Thursday, October 28, 2021

Behind the UDC facade of unity

Between the lines of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) First Vice President Ndaba Gaolatlhe’s statement at a press conference at Oasis Motel Friday morning was a message that was lost to most journalists: “Sometimes I wonder if I should have stayed at home or pursued my private endeavors instead but yet again I do have deep hope that the UDC will not be a project for opposition unity only, but a project that will truly unite Batswana.”     

Gaolathe, for the first time, finds himself iffy about the support of UDC President Duma Boko as fault lines threaten to rip asunder the fragile union of opposition parties. The facade of unity presented by the UDC leadership at the press conference masked deep divisions cleaved by alliances formed during the hot blooded debates between the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) under Gaolatlhe, Botswana National Front (BNF) under Boko, Botswana Congress Party (BCP) under Dumelang Saleshando and Botswana Peoples Party under Motlatsi Molapisi.

The negotiations threw up a number of contentious issues which polarized the negotiation table into two camps. On the one hand are BMD under Gaolathe, BPP under Molapisi and BOFEPUSU led by Johnson Motshwarakgole and on the other hand is BNF under Boko, BCP under Saleshando and a faction of the BMD led by Sidney Pilane.

Pilane who is plotting to oust Gaolathe as BMD President had a meeting with Saleshando on Wednesday night on the eve of the crucial Thursday meeting to decide the form and content of the new look UDC.

It was at this meeting where Pilane phoned and lobbied BMD’s Gilbert Mangole and Nehemiah Modubule, his two trusted Lieutenants to back Saleshando’s bid for the UDC vice Presidency.

An earlier meeting between Boko, Gaolathe, Saleshando and Molapisi had ended in a deadlock on the issue. At the meeting Molapisi and Gaolatlhe had argued that Gaolathe who is the de jure leader of opposition had ceded the position of leader of opposition for Boko and it was unfair that he should also be expected to share the position of Vice President with Saleshando.

Boko and Saleshando on the other hand insisted that Gaolathe should share the vice presidency with Saleshando. With the vote deadlocked at two hands on each side, the meeting was postponed to Thursday where executive members of the party would be roped in to help break the deadlock.

Pilane, who is plotting to overthrow Gaolathe as UDC president and controls the party National Executive Committee joined Boko and Saleshando to defeat Gaolatlhe.

Pilane has strong links with the Director General of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services, Isaac Kgosi and there are already fears that he may leverage his relationship with the spy chief and the social capital he has invested in the UDC duo of Boko and Saleshando to push Gaolatlhe.

Saleshando’s business dealings with Isaac Kgosi have crossed in the past. The BCP President through his wife Dineo had business dealings with Choppies’ directors at a time when the DISS chief was one of a handful of shareholders in the supermarket chain. Other partners in the business deal with Saleshando’s wife were BDP Presidential hopeful Tshekedi Khama, former BDP deputy treasurer Paul Paledi and former BDP cabinet minister Neo Moroka.

Should the horse trading that attended the negotiation process endure, Gaolathe is likely to find himself in the cold. The BMD President who it was initially speculated would boycott the press briefing, however, seems determined to stick it out.

At stake is a change of government at the 2019 general elections. The four UDC partners polled 53.55 % of the popular vote while the ruling BDP attained 46, 45%.

Gaolathe who was the first to address the press conference stated that he found it most valuable to be with the UDC for the mere fact that the winds of change in Botswana are at the utmost possibility. Gaolathe mentioned that it was evidently clear that Batswana continue to express hope in the UDC project to the extent of having developed high anticipation of regime change, come 2019. Ndaba cautioned the UDC Leadership to never forget what UDC has been set for. He gave examples such as the necessity to unleash varying potentials of Batswana, job creation, entrepreneurship, improving decency at family level, upholding of a clean government and the need to respect laws of the land. The BMD leader emphasized the point that members should always bear in mind that “UDC is greater than individuals and individual parties.”

Despite his endorsement of the new deal, one could detect some elements of displeasure and distaste from Gaolathe. In a poetic expression, Gaolathe  casted some form of doubt for his continuation with the UDC project as he stated that “sometimes I wonder if I should have stayed at home or pursued my private endeavors instead but yet again I do have deep hope that the UDC will not be a project for opposition unity only, but a project that will truly unite Batswana.”      

BPP, represented by its Vice ÔÇô President Mbaakanyi Lenyatso, also expressed his delight as the success of the union.

Menyatso said “In my prophesy I see the UDC victory in the 2019 general elections. He implored members of the UDC to unconditionally support the decisions reached from the UDC New Deal. Menyatso further promised the press that the UDC was not going to be a party of individuals but a party that will prioritize people`s interests. 

BCP President, Dumelang Saleshando, said his party learnt that failure to unite as opposition continues to give BDP the pleasure to misrule. He said that BCP has come to the partnership in a true sense of brotherhood. The BCP president said what is very important in the UDC project is the need to concentrate on partners commitments rather than possibilities of failure. Saleshando emphasized the need to promote the UDC values which are enshrined in the agreed policies as a collective by partners. In promoting the UDC policy programme, Saleshando mentioned that “UDC pursues a social democratic programme to elevate even the poorest citizen to a true decent way of life and where such an individual will exist in an environment that provides him/ her with the opportunities for reaching high goals in life.”

Saleshando further stated that the negotiations were not easy. He said despite the fact that partners have gone through a win and loss process, this should not make others feel that they are being somewhat disliked and undermined.

BNF President, Duma Boko said that the UDC called the press conference to present a New Agenda. He defined the new agenda “as an episode that is meant to correct the anomaly that failed in 2011…. “the UDC is being ushered as a dynamic, robust, and with all encompassing peculiarity.” Boko mentioned that it is not in the scope of UDC to fail and that as its leadership they cannot afford not to seize the vision of serving Batswana. The UDC President said his party is presenting a revolutionary change that will free up everyone including the media. He said guaranteeing fundamental freedoms remained an onerous responsibility of UDC. 

He revealed the new changes agreed by the quartet:  The UDC name will remain as it is, will adopt navy blue as the party colour, and an umbrella framework to be the party symbol. The structure of the party has also been revised to cater for two vice presidents which will be occupied by both the BMD and BCP. The presidency is to be retained by BNF. BPP has been given the chairmanship, a position they have been holding.

On allocation of constituencies, the UDC president said the process has been completed.  The BCP has been allocated 17 seats while the BNF got 22, BMD 14 and BPP 5. Boko said the parties have agreed to deploy the candidates with the best possible talent in constituencies.

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