There is a change in the mood of politics in Botswana.
Ever since it became public that Dumelang Saleshando is the frontrunner to become BCP President, the ruling BDP is uneasy.
For the last forty five years, the BDP has literally determined Botswana’s political weather.
They have decided on all the parameters of public debates and settled the outcomes on terms that only made sense to themselves.
That is about to change.
In a startling way, Botswana politics is poised to be interesting again, much like they were in the 1980s and early 1990s when Kenneth Koma and his BNF were on the march.
There is no doubt that Dumelang, given his boundless energy and intellect, will create a new atmosphere inside his party.
As Dumelang prepares to take the reins of the BCP, the ruling party is right to remember that for the last ten years or so he has been a real thorn on their side.
For that it is in order to pause and imagine what it means that, given his age, he may well come to dominate Botswana’s public life for another 20 or 30 years.
While many BDP detractors will sneer at his age, abrasiveness and young age, others like Vice President Mompati Merafhe (who by the way pretends to be one of the best brains inside today’s BDP) are well aware of Dumelang’s capabilities and potential.
Like Merafhe, many more brilliant BDP followers also know that with Dumelang at BCP’s helm, events will more and more, faster and faster escape the traditional control of their party. They are right!
Many BDP members like the current Speaker of the National Assembly, Margaret Nasha, know Dumelang’s strengths, not least because they have in the past fallen victim of those. The unease within their ranks is not without justification.
Dumelang could not have come at a more opportune time.
People are fed up with the BDP.
President Ian Khama knows this more than any of us.
His charm offensive ahead of last year’s General Elections, coupled with nocturnal visits across the breadth of the country where he sat around fireplaces and listened to folklore from old men did not bring the BDP anywhere near the 70 percent share of the popular vote he publicly prayed for.
The reason is simple: The BDP is in a political stasis.
For a man of Khama’s popularity, not to speak of the amount of money put in the party’s campaign effort last year, it is a serious humiliation that the party could only increase their share of the popular vote by 2 percent.
The public humiliation gets more pronounced when one gets to remember that the opposition that BDP faced last year was led by a BNF that was literally on its deathbed.
Everything being equal, its fair to say Festus Mogae performed better than Khama, given that Mogae had to make do with a very solid opposition from BNF some ten years ago.
But then, as we all know, Botswana’s electoral system is so unfair that even though the BDP could only get 52 percent of the popular vote, they now control close to 80 percent of parliamentary seats.
Going forward, the BDP looks doomed still.
There is simply no way the party is going to be able to produce another leader of Khama’s personal popularity, likeability and charisma.
While people admire and revere Khama the person, politically they have reached a conclusion that it would be reckless and unsafe to extend him the 70 percent he so fervently clamoured for. Hence last year’s results.
You can imagine how bad the situation could have been without Khama.
While on its own illustrative, results from last year’s elections only tell half the story. The other half, which should be of greater worry to the ruling party, is that if such an immensely popular leader could produce so little in terms of electoral results, it’s safe to say that after Khama, the BDP has not much option but contend with more and more political inanition.
This is wherein comes Dumelang.
If he becomes BCP President, Dumelang will provide that which has been lacking even as the people called for it ÔÇô a clear national alternative to Ian Khama.
Officially speaking, Dumelang has not announced he will contest the BCP Presidency. But the matter is in practice already decided.
He will inherit the position from his father, a first negative for him even though the BDP will itself have no cause to grumble about it as there are many sons and daughters in their dynasty who have literally inherited political positions left behind by their parents.
Popular and able as he is, the mistake that Dumelang should not make is to hope that everybody will embrace him for what he is.
He will have to work hard to convince the grassroots that he offers a break from the BDP. It will not be easy.
Those closest to him say he has not as yet been able to successfully shed the trappings of privilege he was born into.
Thus to an ordinary Motswana, Dumelang has much more in common with Khama than with themselves. He will have to device ways to work around that reality.
For Dumelang real work is not within the BCP, but rather among cynics who cannot see the difference between him and Khama.
This is not to downplay the fact that today’s BDP is run by individuals with a deep loathing for him.
As soon as he becomes BCP leader, the BDP spin machine will kick-start a campaign to paint him as a spoiled, upper middle-class brat standing on one leg and with not much moral authority to speak against their Khama and the BDP Government.
That, I think is because though born of a family wholly steeped in opposition politics, he went to the best schools that were in the past an exclusive domain of the children of BDP high priest. When I first met Dumelang at college close to 20 years ago, he was knee-deep in opposition politics.
What has remained perched on mind all these years is a 2nd year undergraduate who contested against a 5th year for the control of the campus politics. Although he lost the contest, he struck me as a future leader who was way ahead of his times.
Looking back, I think events are about to prove me right.
But still that will not be enough to stop the BDP spin doctors, not without justification, to remind him that he is not much different from themselves.
Thus having from the onset forfeited so much ground to potentially use himself as a victim of BDP’s ill advised policies, he will have to find ways to effectively confront his past.
The BNF will for its part, albeit for the most time in private, dismiss him as a right wing conservative who cannot be trusted to take on the BDP.
There are yet other demons that Dumelang will have to work around.
Though intellectually rigorous as Vice President Mompati Merafhe would readily attest, Dumelang can also be shockingly arrogant.
He strikes me as someone who, when in a position of real authority, would have little patience for those who do not agree with him.
Of course, we cannot disregard his unmistakable contempt for the intellectually less endowed, as Member of Parliament Botlhogile Tshireletso will, I hope, come to testify from my corner.
It’s a dilemma for which Dumelang has to prepare and confront, a result not just of his politics but, more importantly, of his privileged social background.
For their part, the BDP have every reason to be worried.
For once they are right about something.