UDC cum BNF president Duma Boko and BCP president Dumelang Saleshando
Opposition parties, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and Botswana Congress Party (BCP) this week stated that the official opposition cooperation talks will commence in April this year.
The consultations come after both parties have in the past committed to cooperation towards the decisive 2019 General Elections – which is expected to be more competitive.
Towards 2014, the umbrella talks which were inclusive of all opposition parties then, Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Congress Party (BCP), Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) collapsed although BNF, BMD and BPP forged ahead and contested under UDC banner.
Excluding the BCP in the cooperation, UDC went on to garner 17 seats against BCP’s paltry 3 which reinforced the conspiracy theories that the nation may be yearning for one opposition block that will make the buoyant ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) which has been in power since independence, run for its money.
In his preface statement the BCP president Dumelang Saleshando set the tone to allude that there are divisions in the BDP and indeed even on opposition. “Of course we have a divided opposition and on this one we have to take responsibility as opposition parties, to try and heal the society and come up with something to make them closer to each other,” he told a fully packed press conference on Thursday afternoon in Gaborone.
The former Gaborone Central legislator highlighted that indeed opposition division creates room for BDP’s misrule and mischief.
“And so we are here today not to sign any agreement yet, but to inform you that we have agreed on the document that will regulate the bye elections from now going forward, which documents will be signed on the 13th of this month in Sekoma where the UDC candidate will be launched for the coming bye election.”
According to Saleshando, the signing of the agreement will be the first step towards building the unity that the nation desire and possibly building a consensus of Botswana we all want to build and that it’s a very important milestone that they plan to celebrate when they actually get to it.
“It sends a strong message that the plan is to succeed. But I must also admit that its insignificant compared to trials that are ahead for us as BCP and UDC.”
Ofcourse the prophets of doom, he said will say ‘we have seen this before, they have done this before, but they ultimately failed.’ “Yes we have not succeeded in the past, but you know if life it’s not how many times you fail that matters, is what you do after failing whether you are able to stand up and dust yourself from the failures and say I will do a better job next time. So we are ready to do a better job,” the calm and collected Saleshando highlighted.
He also said that their members need to come closer to each other, as it is not only about the leadership of the parties coming together. In any case, he continued, “contrary to what many people have always suspected, there has never been any acrimony whether intense or mild between myself and UDC leader Duma Boko.”
Past failures he said were not on account of personal differences but was because they represented separate organisations that held separate positions and therefore it must never be construed that the 2 of them had not get along well.
“But ofcourse now we realize that we need to dialogue with each other for us to succeed and we want our members to do the same,” the BCP leader asserted. “And that is why we have decided to call our parties’ structures, constituency committees as well as regional committees that during the months of February and March we expect all structures to jointly hold at least one activity in their respective areas.”
Saleshando also maintained that he pins his hope on the nation to also support the activities that will be held countrywide as a build up to the full proper talks.
However he pointed out that “let’s remember that this agreement is only about bye elections and we believe it will keep the BDP away from victory stand on all bye elections that will be held until the 2019 General Elections.”
The BCP president added that it doesn’t matter what the locality is and that even in constituencies of BDP stronghold they will go there. He said the plan is to deny them any chance of victory nationwide while adding that it doesn’t help them if they only plan to win their strongholds against the BDP.
Of course we expect members of the cooperating parties to be cordial to each other and use the language that is consistent with people trying to build a relationship, he cautioned.
On his part, his counterpart UDC cum BNF president Duma Boko asserted in his prologue account marking the official declaration for the dates leading to the cooperation talks, “we will begin engagements,” he told the press conference.
“And to pre-empt the question that you will ask me members of the press, we have had formal engagements amongst ourselves at this level of leadership because it is important for us.”
He also added that they had informal whereabouts while emphasizing that it is important for them sometimes to hold these meetings away from the public and even away from their members, and he said some of these have not been discussions on the issue of cooperation but just to break bread together and just to have a cup of tea together as they have always done before.
Boko, who is also the leader of opposition chunk in parliament highlighted that “so those informal contacts, are a prelude to more formal engagements that we hope to begin and if I may put some time frame to it, the hope is that the beginning of April we may commence these formal discussions between Umbrella for Democratic Change and Botswana Congress party.”
According to the top notch qualified lawyer, “the nature, the scope and depth will define itself as we go out so I just wanted to clear this out so that you remain in absolute no doubt about what we are doing and that we make no apologies for it because it has to be done – as it’s about time” he asserted.
In those recent wine and dine meets, Boko told the journalists that they have touched on the thorny issue in the process of finding out what it is that has separated them from working with each other from the past.
“So yes we have met, all over the place in this country and even at each other’s houses so that you may be shocked and surprised,” he stated wearing his signature laugh with his eyes glued down from the audience.
He cleared the air by stating that it goes to reinforce the fact that there is no acrimony between him and BCP leader Saleshando, “we are not fighting with each other and we have never fought, and we have never insulted each other at least at the level of leadership,” the Gaborone Bonnington North law maker stressed.
So, he also insisted that “we are here today as you can see, in part to begin another step. We have responded to the budget speech yesterday, some issues that arose from our intervention yesterday are issues we will pursue together, both the leadership of UDC and that of the BCP and going forward we will jointly pursue these matters. And one of these matters include skyrocketing military expenditure.”
The Member of Parliament has also underscored that both parties acting jointly need to pursue the government to push it to account. “These are the things we need to pursue for the betterment of this country. We will call on this government to be as transparent as the situation demands. There are many issues that we will deal with together. Issues will be tackled from a common platform.”
He added that they will also refine their own issues together. We want solutions that work for our country, he said. He however cautioned that when they get to the terrain (of opposition cooperation talks) they should approach it with open mind. “We will quarrel from now and then, and we will strike a compromise here and there,” Boko stated.
He also advised that politics is more dynamic, more interesting, more engaging and that we need to rescue it from this caricature of “ideologues” but do what works for the country.
“So as I said to you, April we will engage in formal discussion about unity. I have no doubt in my mind that we will succeed. I have absolutely no doubt. And this is an ominous message to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). They must be quaking on their boots as I speak and I know they are freaked out because if there is anything they don’t want to hear and see is in fact this opposition cooperation,” the UDC leader postulated.
So now we are giving them a sneak preview so that when they run around and tell us who their president is or is not they know, he stated to a thunderous applause from both the UDC, BCP party members who were present alike.
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.