In a telling sign of the times, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) vice President Dumelang Saleshando has traded the coalition’s blue umbrella logo for the Botswana Congress Party (BCP)’s black cow symbol.
Although the Leader of Opposition and BCP President won his parliamentary seat on a UDC ticket, it is the BCP emblem that enjoys the pride of place at the top right corner of his Facebook page’s weekly live broadcasts of parliament proceedings. The practical effects of Saleshando’s choice of logo may be small, but the symbolism is not. It highlights the fraught nature of Botswana’s opposition coalition politics. The more interesting part of the discord between the UDC’s two biggest coalition partners however is not what you see; the fading UDC blue and the re-emergence of a kaleidoscope of individual party colours; the dissonant march to irreconcilable beats and the Facebook feuding among followers.
It’s what you don’t see. There’s a lot of history and context to unpack. Relations between Saleshando and UDC president Duma Boko have been sour following their 2019 post elections fallout. The two leaders have hardly ever seen eye to eye since the leaked controversial audio featuring suspected voices of Boko and then UDC financier Zunaid Moti in which they made unflattering remarks about Saleshando.
Moti and Boko also allegedly bugged the luxury SUV they gave to Saleshando for use during the election campaign.
Boko and Saleshando however managed to keep up appearances leading to the national elections where the UDC lost to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). Boko emerged from the elections worse off, failing to secure a seat in Parliament.
His party Botswana National Front (BNF) suffered the same fate in an incredible turn of events that left the BCP (a 2014 flop) with a majority of legislators to a handful for their coalition partners.
The true nature of Boko’s relationship with his vice president came to the fore during the mass election petitions in which Saleshando and his BCP largely refused to take part.
Sources say the two did not speak for two months following October 2019 elections until their first public appearance at the Gaborone High Court where Boko and at least a dozen of his fellow BNF parliamentary candidates challenged the results.
Saleshando and his BCP could not care less about the outcome of the elections save for Dr Mpho Pheko who was the party’s solo petitioner.
They even attended President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s inauguration which their fellow coalition partners had resolved to boycott over “rigging” allegations.
An unconfirmed ‘confrontation’ between Saleshando and one of Boko’s loyalists Owe Mmolawa was reportedly the straw that broke the camel’s back. According to insiders within the two camps, it was not so much the confrontation as was Boko’s response to Saleshando’s plea for the BNF president’s intervention. Boko reportedly refused to be drawn into discussing “personal” matters.
Another crack in relations between the two emerged early 2020 over a planned meeting between President Masisi and leaders of opposition parties. Masisi had reportedly sought a meeting to discuss Covid-19 related strategies with leaders of the opposition parties represented in parliament. With Boko being the UDC President, he would automatically be the one to attend the meeting.
As the Leader of Opposition in Parliament Saleshando naturally expected to be part of the meeting. And Boko would not delegate his vice president (Saleshando) to attend on his behalf.
As a result, Saleshando decided to play the ‘BCP president’ card to order force his way into the meeting but Masisi would not have it that way.
“On Friday I was called by a senior officer in the Office of the President. I was told that the President would like to meet me alongside other leaders of opposition parties to brief us on the corona response by government,” Saleshando wrote on his social media platforms.
“The meeting was planned for Monday morning and a proper invitation letter was to be dropped off or emailed. Less than an hour later, I was called and told that the invitation had been withdrawn because the party I lead (BCP) did not contest the 2019 general elections. Of course, the reason advanced is ludicrous and flimsy,” Saleshando wrote.
In the end the power play between the UDC leaders meant none of them attended the meeting.
The (BCP) leadership is already undertaking a secret operation to consult party structures with the aim of quitting the UDC coalition.
Sunday Standard has been reliably informed about a series of BCP Central Committee meetings where a majority led by party president Dumelang Saleshando were not particularly averse to the idea of leaving the ‘umbrella’.
Speaking to this publication Saleshando said he could not discuss anything in relation to the reports save to say the BCP will be hosting a media briefing this week.
He did not rule out the possibility of including exit discussions in the agenda at the party’s next congress scheduled for July 2021. “Why not,” Saleshando said. All indications are that the party leadership is gathering support in preparation to push through their agenda at the congress.