With the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) government under extreme pressure and its house looking as if it is crumbling, Mmegi Correspondent GOITSEMODIMO KAELO wonders whether Batswana have any alternative party to lead them after the one-party dominance since 1966.
This has resulted in calls for a change of government becoming even more louder. But the question is, is there an alternative to the current BDP government? When the opposition parties, Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Congress Party (BCP), Botswana People’s Party (BPP) decided to cooperate under the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) coalition, the main aim was to win elections and wrestle power from the BDP. The opposition coalition has failed on two occasions to unseat the BDP in 2014 and 2019 general election respectively. But ever since the formation of the UDC, Botswana has witnessed highly contested elections. Although the UDC has had its fair share of problems, it has proven to be a force to reckon with.
Its manifestos are always rich, and offer solutions that the country really needs. The UDC has raised the level of competition as it has also been able to match the BDP pound for pound in terms of resources, in a way giving its election campaigns a boost. It has also fielded strong candidates in the previous elections compared to the BDP, but in the end failed to garner enough seats to win power.
Now, in the midst of all these pressures the current government finds itself under, is the UDC raising its hand and ready to take on the reigns from the BDP and provide the fresh leadership that the people of this nation long for? According to political commentator, also lecturer in the department of politics and administrative studies at the University of Botswana, Adam Mfundisi, the UDC and its leadership are up to the challenge. Mfundisi said Botswana has always had alternative political formations to take over from the ruling BDP.
He stressed that Botswana is currently faced with an existential threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as serious socio-economic, political, and environmental problems. “In the midst of all these catastrophes, we are devoid of strategic leadership to provide evidence-based solutions to these intractable problems. The BDP and its governing elite are in disarray and incapable of dealing with these calamities.
The BDP government has run out of ideas on how to transform the country and at the same time contain, control, and mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to the economy, society, health, and polity,” said Mfundisi. Mfundisi also said the current administration has presided over rampant corruption and maladministration. Poverty, unemployment, inequality, criminality, and other social ills have worsened.
He stated that the BDP government has no vision, strategy, and objectives to solve these serious problems while the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these problems because of poor and ineffective leadership. The BDP government, he said, does not have creative, innovative, and flexible policies to effectively deal with the pandemic, while a narcissistic approach to dealing with the pandemic was crafted. In his view, the BDP priorities during the surge in the COVID-19 cases were misguided and driven by corruption and as the party developed a partisan approach to dealing with the pandemic thereby marginalising critical stakeholders such as political parties.
Mfundisi said the BDP government and its leadership was to be instrumental in dealing with the pandemic while proposals from other important actors were ignored and the pandemic became weaponised to popularise the BDP and its leadership. “Moreover, the ruling elite used the COVID-19 pandemic as a leverage to plunder the state purse through massive corruption in tendering and procurement of health goods and services”. But he said the UDC has proven to be a potent political force which presented a progressive and a strategic vision for Botswana.
He stated that since a coalition of social democratic forces emerged before the 2014 general election, it has proven to be a formidable political force, adding that the 2014 and 2019 general elections were the most competitive ever in the history of Botswana. In comparison, Mfundisi said the UDC’s 2019 manifesto was second to none in Botswana. He said the UDC five-pillared manifesto was anchored on "Change For Progress" and covered critical socio-economic, political, technological, and environmental issues and solutions while the BDP manifesto was the weakest hence the leadership adopted a cult of personality and elevated President Masisi to a Messiah. He holds a view that the UDC leadership is second to none in Botswana's political landscape adding that the duo of UDC president Duma Boko and his vice Dumelang Salashando are vibrant, agile, and robust leaders. Mfundisi further said the UDC parliamentary and council candidates were a formidable force to reckon with in the 2019 general election.
Mfundisi said the UDC possesses good political leadership skills and have effective communicators and are emphatic to the plight of the majority of citizens. In his view, the UDC Members of Parliament (MPs), despite their numbers in Parliament, have had a sterling performance. “The BDP numerical strengths have been overpowered by the qualitative power of opposition MPs. The BDP backbenchers have been relegated to cheer leading role devoid of any substantive influence over the Executive. Vice President Slumber Tsogwane despite his inferior leadership qualities has dominated the BDP in Parliament. The BDP MPs dance to the tune of the VP's music even if it's a dull one.
Opposition MPs have presented and deliberated on important national issues with excellence. The BDP MPs have been a disgrace to the nation thanks to televised parliamentary sessions,” said Mfundisi. However, political analyst, Professor Zibani Maundeni is of the view that Botswana has not generated sufficient conditions for the establishment of election winning coalitions. In his research paper entitled "Political Instability, Electoral Violence and Coalition Governments in Africa: The Basis for Successful Liberal Politics and the Failure of Coalitions in Botswana", Maundeni said attempts by opposition parties to institutionalise their own cooperation through coalitions for winning elections have been problematic with visible and costly failures.
The paper focused on a case study on democratic Botswana. “Therefore, localised and without clear historical precedence in Africa, Botswana parties’ attempted coalitions for winning elections are having a hard time to take root and function. Coalitions between Botswana opposition political parties have also been attempted but either collapsed or failed to win elections,” said Maundeni. Without being specific to the UDC case, Maundeni observed that the problem with the coalition is that opposition parties negotiating election-winning coalitions have based them on secrecy, elite orientation and disregard of the voting public.
He said such secretive and elite oriented negotiations have alienated a sizeable portion of opposition activists, disrupted the negotiating parties from within, and alienated the voting masses.
Maundeni also said there have been coalitions that have collapsed before and such collapse was a sign that cooperation of parties in Botswana is a temporary measure that is not meant to last long. He said Batswana prefer a coalition of opposition parties for purposes of winning elections but yet secrecy has always worked in favour of opposed internal elements to disrupt working together.