With the Botswana opposition setting itself up for another loss in the 2024 general election, there is likelihood of another battle front opening up in the Umbrella for Democratic Change.
One quarter of the UDC, the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), is evidently already on the way out after its leader, Saleshando fell out with the leader of the Botswana National Front (BNF), Duma Boko. That will leave three parties in the opposition collective that was formed in 2012: the BNF, Botswana People’s Party (BPP) and the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF). However, the latter is undergoing internal turmoil as a direct result of an upcoming national congress.
BPF was formed in 2019 by former state president, Ian Khama, after falling out with President Mokgweetsi Masisi and quitting the Botswana Democratic Party. Within the BPF, Khama holds the position of patron but is largely viewed as the power behind the throne. The party holds its first elective congress next month and Guma Moyo, the former Tati East MP who served a stint as assistant finance minister under Khama, is vying for the presidency with Moiseraele Goya. The latter is a former Palapye MP and held various ministerial portfolios under Khama. Goya is a late-minute replacement because initially it was Khama’s younger, Tshekedi, who was supposed to contest against Moyo.
At this point, all indications are that Moyo will win against Goya. Both are late-comers to the BPF but Moyo has cultivated enough support within the National Executive Committee and virtually all its members are in his camp – some are actually on his lobby list. The Khama faction, which Goya is a member of, is said to have cobbled together a Plan B: if it loses, it plans to form a new party – to be informally known as “Mmadinotshi”, Setswana for “queen bee.” The would-be splinter party would be acknowledgement by Khama that he has lost control of BPF. Ironically, he formed BPF because he had lost control of the BDP to Masisi.
The BPF congress comes two months after the party joined UDC, which is the biggest threat to the BDP. In the event, UDC wins, BPF will form part of the next government but recent developments have created complications and uncertainty.
Khama, who is very close to Boko, has been frightfully keen to associate himself and the BPF with UDC and actually campaigned for some UDC candidates in 2019. The relationship between the two men would have been instrumental in BPF being admitted into UDC in record time. Formal talks started in the morning and a few hours, UDC released a statement announcing BPF’s admission into the opposition collective as a fourth member.
If it does come into being, Mmadinotshi would be outside UDC – which Khama sees as the only viable option for ousting Masisi. If Mmadinotshi also joins UDC, its representatives will have to sit at the same table with arch-rivals from the BPF. This necessarily means that the two sides wouldn’t be able to cooperate within a cooperation venture. That would threaten UDC’s stability. UDC leaders would themselves be alive to this dynamic and will certainly avoid a situation where the BPF/Mmadinotshi rivalry imperils the fortunes of the opposition collective. Resultantly, they wouldn’t allow Mmadinotshi into UDC while BPF is still part of it. The likeliest scenario though is of BPF being muscled out of UDC. Khama’s personal relationship with Boko would be instrumental in that regard.
However, everything is iffy at this stage because Mmadinotshi might not even see the light of day. Revelations of plans to form the party were made by Botswana Guardian last Thursday. A BPF source says that this was a strategy to feel out party members on whether they would be receptive to a BPF splinter party. The source says that at this moment “there is no excitement about the new party” and that resultantly, some associated with it are developing cold feet. In the second scenario, Goya wins against Moyo, once more the Khamas are back in control of the BPF and there is no need to form another party.
Outside the intrigue of the elective congress and what might happen if Mmadinotshi comes into being, BPF itself might voluntarily leave UDC. BPF’s admission was rushed and some of its influential figures in Serowe, who hadn’t been consulted, were horrified to learn that their party was part of the UDC. To date, there is still a lot of disgruntlement and the party has announced that the issue will be discussed at next month’s national congress.
Ordinarily, Khama would have the final say on important issues such as these ones. However, he is said to be sitting on the fence with regard to whether BPF should stay in the UDC and whether his faction should completely break away and form a new party. The fence-sitting is a sign of the times.
As his younger twin brothers, Tshekedi and Anthony, Khama is living in exile in South Africa. In practical terms, Khama is on the run because he fled into South Africa a few hours before the Directorate of Intelligence Services and Security was to arrest him for failure to surrender “weapons of war” in his possession. However, the Botswana government never followed up with issuance of an arrest warrant – which would have triggered Interpol processes and would have made the former president a fugitive from the law. The latter set of facts means that technically, Khama is not a fugitive.
Were he on the ground in Botswana, Khama would have held meetings across the country to campaign for Tshekedi (or Goya), make the case for continued membership of UDC or forming a splinter party. Earlier this month, he Skyped into a BPF meeting that was held in Lerala to welcome former Lerala-Maunatlala MP, Prince Maele. Skype greatly limits Khama’s ability to interact with the party faithful. One of his strengths as a politician, both when he was still in the presidency and now as an opposition leader, is interacting with people in person in various social settings – like in their own homes. Inability to do this will be a critical factor with regard to whether or not to form a new party.