Botswana Congress Party (BCP) president, Dumelang Saleshando has led the party since July 2010 when he was elected unopposed at an elective congress in Maun. Saleshando is set to extend his reign as the party leader because he is unopposed at the first ever virtual elective congress billed for this weekend. In an interview with Mmegi Staff Writer CHAKALISA DUBE, the Maun West legislator shares key highlights and challenges of his (over 10 years) tenure as the BCP president.
MMEGI: What do you consider to be the greatest achievement of the BCP during your tenure as president?
SALESHANDO: Compared to most political parties in Botswana, the BCP is undoubtedly the most stable formation in the political history of the country. This has been attested to by some of our opponents. Maintaining a stable but diverse and expanding membership base is not a function of good luck.
It speaks to the determination of the collective leadership to truly build an alternative leadership for Botswana. We have been able to build a culture of tolerance guided by strong mutual values of social democracy. The desire to build an organisation that can deliver Batswana from poverty, bless Botswana with a superior blend of democracy, attain a society in which all are able to use their skills to provide a dignified life for their families reigns supreme in the BCP. This is not an achievement of a single leader, it’s the greatest achievement of the BCP leadership, past and present from national level to the lower party structures.
MMEGI: What differentiates the BCP from other opposition parties? What has kept the party so organised and relevant? (especially looking at the fact that opposition parties in the country are under-resourced)?
SALESHANDO: Compared to most political parties in Botswana, the BCP is undoubtedly the most stable ship. Maintaining smooth operations and a disciplined organisation cannot be attributed to good luck, it's a product of a focused leadership. It's not an achievement of a single leader, it's achieved by the collective of national, regional and constituency leaders.
MMEGI: Is there anything that you regret the most in your tenure as the BCP president?
SALESHANDO: Possibly the words of Frank Sinatra in his song “My Way” sum up my views when he sang, “Regrets, I have had a few. But then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption. I planned each chartered course, each careful step along the byway. And more, much more than this, I did it my way.” Mistakes will always be a given for leaders who take decisions when confronted with challenges. Not taking bold decisions in difficult circumstances to avoid possible mistakes is never an option for me and the BCP. Looking back, there is no decision I would say stands out as outrageously irrational, even with the benefit of hindsight. I maintain that the “Go It Alone Decision” of 2014 was well thought out and reasoned at the time. It may not have been a popular decision for the voting public, but there were solid reasons for opting out. Leadership should not be viewed through the populism lens all the time.
MMEGI: What have you learnt from your past mistakes (in relation to your role as the BCP president)?
SALESHANDO: Never take anything for granted. In politics, perception can carry much more weight than fact. Pay attention to details; a false statement, repeated many times and not challenged, can deliver a deadly blow.
MMEGI: What do you consider to be your biggest strength?
SALESHANDO: I have been blessed with the talent of communicating with clarity. The feedback from different audiences over the past decades has been that I am able to logically break down my message for easy appreciation by those receiving the message. I am also a hands-on leader. Once decisions are made by the organisation, I roll up my sleeves and join comrades in executing the agreed tasks.
MMEGI: Your biggest weakness?
SALESHANDO: I have many weaknesses, chief among them being impatience with colleagues who don’t take agreed assignments with vigour and seriousness. I can be overly strict with attaining set targets and inadvertently side-line those who in my view are dragging their feet in getting the job done. For team spirit, this is a major weakness that could lead to less cohesion. Fortunately, I have enjoyed the benefit of proximity to comrades who are ahead of me in terms of maturity and political experience. The counsel, specifically from comrades Motsei Rapelana and Dr Kesitegile Gobotswang has helped to polish my rough edges and save the BCP from possible harm emanating from my weaknesses.
MMEGI: Are you satisfied with what you have achieved as the BCP president or what the BCP has achieved under your leadership?
SALESHANDO: The key objective of any political party is to win elections. That we are still in opposition means that I have fallen short. However, the building blocks have been put in place by those who came before me. If indeed numbers do not lie, the fact that the BCP has attracted more votes at every election in which it participated means that we have made good progress towards the ultimate goal. The BCP has played its part as an opposition party. It has presented alternative ideas through its manifestos, challenged the ruling party to account through institutions like Parliament, Ombudsman and the courts. We have enhanced public and political education through our campaigns. BCP now needs to focus on charting the route to government in the shortest possible time.
MMEGI: Is there any strategy/approach you think should be introduced by the BCP to make it more competitive going forward?
SALESHANDO: Having built an organised and disciplined political party, the challenge for the BCP is to raise the bar. The party now needs to become semi-professional, if not fully professionally managed with its meagre resources. Political parties in Botswana operate casually like social football teams. The time has arrived to attract new skills to deliver a more efficient BCP that also uses technology to reach out to its target market. Indications are that we are on the right direction, being the first party to introduce virtual rallies and now a virtual conference. It may be time to dream big, look into possibilities of a virtual party radio station and television channel to bypass Radio Botswana and Btv. It’s Possible...
MMEGI: How long do you intend to continue being the BCP president?
SALESHANDO: In the culture of the BCP, the question of who leads is not for the individual but the organisation. I surely do not intend to overstay my welcome. When the time comes and members send signals that I have played my part, I will take the back seat and support new talent. As I said recently on my 50th birthday, in the words of Bill Clinton, “I have more yesterdays than tomorrows.”
MMEGI: Where do you see the BCP in the next 10 years?
SALESHANDO: The BCP is respected as the most organised party in Botswana. The key challenge for the party going forward is to raise the bar, operate at a much higher level, attract new skills into its ranks and exploit the opportunities presented by technology. The target (in the next 10 years) should be to build a model party suitable for countries that operate without public funding for political parties.
MMEGI: Lastly, the BCP is going for an elective congress this weekend. For the first time in many years, we will see a significant change in the party leadership. Don’t you think these can affect the momentum of the party and turn it into a less relevant entity as insinuated by some?
SALESHANDO: Next week, an overwhelming majority of those who will occupy the top leadership positions in the BCP will be first time office holders. The nation can expect an energised leadership that will propel the party to greater heights.