the internet midweek when he posted on social media that he had stepped down and is now an ordinary member. Although it came through an informal platform, the resignation is interpreted by political commentators as an indirect acceptance of the UDC recommendations for fresh elections and a self-preservation strategy. Ironically, Pilane and his faction had sternly opposed suggestions that their leadership was illegitimate and should submit to a proposal for a re-run of the congress.
Some have seen through the strategy and dismiss the social media resignation as a hoax. In fact, they insist that there was no stepping down because safe for his group of friends, the UDC has never recognised Pilane as the BMD president. The context is that UDC ordered a re-run after they nullified Matshekge congress as not conducive for a free and fair elections which technicality and by extension nullified the election of Pilane and his central committee. The alleged resignation was just to save face but immaterial after BMD accepted the verdict and started processes to prepare for a proper congress, commentators say. But some read into the hasty acceptance of the UDC verdict as a demonstration that Pilane's team has already prepared ground now that they will be unopposed at congress. Therefore they want the matter of congress re-run dispensed with without procrastination for them to take their rightful position at the UDC.
Once back in office, Pilane will become the vice president of UDC with Boko the only hurdle to the presidency of the biggest opposition coalition in the history of Botswana. Despite denying having interest in the UDC presidency, Pilane's denials have fallen on deaf ears with commentators pointing to his conduct where he deposed Gaolathe from the party helm. Political commentators point to his ability to somersault on pronouncements he has made about his political ambition as a clear indicator that his main target is nothing less than the UDC presidency and will pull all stops to get there. Only time will tell, they say. After announcing publicly that he has no interest in the BMD leadership, after widespread speculation that he was, Pilane pulled strings to be re-admitted into the party and immediately gunned for the presidency that he eventually won in Bobonong under controversial circumstances. Even in official communication dispatched by Rasina on Wednesday the party sidesteps discussing the status of the leadership elected in Matshekge. He instead pleaded with members of the BMD, sympathisers and well-wishers to within reason and logic wait for the leadership to provide guidance, promising that the BMD leadership will make a detailed correspondence to the appropriate authorities.
He said whatever decision they make, they will do so with utmost consideration to the interests and aspirations of the nation and the world. "The BMD also plead with members, well-wishers and sympathisers of the BNF, BCP and BPP that we understand that it is not an easy space we find ourselves in. We point out that we are aware that as contracting partners to the UDC, they require this matter to come to a kind and amicable close. The BMD also makes this assurance again that; as a full member of the UDC in good standing, we remain fully committed to the UDC, its constitution and its ideals," said Rasina. Despite a declaration by UDC president Duma Boko this week that BMD is a member in good standing, the exclusion of the latter from on-going programmes of the coalition – despite having submitted four names of its representatives last month – remains inexplicable and sticks out like a sore thumb. Even at a rally in Maun yesterday (Saturday) the BMD representatives were conspicuously absent from the line-up of speakers and were not even mentioned in the placards inviting members of the public to the gathering. The Maun rally is one in a series of meetings addressed by Boko and one of the UDC Vice Presidents, Dumelang Saleshando – the president of Botswana Congress Party (BCP).
Apart from side-lining BMD leadership, which UDC vehemently denies, the verdict nullifying outcomes of the violent Matshekge congress has sent shockwaves in the political arena. Beyond refusing to recognise the controversial meeting of the Pilane-led faction of the BMD in Matshekge, the UDC has ordered the party to convene a proper congress where delegates from all regions will vote a new party leadership to take up positions in the central committee. The nullification of the Matshekge congress, which ushered in Sidney Pilane as the president of (BMD) has raised more questions than answers and created confusion within the coalition. Once again Boko is being criticised for having failed to save the BMD from a split when invited to do so, only for him (and other UDC leaders) to endorse proposals submitted by a faction led by Ndaba Gaolathe two months after they defected to form a new party – Alliance for Progressives (AP). Ndaba and his followers said they left the BMD because it was apparent that Boko and company were not amenable to proposals to nullify congresses held by the two factions in Bobonong and call fresh elections managed by an independent body instructed by UDC. In the verdict then, Boko and company dismissed the congress held by Ndaba's faction at Bobonong CJSS as unlawful while endorsing Matshekge as the recognised venue for the BMD congress. They never commented on the validity of the elections at Matshekge where tight security armed with catapults and blood bounds was used to block some delegates from accessing the venue leading to violence and serious injuries, but only went as far as saying the venue was not conducive for a proper congress where free and fair elections can be conducted.
In the pronouncement this week BMD has been ordered to hold fresh elections within three months after Boko and company, unlike before, explicitly nullified the outcome of the violent Matshekge congress. Questions are now being asked if such instructions (nullifying Matshekge and calling a new congress) do not amount to interference by the UDC leadership on matters in their coalition members. The non-interference argument was first used by Boko at the height of BMD tensions when asked why he did not intervene to broker peace. Pilane would also, soon after being elected in Matshekge, tender the same explanation when later asked about the relationship between his party – BMD – and other coalition partners. Both reiterated that each coalition partner is governed by its own constitution with provisions for conflict resolution and that there is no such provision for the UDC leadership to interfere.