Saturday, July 4, 2020

BDP and BNF ineptitudes conspiring to put BCP and Dumelang Saleshando aloft

Dumelang Saleshando is in his element.In fact he has been since coming back into parliament as official Leader of Opposition and presumptive leader of the Umbrella for Democratic Change. His biggest strength is that he listens to advice he gets from his team. He does not ride a high horse. And unlike Duma Boko he generally stays closest to his script. He works hard. And is largely well disciplined.We are yet to see evidence that President Mokgweetsi Masisi listens to advice. We learn that Sidney Pilane will be joining government as one of advisors to the office of the president. Pilane has had a tumultuous political career and an unsuccessful one at that, it might be added. But that a story for another day.

Since elections, Saleshando has retained his campaign footing. He has not rested. And had resisted temptations to celebrate his and his party’s astonishing comeback. This is in stark contrast to the BDP that has been in celebratory mood since October last year.It would seem like Saleshando has his eyes on the future. And he succeeding is pushing government against the wall and also holding them to account. First things first; Saleshando’s growth in stature is largely a function of government shortfalls.He has been sizing himself against President Mokgweetsi Masisi. And all of the ruling party activists have fallen into the Saleshando trap. People expect government functionaries to over time grow and mellow in the job. That has not been happening. And it has provided fodder to Saleshando and his bench, who we must add are providing much better quality than was the case in the last parliament.

Lately we have been seeing government make a series of elementary schoolboy mistakes.Many of these bungles are unpardonable. The sad thing is that they could very easily have been avoided. They are made worse by inadequate and poorly developed communication setup. The biggest problem seems to emanate from a centralized power inside the cabinet. There is a strong myth in government that only direct intervention by the president can bring change in the way things are done and bear results.

That risks bringing back the worst hallmarks of Ian Khama leadership whose ever readiness to make personal interventions on every small matter led to micromanagement on a scale hitherto unseen and also allowed personal rule reach unprecedented heights. The president should be released to provide strategic guidance at a broader and archetypal levels. And to only intervene when necessary and only on those things that he personally understands.If the president insists on controlling everything, he will end up really controlling nothing.That is what happened with Ian Khama who in the end could not even take control of his own succession plan. There is need to re-introduce strong cabinet sub-committees including on the economy and local government. That used to be the case and avoided planning on a whim, which has become a modus operandi.

The office of the vice president should be strengthened. And concurrently he be explicitly made head of government business, including directly supervising all cabinet ministers.That would relieve the President of the unnecessary entanglements arresting him.Introducing small dens around the president littered with a few self-seeking ministers deemed brilliant by the president is unwise, not least because it does nothing to push the president’s agenda.

Saleshando has been making political capital on these, including what he has called a shocking accumulation spree by President Mokgweetsi Masisi. At risk here is not the president but the presidency – an institution far bigger than the individual and whose dignity we should defend to the last of our collective blood drop. Government inexperience and general shallowness are too often exposed in cabinet ministers every time they attempt to counter Saleshando.

As a result, government too often is forced to retort to deceit, generalization and outright untruths. This is seen as obstinacy and even arrogance on the part of government. And the cycle goes on and on – with Saleshando emerging on top. Recent allegations of drug peddling against him are not new. It is also not a coincidence that they surface at a time when he is riding a political crest. They are meant to provide a distraction for him and even stop his momentum. So far they are succeeding. He needs to address the allegations substantively and with honesty – including roping in Isaac Kgosi who we learn has some details to share.

In total opposite to 2014 when they failed to read the public mood and opted not to join the coalition of opposition, the BCP is today generally tuned up, with a very strong political antennae to pick the shifting national moods. To Saleshando’s credit the BCP has even during its darkest hour remain the country’s most organized political outfit. There is a near universal consensus, even among those who are turned off by his propensity to criticise, politicise and find fault with everything on the other side, that Saleshando is a highly experienced and gifted politician.

He is also an effective Member of Parliament. If the Botswana Democratic Party has not yet made up their mind to realise that they have in their hands a much bigger issue than was the case with Duma Boko, they will be forced do so quite soon. Saleshando has been involved in politics at the highest levels from his days at the University of Botswana, where before the creation of the BCP he was a high profile BNF student activist.He has become a complete opposite of Boko who after elections in 2014 went to camp at Mugg and Bean restaurant at Riverwalk surrounded by hangers on from his days as a university law lecturer.

The BDP seems to have underestimated Saleshando’s resolve to one day become President of Botswana.Also terribly underestimated has been the resilience and intellectual firepower of the Botswana Congress Party that feeds Saleshando’s insatiable hunger for power. Those intent on stopping his rise should wake up to these facts. Saleshando is absolutely determined. Once in a while he makes strategic and tactical compromises and retreats along the way – some of them hurtful to him, but none of them delaying his march to his ultimate trophy or taking his eyes on the prize.

Saleshando was brought into UDC by Duma Boko and his BNF. The thinking was that BCP would give in and accept a junior position inside the UDC. Now it is clear that BCP will not settle for anything less than absolute control of the UDC. If it means leaving the UDC, the BCP will be the first one out. Conflict is like a raw meat to him.He feeds on political disputes. And there is one dispute brewing inside the Umbrella for Democratic Change. Time after time that dispute has been differed. But it will have to happen because it also has a bearing on resolving one man’s destiny.

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.