It may sound awkward to talk about Botswana’s 55-year sovereignty without mentioning the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). The BDP became the country’s first governing political party after winning the maiden general election. Fifty-five years later, the BDP remains the party in State power. Mmegi Correspondent GOITSEMODIMO KAELO looks at how the BDP has fared and managed to achieve such a feat
The country’s development performance following independence has been a key attraction and widely regarded as one of the best-managed economies in Africa. Benefiting from a rapidly expanding economy in the 1970s and ’80s, Botswana was able to extend basic infrastructure for mining development and basic social services for its population.
More diamond mines were opened, on relatively favourable terms of income to the State. Although the country has been faced with some internal issues such as a high rate of unemployment and the increasing gap between urban rich and rural poor, the BDP has remained resolute.
Of greater concern was the HIV/AIDS epidemic that had exploded in the country during the later 1990s, leaving Botswana with one of the highest rates of infection in the world. The government responded aggressively by increasing awareness and coordinating efforts to curtail the epidemic. On the other hand, the government has seen cases of looting growing and perpetrators going unpunished. While there have been signs of stagnation along the way, with critics pointing at the lack of progressive policies, the BDP has been consistently re-elected with a large majority election after another, a sign that the ruling party could be doing something right. Despite the critical voices about the BDP’s 55-year rule, the party can also point to a track record of some achievements attained by the country under its watch. The party would claim a lot of credit for getting the country where it is now and rightfully so. In the seemingly endless back and forth debate on the BDP’s achievements, doesn’t the party deserve some credit?
According to Dr Kebapetse Lotshwao, who is a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Botswana (UB), the BDP government has managed to transform Botswana from one of the poorest countries at independence to the current upper middle-income status. “There has been improvement in access to health and education amongst others. There has been construction of vital infrastructure such as road and telecommunications networks amongst others,” said Lotshwao.
He added that these achievements have strengthened the legitimacy of the BDP, thus ensuring it wins every election held since independence. “The win was of course aided by other factors such a fragmented political opposition, and the misuse of State resources by the BDP during elections,” he added. However, Lotshwao said despite the BDP doing relatively well as a ruling party, it is worth mentioning that there are some areas where it has achieved limited success such as economic diversification, job creation, ending rural poverty, and bridging the gap between the rich and the poor.
He explained that Botswana is one of the most unequal countries in the continent, comparable to former settler colonies like South Africa and Namibia. He said the BDP has also dismally failed to deal with corruption that has afflicted the country for decades while the quality of some services, particularly in the public sector, are very poor, such as in public hospitals and schools. Lotshwao said the BDP currently faces some challenges occasioned by the failure to deliver on election promises. He explained that for the BDP to win the next election, it has to start implementing the promises made during the 2019 general election.
“Amongst others, it has to fight corruption, create jobs, address poverty and inequality, improve citizen participation in the economy, and improve the quality of services such as health and education, as well as to rule through consultation.
If the BDP fails to implement its manifesto, the only factor that will keep in power is the ineptitude of the opposition,” he said. Although the BDP government has propelled Botswana to a middle-income economy, many people, especially those in the opposition believe that the country could have achieved more if it was not for its ideological weaknesses.