The debate around the internal democratic processes of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) has ensued.
This followed an article published in the Weekend Post newspaper of September 26, 2020.
The said article focused on statements attributed to some UDC members of Parliament calling for the democratization of the UDC.
Subsequently, Moeti Mohwasa the Secretary General of the Botswana National Front (BNF) and the Publicity Chief of the UDC responded to the article suggesting that any move for a UDC Elective Congress was ill-advised.
Another contentious issue raised was in relation to growing chorus amongst UDC supporters and followers calling for disbanding of contracting parties to merge into one political entity.
Any meaningful debate around these issues should be informed by the UDC constitution of 2012, the revised constitution that is with the Registrar of Societies (that was itself an outcome of the Boipuso Conference) and the Ba Isago Conference Resolution. Ordinarily, public pronouncements by key political actors often serve as reference points on major policy directions.
It is however amiss that in his response to the discourse, the Publicity Chief of the UDC deliberately decided to ignore critical party documents and conference resolutions.
The argument that an elective conference could disadvantage contracting parties that are numerically weaker is baseless. In essence, the operational UDC constitution promotes equity as opposed to equality.
There is a provision that details representation and the process of selecting delegates from contracting parties to UDC congresses and/or conferences. More specifically, for every 750 members, a contracting party is entitled to one (1) delegate. This means that a party that has 749 members will not be represented at a UDC conference while a party with 200, 000 members will be eligible to send 285 delegates.
During the 2018 Constitutional Conference at Boipuso Hall a compromise was reached to waive the 750 member clause to accommodate Botswana Peoples Party (BPP). Consequently, each party was allowed ten (10) delegates per constituency. It is such give-and-take compromises that glued the coalition together. Any suggestion that parties with numerical advantage will dominate others and sweep all the stakes at an elective conference is incorrect, far-fetched and a scare-mongering tactic by comrades who despise a truly democratic dispensation. It did not happen at Boipuso Hall and it will not happen in the near future as long as UDC remains a coalition. In fact it will be suicidal for any party to abuse its numerical strength to bully other partners.
Under the operational UDC constitution, there is a transition clause that gives power to the National Executive Committee (NEC) that is made up of four (4) members from each of the contracting parties. Under the current set up, this translates into 12 members. Such power has been used to suspend or waive some sections of the constitution to accommodate new members or address obstacles that could be considered to be a hindrance to progress within the coalition. However, the founding members of the UDC never envisaged the transition clause to be a permanent feature in running the affairs of the coalition.
The critical question that we should be asking ourselves is ‘’In the spectrum of coalition or models of cooperation, where does the UDC arrangement fit?” Within our immediate environs, there are two cooperation arrangement that could be used as the basis
A closer examination of UDC arrangement shows that the coalition is modelled around BOFEPUSU. At BOFEPUSU, there was never a question of numerically stronger unions dominating others in an election. Oh yes, they do have elections without fail. Today, Johannes Tshukudu who is the president of BOFEPUSU comes from Botswana Teachers Union. Before then, the president was Masego Mogwera from Botswana Public Sector Union.
It is disingenuous to pretend and even claim that the Ba Isago Conference did not pass a resolution calling on contracting parties to consider a merger of UDC contracting parties after the 2019 General Elections. When the resolution was tabled and adopted, none of the parties raised any objection. The expectation was that each contracting party will debate the motion of a merger and report back on the decision they had taken at a UDC conference.
The reasons for a merger are compelling. First, there will be no fights over constituency allocations and resources will be pooled together. Instead of running several offices, there will be one central office. Instead of printing party and UDC colours, there will be only one royal blue colour. A merger is more stable and builds confidence amongst voters as political parties will be truly united. But more importantly, it will entrench democracy by giving a right to elect leadership and representatives in wards and constituencies to the general membership.
The argument about protecting the soul of contracting parties is baseless because during the 2019 General Elections, we rallied behind an election manifesto based on social democracy. What was the soul that was protected? Obviously, there are people from different ideological persuasion across all the contracting parties. It is fact within the UDC block that there are Communists, Socialists, Pan-Africanists, and Liberals as is the case within the constituent parties.
The era of an endless mandate of unelected self-imposed leaders at UDC must come to an end. It has served its purpose at its appropriate time. As a member of UDC National Executive Committee, I feel embarrassed to be part of such an imposition. This small group of leaders, twelve (12) to be precise, wield so much power over the majority of UDC members. It will take fearless and committed revolutionaries to dislodge such an undemocratic arrangement. In fact, some in the UDC NEC have used such powers to stall progress and delay change because they know their leadership positions are guaranteed. As they say power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
*Kesitegile Gobotswang (PhD) is Member of National Executive Committee, UDC, and Sefhare-Ramokgonani MP