Former president Ian Khama’s entry into opposition politics has been a bittersweet pill to swallow for many.
He has divided opinion in the opposition ranks with some doubting the value he added after many years of facing off with the current opposition leadership.
Some, however, accepted him as a man who helped the UDC to dislodge the BDP from its stronghold, mainly in the Central District. Whilst some hail him for the UDC success, some see him as a curse that denied them to win more seats to take State power.
Whilst in politics, there are no permanent enemies; it seems Khama’s acceptance to work with the opposition was not the devil many were willing to tolerate.
Some saw him as a bitter man whose entrance into opposition ranks was self-serving with a view to escape troubles he has with the President Mokgweetsi Masisi administration.
At a time when allegations were flying thick and fast that Khama had impending criminal charges to face, it was not going to be easy for the opposition diehards to let it go.
UDC president Duma Boko also had to parry accusations that when he wins the State presidency, it seemed, he would tolerate Khama’s alleged crimes just because he would have helped him win elections.
Boko and his deputy, Dumelang Saleshando were, however, adamant that if need be, the government of the coalition parties will deal appropriately with anyone on the wrong side of the law including Khama.
But, there was a section within the coalition that welcomed Khama since they felt he would enhance their chances of winning elections.
Even from the UDC ranks, there emerged an intolerable group calling itself the party veterans who were diametrically opposed to Khama working closely with their party.
There was nothing entered upon in black and white, but some people were apparently hurt and opposed to Khama getting closer to their party, fearing he his dented image will soil their campaigns.
Khama’s move was viewed more opportunistic than to help the opposition win government. His critics see him as a ‘hit man’ who had a list of targeted politicians than winning elections.
Whilst Khama traversed the entire country campaigning, his focus was more in the northern part of the country than the southern.
That to many, might have limited his scope of winning the elections as an opposition man. In other words, Khama could have achieved his plan to dislodge the BDP from GammaNgwato where he is the tribal leader, but that was far from helping the opposition achieve its grand plans.
Some political commentators hail President Masisi’s reform agenda to have impressed people mainly in the southern part of the country to vote for the BDP leaving the country in southern-northern divide. The UDC has won 15 constituencies, BPF three and Alliance for Progressives (AP) one.
Whilst Khama’s influence is traced to the UDC and BPF, the AP also won its only seat in the north.
Some hail the Khama influence for playing a crucial role in tilting the political scales in the country’s politics in this year’s general election, others condemn him to have cost them a fortune, especially in the southern part of the country.
In the country’s northern constituencies where the combined opposition parties have won more seats, Khama is hailed to have taught the BDP a lesson from the region that since
Khama is the inaugural patron of the BPF whilst the party leader is Biggie Butale. University of Botswana (UB) senior lecturer in politics, Kebapetse Lotshwao attributes the improved performance of the UDC to two factors.
“Firstly, one of the UDC members, the BCP, is popular in the northern part of the country. As such, it’s not surprising that it has won a number of constituencies in the north,” he said.
Secondly, Lotshwao analysed that the UDC has been helped, “by the influence of Khama over his subjects, particularly in the Central District. Many of the UDC candidates in the Central District enjoyed the support and endorsement of Khama”.
He says Khama’s support for the UDC candidates, “was self-serving though, as he did not only want to punish some individual BDP candidates, but also thought UDC would win power, something that would ensure he continues to enjoy his privileges and immunities that had become threatened under the BDP”.
On the other hand, Lotshwao says UDC performed dismally in the south, mainly because people are happy with the reform path of President Masisi, and also detested the UDC for aligning with Khama – a leader who was not only authoritarian while in power, but also unfairly attacked his predecessor for asserting his authority as a leader.
“Whether the UDC splits or remains in place will depend on how the BCP and Botswana National Front (BNF) resolve their differences. If none of the two compromises, or tries to bully the other, surely, the UDC would be rocked by instability,” observed the political scientist.
He feels the return of Saleshando will strength the opposition voice in Parliament. He describes Saleshando as an experienced MP, who already knows many of the issues.
“Whether the experience and education of UDC MPs would make a difference will depend on who becomes the Leader of Opposition. A good leader can get the best out of them, unlike under Boko where the UDC had numbers in Parliament, but no leadership,” analyses the UB academic.
Meanwhile, the three-time loser, Kesitegile Gobotswang speaks about his deserved win in Sefhare-Ramokgonami. He had tried his elusive luck from 2004, 2009 and 2014.
The former University of Botswana lecturer was encouraged by the numbers he was getting and remained optimistic that one day he will win. The numbers increased significantly in every election.
He concedes that Khama’s influence in the area cannot be underestimated emphasising that it was suicidal for the loser, Dorcas Makgato to confront Khama in the manner she did.
“She decided to focus on someone who was not contesting for the constituency. That gave me the opportunity to remain unchecked and easily sailed to victory,” Gobotswang, who has a good record in defending the rights of disadvantaged communities, said.
“I also have a good record in advocating for developments in the area from the time I was a student. The UDC manifesto was also well received. In addition, I capitalised on the failures of the incumbent to truly be the voice of the voiceless and her poor public relations.”
He promised that he will truly be the voice of the voiceless as the constituency will be represented by one of their own.