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Response to Kesitegile Gobotswang

Publishing Date : 20 November, 2017

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Initially, I was going to respond instantly to Dr Kesitegile Gobotswang’s opinion piece (Weekend Post, 23 – 29 September 2017) headlined “Mpotokwane, Midwife or Abortionist”.

Then family and friends advised me to ignore Gobotswang’s piece and not dignify it with a response. But in the end, I decided to respond, however belatedly, because the piece not only contained many untruths about me, but was also misleading and obviously intended to discredit me.

For instance, Gobotswang unfairly accused me of wanting “to ensure that the (UDC) project is aborted.” I’ve been involved (with others) in a tireless and often thankless effort to unite Botswana’s opposition parties since March 2003. Why would I now suddenly try “to cause maximum confusion” in the UDC with a view to aborting what I have spent much energy and personal financial resources trying to achieve over so many years?

Gobotswang also accused me of having made “startling allegations that membership of Botswana Congress Party (BCP) in the UDC was irregular”. As former conveners of the 2012 negotiations that led to the formation of the three-party UDC, Rre Motlhabane Maphanyane, Dr Cosmos Moenga and I were indeed surprised by the presence of the BCP at the meeting of the UDC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) held on 2 August 2017.

Surprised because the UDC’s initial decision to accept the BCP as a new member following the BCP-UDC negotiations was not the final act on the matter. Hence the party’s subsequent appointment of a Transitional Committee (TC) to recommend terms and conditions (e.g. allocation of UDC positions, documents to be signed, joining fee to be paid by the BCP, the need to amend the constitution to suit an enlarged UDC etc.) on which the formal admission of the BCP would be based.

When the BCP attended the 2 August meeting, the TC had submitted its report at the beginning of June, but the UDC NEC had still not met to consider it. This was the reason for our surprise and concern at the presence of the BCP at a formal UDC NEC meeting. It’s worth noting here that in 2012, the founding members of the UDC (Botswana Movement for Democracy, Botswana National Front and Botswana Peoples Party) themselves went through similar formalities to those listed above. So, why should the BCP not do this?

Let’s also not overlook the possibility (which I hope doesn’t arise) that some of the terms and conditions prescribed for the BCP’s formal membership of the UDC might well prove unacceptable to the BCP. Hence the need for the party to see and accept those terms and conditions before it can be regarded as a full member of the UDC. Lastly, if the BCP really fully joined the UDC at “the Oasis historic announcement in February 2017” (as Gobotswang alleged) why was the party’s letter to the Speaker of the national assembly, re-designating its parliamentarians from BCP to UDC MPs, only dated 3 August 2017 (Mmegi, 8 August 2017) which was just a day after the BCP’s first appearance at a UDC NEC meeting?

Gobotswang further found it necessary to announce in his article that when the 2006 opposition negotiations failed, I “withdrew from the talks leaving Mr Maphanyane alone” to handle the talks between the Botswana Alliance Movement (BAM) and the BCP, which followed the collapse of the four-party negotiations. This is misleading, for It sounds as though when Maphanyane and I chaired the four-party negotiations, our assignment also included chairing the BAM-BCP talks, which was not so.

I heard of the latter negotiations for the first time from Maphanyane when I had told him I was leaving the meeting room following the collapse of the talks, and he asked whether I wasn’t staying for the BAM-BCP negotiations. My response was that apart from the four-party negotiations, I knew of no others; and feeling tired and frustrated, I didn’t even ask who had told him about the negotiations.

I couldn’t have participated in the BAM-BCP talks anyway, because soon after leaving the meeting room, the leaders of the four parties requested me to brief them on the reasons for the collapse of the negotiations. They then requested Dr Prince Dibeela and me to facilitate their own efforts to resuscitate the collapsed negotiations. Unfortunately, they held only one meeting before the negotiations collapsed again.

Dr Gobotswang also stressed that Maphanyane’s role as convener of the BAM-BCP talks had “ended the day the two parties agreed on a PACT for the 2009 general elections”. He said the parties subsequently merged, retaining the BCP name, and “BAM did not JOIN THE BCP”. He emphasised how, following the merger, the BCP had allocated two senior positions (his own position of vice president, and that of treasurer) to former BAM leaders in recognition of “the level of sacrifice … required to cement relationships between cooperating political parties.” He then concluded: “It is the kind of spirit that is not appreciated by some self-proclaimed conveners”.

I might be wrong, but it appears that in making the above-mentioned comments, Gobotswang was contrasting what happened following the conclusion of the recent BCP-UDC talks, with what happened after the BAM-BCP merger. If so, he was wrong because the two scenarios are very different, as indicated below:

Unlike Maphanyane’s role in the BAM-BCP talks, the roles of the three UDC conveners didn’t end when the UDC talks ended in 2012. Instead, section 28 of the UDC constitution included the conveners among the members of the interim NEC of the party, whose mandate runs until “the first meeting of the National Congress”. This was done at the request of the cooperating parties when the conveners wanted to leave after they completed their work in 2012.

Rather than “merging” with the BCP, BAM in fact joined the latter, hence the retention of the BCP name. Similarly, the BCP is joining the UDC alliance, hence the retention of the UDC name, instead of adopting “UDC+”. This is because when two or more parties merge, they adopt a new name that usually reflects the nature of the merger e.g. the UK’s Liberal Democrats (Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party) and South Africa’s Democratic Alliance (Democratic Party, New National Party, and Federal Alliance).

While it’s easy where party X joins party Y for the latter to “sacrifice” senior positions for the sake of cementing the relationship, this is extremely difficult in an alliance like the UDC, where the holders of the party’s most senior positions are, at the same time, leaders of the autonomous group-members of  the alliance. In such an alliance, it’s risky to assume that it would be easy for a new member to be given a position equal to that of any of the founding leaders of the alliance.

In the case of the BCP, this was made more difficult by the party’s refusal in 2012 to sit down with the others to consider resuscitating the negotiations that had collapsed in 2011. There’s therefore no doubt in my mind that appointing the BCP leader vice president of the UDC alongside the then leader of the BMD was one of the reasons that led to the formation of the Alliance for Progressives (AP). A similar problem would have arisen had the BCP leader been appointed either co-chairman or co-president of the UDC. The issue is that simple!

Gobotswang went on to congratulate me on the role I played in the negotiations that led to the formation of the UDC in 2012. I thank him for the warm compliment. Unfortunately, another baseless accusation against me followed the compliment, namely, that “It would appear that Mpotokwane prefers any opposition cooperation arrangement as long as it excludes the BCP. Hence his latest rumblings following the success of self-mediated talks post 2014 general elections.”

This, in turn, was followed by a reference to the fact that “there were no conveners” during the recent BCP-UDC talks and, much later in the article, that “it is high time Mpotokwane came to terms with the painful truth that he was not the convener of the 2016 negotiations.” To be fair to Gobotswang, the latter comment has also been made by some senior members of the UDC NEC who, as I’ll show below, ought to have known better.

For Gobotswang to claim that I prefer cooperation arrangements that exclude the BCP is to deny my unquestionable commitment to the cause of opposition cooperation in Botswana in the past 14+ years. There isn’t much I can do about such denialism.  My colleagues and I didn’t participate in the BCP-UDC talks because long before they started, we had informed the UDC NEC that we couldn’t participate in them because of our positions on the UDC NEC since 2012.

In other words, we would have been conflicted had we participated in the talks. In response, President Boko had explained that the talks would not need conveners, which we were all pleased to hear. So, there’s really no “painful truth” that we need to come to terms with regarding not having participated in the talks.

Another of Gobotswang’s baseless accusations against me was that before the BCP-UDC talks started, I was “one of the leading proponents” of the view that, instead of the BCP-UDC talks,  “BCP should have been asked to submit an application to JOIN UDC.” He alleged that those who held this view did so “in the name of frustrating the BCP to exit the negotiations.” The truth, however, is that while this view was indeed expressed at a meeting of the UDC NEC, I was either the first or the second person to oppose it, and the meeting mistakenly supported our view on it. Mistakenly, because the UDC constitution actually provides that, “An organisation intending to apply for membership must….”

I therefore apologise profusely to the UDC NEC member whose legitimate proposal I, together with others, opposed. Incidentally, some of the requirements prescribed for new members under the above-mentioned provision of the UDC constitution are addressed in the report of the UDC’s transitional committee, which has caused so much controversy in the party.

Gobotswang then claimed that for the same reason of “frustrating the BCP to exit the negotiations”, “… Mpotokwane and those who think like him never recognised the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on by elections. They never bothered to attend the signing ceremony held in Sekoma, describing it as a BCP-BNF agreement.” This was also untrue. The reason why many members of the UDC NEC didn’t attend the Sekoma ceremony was that they first heard about the MOA on the news, when it was too late to try to attend. Had there been enough consultation and information about the MOA, many more UDC NEC members would have attended.

In conclusion, I urge Dr Gobotswang and other BCP members to desist from their repeated attempts to discredit my efforts over the years to unite Botswana’s opposition parties. In particular, I caution them that in the 14+ years that I have spent on this important project, I observed some examples of questionable conduct on the part of the BCP or its members. I am, therefore, in a position to make accusations against them that would be far more serious than their feeble attempts to discredit me. 

However, I’ve kept such information to myself so far, and intend to continue to do so going forward. I’ll do so because that’s who I am. But if BCP members continue to make false accusations against me, I reserve the right to reveal whatever I know about them and their party following my interactions with them over the years.



Do you think the courts will help put the UDC, BMD impasse within reasonable time ahead of the 2019 General Election?