Can Botswana Congress Party’s presidential candidate Dumelang Saleshando achieve a feat greater than his father’s and snatch the country’s presidency from BDP’s strongman, Ian Khama?
Or will it be Duma Boko’s electoral pact-Umbrella for Democratic Change- that runs with the day come October 24th when Botswana goes to the national polls? In 2009 President Khama beat Gilson Saleshando and Botswana National Front’s Otsweletse Moupo to claim the First Citizen position.
But five years down the line the political dynamics have changed drastically. There is now a groundswell of dissent towards Khama’ security apparatus, especially directed at the notorious Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services. The air is pregnant with accusations and counter-accusations including allegations of covert plots by BDP to rig the election. Others point to the many recent reports of violence and break-ins seemingly targeting opposition party activists and sympathisers. They fear that the election outcome may already be predetermined. Worse still, the BDP split in 2010 and gave birth to Botswana Movement for Democracy, which has since formed an electoral pact with BNF and Botswana People’s Party.
And to cap it all, conspiracy theorists and some opposition cadres have linked the recent death of Botswana Movement for Democracy leader, who was also Vice President of UDC to the ruling party. But the BDP has remained unfazed at these allegations and a host of others, describing them as conjecture and smear campaign by an Opposition fearing for an imminent demise. The Botswana Guardian this week weighs the prospects of the three presidential candidates on a scale of probability to find out which one is likely to be entrusted with the Social Contract.
The BCP leader has launched a “Bring Back Our Jobs” crusade and this forms part of his party’s electioneering. Saleshando, who describes himself as “just an ordinary boy who grew up in Phikwe in a Christian home with strict parents who wanted the best for me,” is making his first attempt as a presidential candidate. Last time around his father Gilson failed to deracinate the BDP four-decade rule. The University of Botswana graduate sees himself as a reformist who will fight widespread corruption and also bring the illusive jobs to the country. Botswana’s unemployment rate according to official statistics stands at around 17.9 percent but critics say the figure might be as high as 30 percent, hence Saleshando and his party’s mantra of “Bring Back Our Jobs.” Botswana faces major economic difficulties, which include high unemployment levels, high poverty levels and unreasonable inequality levels. “I will go to Norway. I will go to Israel. I will go to India to ask them to bring back our jobs because it is senseless to export jobs that could benefit Batswana,” he said. “I will also go to President Jacob Zuma in South Africa to ask him to bring back our jobs because our soda ash is processed there,” he said last month in Selibe Phikwe.
In one of his writings published in the BCP website, he argued that for the many years that “We mined diamonds we believed that we were not blessed with the wisdom to cut and polish what we mined. The privilege of adding value to our diamonds was the preserve of countries like Israel, whose nationals now dominate the cutting and polishing industry that is belatedly emerging in Botswana.” The BCP through its manifesto promises to deliver a citizen led economic alternative. “The key thrust of our economic strategy will be premised on the need to deliver inclusive growth and job creation leading to improvement in the quality of life for Batswana,” reads part of the manifesto. Critics of the married father of two, however fault him and his party for failing to join other opposition parties, the UDC electoral pact to end BDP’s over four-decades rule. The BCP has faith on its sound policies and a promising popular vote to turn the tide in their favour.
The Harvard-trained human rights lawyer is also making his first bid for the presidency. Boko is acclaimed for daring to unite three opposition parties that formed the UDC. “The umbrella model failed most of us in the past, but we managed to achieve it through Mr. Boko’s great leadership. I salute him,” MP Nehemiah Modubule once remarked. Boko himself argues that UDC is a heartfelt response to the cries, pleas and conjugations of a nation in distress. “For decades a divided opposition has given the BDP an undeservedly long lease of life,” Boko notes. Backed by his party’s economic policies, Boko promises a number of reforms to improve the country’s governance system once voted into power. The UDC through its manifesto promises to introduce what they call a “Humming Economy for prosperity.” They describe this as a growing, resilient and diversified economy that emanates from Batswana’s heritage to succeed and create more job opportunities and broaden economic participation among citizens: young and old, urban and rural. A strong critic of the current regime he once labelled President Khama as a “self-praising confident liar who has little regard for Batswana’s plight.” His critics though doubt his party’s strength noting that the BMD remains untested while another alliance partner, Botswana People’s Party, is stagnant.
The former Botswana Defence Force (BDF) commander is having a second bite at the cherry having led the BDP to victory in 2009 albeit with a reduced popular vote. Khama is this time around leading a limping BDP to the general election following the party’s first major split in 2010. The president might take solace in the fact that his party has won every election since independence but public opinion about the ruling party is rapidly changing. Though over the years he has won international accolades, back at home Khama’s popularity especially in urban areas seems to be fading. Khama portrays himself as a defender of the common man as evident in his many policies. He told public servants that they were better off than the umemployed in 2011 when they demanded salary increment. Since his ascendancy to the presidency he has introduced a raft of initiatives aimed at eradicating poverty.
He has been hands on over the past four years, but critics say his weakness lies in trying to personally reach out to every citizen with a food hamper on the one hand and a blanket on the other. He has constantly defended his left-leaning policies saying he is trying to help the poor. “And I cannot understand why somebody will want to criticise anybody for helping people in need,” he once told Botswana Guardian in an interview. But despite his efforts and conviction, poverty has entrenched itself in rural areas.
The BDP manifesto outlines achievements made by the current government over the past five years and assures the electorate a continuation of the current policies.