He now pushes his party agenda and his business consortiums
After being defeated in the 2014 general elections by the Umbrella for Democartic Change (UDC) candidate, Dr Phenyo Butale in the race for Gaborone Central constituency, Botswana Congress Party (BCP) president, Dumelang Saleshando is quickly adjusting to life outside Parliament. He tells WeekendPost Staffer, TEFO PHEAGE that he has more time to deal with party issues, dedicated reasonable time to his family and ofcourse, his business interests.
Saleshando is adamant that his party, has been at the forefront of opposition cooperation and still finds it laughable that there are voices accusing the BCP of shunning opposition cooperation. In fact he warns Umbrella Party model supporters that the widely held view that a combination of BCP and the UDC will automatically usher a new government could turn out to be a falacy in politics.
In an hour long interview this week, the BCP leader took time to explain his party’s position on opposition cooperation and his personal relations with proponents of the Umbrella model and his personality in politics. Saleshando is of the view that from the last elections, for every five people who voted for the opposition, two cast a vote for the BCP. “We are very much a factor in the country’s politics especially opposition politics, rule us out at your own peril,” he says. Saleshando says they will not be bullied into submitting to the Umbrella. He says they are strengthening their organisation, because in the case of a negotiation, they must bring a solid proposal to the table.
The BCP leader agrees that there are two options, the BCP and the UDC participating in elections as one entity or each party msinding its own business and a natural process will take place to make one of the parties irrelevant. He strongly believes the BCP has solid policies that people can identify with, hence their persistant resistance to a total close shop of their movement.
On discussing the Umbrella politics, the BCP leader is of the view that there will always be two sides to any argument. “Such a topic will obviously divide people, both within the UDC and the BCP as you would have realised. Movements that always make unanimous decisions without any divergence are to me dead movements,” he explains. According to Saleshando the BCP has cadres who are willing to deliberate on the subject of the Umbrella and he is confident that it will be put to rest this year after the party conference and elective congress.
The BCP leader stresses that one biggest mistake Umbrella model supporters make is that they automatically assume that the BCP joining the umbrella will translate to automatic state power. That according to him is a simplistic and rudimentary view of politics.
“Look here, one plus one is not necesarily two in politics. While we are mindful to the fact that we will have large numbers as a result, we must also be mindful of the fact that we will also lose some who are not for the model. Their frustrations may mean a lot of things, joining the BDP, forming own parties, abstaining and so forth. A typical example is where we cooperated with other opposition parties, especially the Botswana National Front (BNF) during Bye elections where our numbers combined were more than thpose of the BDP but we went on to lose to the BDP despite merging efforts,” he said.
The BCP is going foe an elective congress in July and some say it is the most challenging the party has ever convened, Saleshando doesn’t necesarily agree as he posits that ‘at the end of the day the party decides and when the party decides no man can say no’. But what is the role of a leader in a congress confronted by such issues? “A leader should guide, provide foresight and pave the way. You are the only one who is given a full hour to speak. My view is that I should do what I have to do and the members should decide for or against the Umbrella,” responds Saleshando.
The BCP leader leader says he has been accused of not using his executive powers in the past, but adds that internal party democracy is at the core of the existence of the BCP as a party. “I will not lower the party standards to accomodate anyone, I will not be tempted to make uniliteral decisions and divide the party as I often see with other parties,” he said.
Saleshando agrees that the party did not perform well, “against our target yes. But we must understand that every five voters who voted for the opposition, two voted for the BCP. These numbers matter and shouldn’t be taken lightly. I pride myself from the fact that we are the only party whose message was clearly heard and understood by the electorates. But the escalated propaganda and lies which I admit we took lightly worked against us. We have a durable message,” he says.
He charges that his aim has always been to build a party that deals with core issues beyond fashion statements. Saleshando does not expect Batswana to give the opposition mandate just because it has announced a BCP and UDC merger or cooperation. He says there are other variables that will determine the 2019 outcomes, including what the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) does between now and 2015.
SMEAR CAMPAIGN WORRIES SALESHANDO In the run up to the 2014 general elections, Saleshando and his family were a target of ferocious attacks linking them to doing businesses with BDP kingpins. Saleshando at some point was accused, throcugh his wife, of trying to own a banck together with BDP members, while his father was castigated for being a shareholder in Wilderness Safaris, a company associated with President Lt Gen Ian Khama and his close associates. Although the BCP and Saleshando failed to deal with the smear at the relevant time, he is adamant that “i was always aware that lies have short legs and it is evident to many that it was all hogwash.”
He explained that his father bought shares in Wilderness Safaris through the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) like any other Motswana will do, probably, the company’s prospectus informed may dad, he said. He said Wilderness Safaris is no different from the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Limited (BTCL) where Batswana are encouraged to buy shares as soon as the company is ready.
“Do you want to tell me these guys are going to tell their members not to buy BTCL shares just because some BDP people bought shares there, this is ridiculous and misleading to the nation. We should encourage Batswana to buy shares in this companies. My dad is not a director or anyhting in Wilderness, whatever he owns is not even worth half a percent of the company’s worth,” he says.
The BCP leader says he will not even honour the bank license ‘nonsense’ with a response, because it is a non-event. Saleshando admits that these are some of the reports that dented his party’s performances, especially among middle class voters.
On his personal businesses, Saleshando says: “I belong to some cosortiums with old friends and none of them is BDP or belongs to any political party. We normally make bids for property that is being sold and our company is doing very well. At the moment I am looking for additional investments, more so that I am not in Parliament anymore” he said. He adds that he is also currently focusing on his family to compensate for the lost time when he was a legislator. Saleshando is not apologetic about his business ventures and interests because they are all “clean and responsible”.
Asked about his first impression about the the first sitting of parliament, he says it is still early days but his greatest wish is that the opposition should not be misled into thinking that quantity will ever surpass quality.
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.