For many years Botswana opposition parties have never disappointed in marginalising themselves through fragmentation and fighting each other on the eve of general elections. A combination of immaturity, lack of seriousness and lack of resources for serious campaigns meant that the opposition parties never really presented themselves as serious contender for state power. Mostly they have been participating in national elections to satisfy a fundamental principle of liberal democracy pertaining to holding regular elections to legitimise the rulers. In truth, Botswana opposition parties have participated as sure losers meaning that they have often dismally failed to inspire popular demand for change. In effect opposition politicians canvassing for votes were treated as political comedians whose primary role was to chide the ruling party politicians at freedom squares and cause listeners to laugh uncontrollably and forget the embarrassment that passes for politicians. They never really got to a point where they were taken seriously so much that even those who emerged victorious were surprised by their own victories. This explains why petty politicking is still being preferred over issue-based politics.
However, the formulation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) ushered in a new brand of politics unbeknown to Batswana in the process transforming Botswana’s political landscape. This transformation has given hope for role reversal that would ultimately see the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) as an opposition party for the first time since the attainment of political independence. The formation of the UDC has given voters an opportunity to shop for a new government that is for Batswana. It has given Batswana some form of assurances that the country would be in safe hands when the BDP is booted out. Voters no longer worry about the risk of bringing in people who have no idea of what running a government entailed and/or people who are likely to be pre-occupied with fighting for crumbs. This is so because the incessant infighting in the opposition has abated to allow them to deal with bread and butter issues. With the UDC and BCP only waiting for an esteemed priest to solemnise their marriage, a change of government is now a practical and imminent possibility.
While this should be exciting times for the opposition bloc, the opportunity comes with huge responsibilities. The overarching responsibility is for the opposition to graduate from being just an Opposition Political Grouping for the purpose of speaking against the BDP rule to being a Genuine Government-in-Waiting. In common parlance, an opposition party is often seen as an association of disorganised, dilly-dallying, noisy, all talk-no action, purposeless lost souls who could never be entrusted with state power. Yet, the task of looking and sounding like a Government-in-Waiting is monumental. Essentially, the opposition collective would be required to develop clear policies on virtually every issue so as to minimise contradictions. This would require the UDC to fully understand the concerns of Batswana and be able to articulate such concerns consistently and convincingly at the national and local levels without the use of the sixth sense. This means that the time for infantile rhetoric and sweetheart oration talked with all the fervour of immature and overexcited new converts is over. The time for political dinosaurs that delight in taking a frequent nap in Parliament is over.
The time for academic snobs who often talk to themselves is over. Being a government-in-waiting requires that when the BDP government speaks the UDC must either present a credible alternative and/or endorse some elements of the government policy intervention rather just regularly shouting incoherent disagreements. The time for existing for the sake of being against everything that is BDP stops with graduating into a government-in-waiting. This rebranding exercise should be understood as a sign of maturity, readiness to take over the mantle and seriousness essential in distinguishing clowns and dotcom township thugs from sincere and honest politicians. This will inevitably require the UDC to push aside jokers and bring on board people who will be able to competently articulate party position on any issue without looking like they are under violent demonic attack owing to their lack of confidence in themselves and their stance on topical issues. A Government-in-waiting needs people who can debate serious issues and critically dissect overloaded policy documents not those who excel in insults and senseless anti-BDP sloganeering.
The UDC must ready itself to embrace quality without fear of marginalising self-made, clumsy and disorderly charlatans who are renowned masters of double-speak and self-humiliation. The rebranded and recomposed UDC must ensure that its members’ contributions in Parliament and Councils are intelligent, adequately researched and reflective of party position. Silly banter, tired tactical lines and incoherent submissions that distract from issue-based politics would be relegated to beer halls patronised by zombies who derive pleasure from laughing at their own folly. Thus, the UDC must develop a habit to manage its affairs in the interest of the whole rather than in the interest of certain individuals including those in executive positions. This is necessary for fairness and firmness in order to generate confidence in processes and procedures so that those who are unfortunately vetted by quality control mechanisms would accept the outcome without citing patronage networks that reward loyalty and discourage original thought. Thus, the UDC must have in place quality assurance measures so that motions tabled and questions placed at national and local levels are not a source of national embarrassment.
The UDC has to acknowledge that winning the battle for ideas is central to victory at the polls. Thus, current underperforming legislators and councillors (and they are many) should be assisted to become more effective by assigning them party scholars and experts to support them on a day-by-day basis with a view to enhancing capacity at all levels. This will in the long run breed capable and inspiring leaders who will unleash highly sophisticated campaigns as and when necessary. As a government-in-waiting, the UDC must be resolute and demand that individuals do not seek office for personal reasons. This is critical to eliminating childish leaders and greedy members with a penchant for jumping ship every time they are not favoured by internal electoral outcomes. This approach will convince voters that the UDC is in fact a government-in-waiting and is not only business-minded but most importantly that they are fundamentally different from the corrupt or perceptually corrupt and insensitive BDP. The UDC must seek to be organised and unambiguous on its position to inspire confidence and assure Batswana that they will never regret the day they will give them the mandate to run the affairs of the state.
They need to enlighten citizens about their own policies and what they will do once they get into government. The UDC member parties need to close ranks and fight the enemy in buoyant mood occasioned by evident popular demand for change of government largely resulting from the shrinking democratic space and unending economic woes shepherded by the BDP. They need to display the swagger characteristic of a united and business-minded alternative government. Equally significant, for the UDC to be a genuine government-in-waiting, they need to deliberately and aggressively develop leadership capacity at every level. It should not be assumed that MPs and Councillors are good leaders in their own right. Many have triumphed at the polls for reasons other than envisaged quality political representation. A lot of them are short in organisational abilities and could become a liability if not capacitated. This capacity building should aggressively target local level leaders who are often left to their own devices resulting in frequent embarrassing commentaries. The UDC needs strong, dedicated and capable leadership from top to bottom so that national and local level structures function optimally to give life to the whole body. Too much centralisation of power or overzealousness in acting ‘presidential’ or being executive minded by those in leadership positions should not be permitted. The UDC must draw useful lessons from the BDP problems prompted by party president’s (mis)use of his overbearing powers that are nonetheless constitutional.