Following a false start comprising numerous delays of the commencement of the anticipated unity talks between main opposition parties in Botswana, the talks have finally been instigated, albeit at the exclusion of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) president, Ndaba Gaolathe, Weekend Post can reveal.
The negotiation team comprises of individual parties; Botswana Congress Party (BCP), Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and Botswana Peoples Party (BPP).
Weekend Post has it on good authority that the negotiation talks between the parties were commissioned last week on the 12th September 2016 at Oasis Motel in Tlokweng township, just outside the capital city Gaborone.
It is understood that there are no mediating partners in the negotiations this time around and that Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) will be temporarily set aside to enable talks comprising individual parties to commence on a clean slate.
In fact preliminary indications suggest that there may be a new constitution, new name and the new-fangled colours which are projected to make part of the discussions and therefore the present-day UDC name may be changed if need be, particularly as there will be a new entrant being the BCP.
An impeccable source who sits in the instigated opposition negotiations table revealed that: “we are all committed and we are all pushy. Already some of the cooperating partners with the sense of urgency have drafted the governance structure and constitution of the expected new political formation and some even have submitted and more dialogue will take place and conclusions made thereafter.”
“You know we are most probable to start afresh with new constitution, name may be altered, with no UDC cards which have been the subject of debates, and existing individual parties will continue in the meantime,”he said.
It is understood that the interchanges are premised on three layers in which the first layer, which has already launched so far embraces streams which include; one team assigned to address policy issues.
Still on the stream, the other will be negotiating on the contentious subject of distribution of constituencies while the last one is intended to look at matters of governance, the constitution and power sharing arrangements.
The second layer on the talks will incorporate the central negotiating body where fiery, heated and intense debates and exchanges are anticipated to fly thick in meetings.
Information gathered suggests that the third and last layer will tackle questions of leadership of the new political collaboration formation particularly as to who becomes its president, and by extension, the president of the country if it gains power in the forthcoming 2019 General Elections.
Duma Boko and Dumelang Saleshando are seen as frontrunners in the presidential contest together with Ndaba Gaolathe. Speculations are rife that Margaret Nasha, Sidney Pilane are likely to add to the mix.
Although the UDC has been downgraded, initially the plan was to dispatch 18 team members from UDC and BCP into the negotiations. Out of the 18, it was understood that the UDC will be represented by 6 from BNF, 6 from BPP, and 6 from BMD. On the other hand BCP was also expected to send through 18 of its members to the table and was being waited on, and eventually it was arranged then that six members from each party will be enrolled in each category.
The impeccable source who was present at the 1st official meeting revealed that:“the first leg has started and will drag for the coming three weeks in which the next will follow and the overall talks are anticipated to complete end of October.”
In the commission historic meeting, BNF President Duma Boko was present together with BCP leader, Dumelang Saleshando. BPP was represented by its Secretary General Botho Seboko while party Chairman Nehemiah Modubule stood in for the BMD.
It attendance also was notably Margaret Nasha and Advocate Sidney Pilane both of whom are from the BMD fold. Perhaps in a more revealing way, BMD President, Ndaba Gaolathe was absent at the ground breaking meeting for reasons which this publication could not establish.
When justifying his absence at the momentous meeting of the opposition talks, Ndaba told this publication that during the meeting, he was attending the Parliamentary committee on statutory bodies throughout the week.
He added that him, Boko and Molapisi are not in negotiating teams. “We have delegated responsibility of discussions to various leaders within the UDC,” he said.
The BMD has been a thorn in the flesh for delayed commencement of talks owing to the internal feud and power struggle within the party between its National Executive Committee (NEC) and President and Vice president on the other side.
Indications suggest that Gaolathe does not see eye to eye with Pilane and queries his inclusion in the party negotiation team. Pilane has been roped in to represent the party on governance, constitution and power sharing category.
It is understood that this does not sit well with some BMD cadres including the president. In earnest they believe that Gaolathe is being side-lined at the negotiations which have now taken full force.
Meanwhile when reached for comment UDC Secretary General, Moeti Mohwasa confirmed that indeed the talks have started although he could not divulge more details.
“Yes it is true we have started the talks but we will update you soon on the matter,” he told this publication briefly.
Mohwasa shared sentiments that BCP Publicity Secretary, Dithapelo Keorapetse concurred when asked by this publication if they have gotten the ball rolling as far as unity talks are concerned.
He said: “yes we have commenced.” The BCP mouth piece added that they should be given peace and time to continue with the talks composedly.
Meanwhile local Political Analyst, Leonard Sesa said that Batswana expected a lot in terms of opposition cooperation before and after the 2014 general Elections but they may have been disappointed as they bore no fruits.
While he averred that the talks could have started earlier, he however commended them that at long last they have officially set foot on the paddle.
“If indeed the talks have arrived, it’s a good move. BCP banks on the talks while UDC indeed must move forward, and am hopeful they may bear good results this time around,” Sesa highlighted.
The academic cautioned that it is good for the opposition especially after numerous delays that they have moved a step forward particularly as he pointed out that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has started campaigning and coming up with strategies to triumph again in the next general Elections.
According to Sesa, all opposition parties’ committees must be up and running and involved; “And since we are talking about different people with different minds, there may be need for counselling to the members well on time especially those against the cooperation if it indeed comes to pass and contest next elections as one unit.”
The UB Political analyst also asserted that the cooperation, however, will not come easy and there has to be serious sacrifices made between the UDC/BCP, while conceding that at the end and going forward it will give the ruling BDP a run for its money and enhance competitive democracy.
For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.
Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.
In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.
When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.
The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.
According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.
Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.
Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.
Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.
Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).
The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.
He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.
“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”
Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.
“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”
Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.
Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.
Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.
Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.
There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.
The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.
And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.
Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.
Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”
Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.
Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.
On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.
The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.