FRANCISTOWN: The Botswana Democratic Party Youth Wing starts its elective congress in Masunga today with no clear front-runner in the race for the chairmanship.
The congress comes against a backdrop of hard work accompanied by lethal friendly fires which started some months ago as the youth battled for the control of the party’s political ‘seed bed’ that has over the years produced shrewd politicians.
It is not going to be smooth sailing as the incumbent Andy Boatile faces stiff competition from Thabo Autlwetse and Mpho Setuke who are equally popular within the party.
Setuke though is considered a dark horse and the real battle is expected to be between Boatile and Autlwetse. “They both have a track record in the party and have held party positions in various party structures which place them in a better position of winning,” said one prominent BDP woman activist who preferred anonymity.
The build-up to the day of reckoning, where the trio will square up for the coveted position, has seen audible sniping and counter-sniping between the Autlwetse and Boatile camps.
The battleground was extended to both the print and social media. But, little was mentioned of Setuke who is considered inexperienced. Both Boatile and Autlwetse claim to have covered much ground and have the backing of various delegates.
One risks exaggerating the results if he is to judge the outcome of the elections on the number of delegates each team claim to enjoy its backing.
Several factors may decide Boatile’s destiny. His presidency has been shrouded in controversy since he took over more than two years ago at the Sefhare elective congress.
He controversially recommended the firing of Tumiso Chilliboy Rakgare from the party just months after he came into office.
Rakgare had severely critisised President Ian Khama’s leadership style in public.
Many youth backed Rakgare especially those who felt that he was protecting their interests.
Again, it is alleged Boatile has issues with most members of his executive committee who have often accused him of incompetence. This may sway things Autlwetse’s way. Last year, Boatile was nearly toppled by fellow youth leaders who felt that he was not cooperating with them.
He was accused of masterminding the postponement of the youth elections without consultation. This may work against him in the elections. Some critics this week said he has also done little to protect the interest of the party like other youth in the opposition.
When other youth league leaders such as Dithapelo Keorapetse of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and Phenyo Segokgo of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) dominated news headlines criticising government initiatives such as the constituency league and providing alternative views, Boatile’s voice was never heard in the public domain.
This is another issue that may work against him. Despite the odds stacked against him, he may still pull through the elections. When he took over, he promised that he would advocate for the participation of more youth in politics in the BDP. He seems to have succeeded in doing so.
For example, 67 of the 97 BDP youth who participated in the 2014 general elections won. The BDP has one youth MP and over 50 youth who are leaders across the party structures.
Many have said that Boatile was not visible during campaigns but the fact is that under him, things have improved; youth are showing more interest in contesting for political office than before.
He should take credit for both the failures and success of his tenure. As for Autlwetse, his team is also making the loudest noise through various platforms especially the social media that may sway many voters to his side more so that youth access the social media a lot.
The BDP is also now being seen as a party that has lost vision and needs to be revatilised. With his campaign message, Autlwetse is considered a man who is pro-change and can take the party to a desired level.
He has been preaching revival and rehabilitation of the ailing BDP. With many BDP members calling for the revival of the party following a poor performance at the 2014 general elections he may get the nod.
After almost 10 years in the party structures where he has served at one point as the former NYEC information officer, Autlwetse is seen as a shrewd tactician who knows the party well and also possesses the militancy to tackle opposition youngsters.
Yesterday Boatile dismissed accusations levelled against him by some of the party youth. “ I believe I deserve another term. I differed with the party leadership internally. That is why some people believe that I was not vocal on issues affecting the youth.
“During my tenure the number of youth who won the general elections and those who got special nominations increased which is one thing I promised to deliver in Sefhare,” said the soft-spoken young politician who has been nominated as a councillor in Francistown.
He acknowledged that in the main, he differed with only one of his fellow executive committee members not the entire leadership. “He is the one who influenced other members to topple me from my position but the party overturned the decision because the meeting held to topple me was convened illegally.”
He said that he recommended that Rakgare be fired because he did not respect the party constitution.
“Every party member who has diverse views should raise it internally not in the social media like Rakgare did. That is why I recommended that he be fired.”
“I have done my campaigns and I am confident that I will win,” he added.
When he came in he promised economic empowerment of the party youth but many are of the view that he did little in his term to empower the youth economically.
“ I came in just before the party primaries. From the party primaries then we had to prepare for the general elections.
“That is why I chose to focus on political empowerment. Once re-elected, economic empowerment will be among the things I will focus on,” Boatile said.
Yesterday, Autlwetse maintained that the Youth Wing needed someone with new ideas. “ It is clear that as a party we failed dismally at the elections and our fortunes have been waning in recent years. “This means that the youth leadership needs someone who can help it revive its fortunes. We are no longer in a comfort zone.
“For the first time the party lost three by-elections held at the same time and this alone shows that there is need for change across some levels of the party leadership.”
The Kasane-based businessman added that he has gathered enough experience over the years within the party structures, which will help him revive the party’s fortunes.
Apart from previously serving as an information officer in the youth league, he is a former secretary in the Gaborone Central region.
Despite being relatively unknown, the 33-year old Setuke who is a holder of a Masters Degree in computer science, remains unfazed by the tag of underdog.
“I am aware that I am considered an underdog in the race but I will pull a great surprise at the elections together with my lobby list,” he said yesterday.
He said that both his competitors have held leadership positions before in the Youth Wing and other structures of the party and it is unlikely that they will offer something to the youth when voted again.
“I believe that many youth will find it wasteful to vote for someone they voted before while he has made less significant impact to their lives during his or her term. “That is why we are coming in. The youth need a fresh mind to address their challenges.” He further explained that the youth of the party need motivation to contribute to the growth of the party.
“The only motivation they can get is empowerment through hosting seminars and other initiatives meant to address some of their challenges such as unemployment.
“This is the kind of message we are selling during campaigns.” He said that so far he and his team have covered just nine of the 12 regions demarcated by the party.
“We will cover three regions tomorrow. All of them are along the A1 road and I will not disclose them now for fear of exposing myself to my competitors”.
Boatile instantly dismissed talk that the party failed dismally under him at the general elections. “Various circumstances contributed to our loss, the party split and the civil servant strike. I should not take blame for that.
“My role is to advise government but I do not implement policies. Everyone under my situation would have suffered a similar fate,” he said.