A thriving opposition alliance: hope for Botswana

SHARE   |   Monday, 26 February 2018   |   By Mmusi Maimane

It is an honour and a pleasure for me to speak at a forum such as this, where democracy is strengthened through the collaborative efforts of opposition parties. This is an important conversation throughout our continent right now. Many African nations are entering a period that one might describe as a second liberation. With many of these states now celebrating 40 or 50 years of independence from colonial rule, their democracies are maturing. This means their people are experiencing an awakening of sorts when it comes to their expectation of their government. The liberation movements that spearheaded the various struggles for independence across the continent are discovering that they can no longer extract loyalty through their old stories alone. Their people have learnt that struggle stories don’t build schools, houses and roads. Struggle stories don’t look after public money. Struggle stories don’t grow the economy and create jobs. Virtually without exception, liberation movements in Africa have failed to translate into capable and honest governments. In most cases these liberation movements have become the very thing they fought to overthrow – a small elite that will do anything to protect its access to the spoils of power. This is playing out in states all around Botswana right now, most notably to your east in Zimbabwe, where ZANU-PF has been clinging to its throne for almost four decades. Its latest move to secure control – in which Robert Mugabe was evicted and Emmerson Mnangagwa installed in his place – was no revolution. Yes, we celebrated the end of the Mugabe dynasty. But this was little more than a palace coup, in which a new leader could absolve his party from the sins of the past, and they could all continue to sit at the table, feasting on the spoils.

My own country has just completed its very own palace coup. Everyone knows that the ANC has failed the people of South Africa in every single way – from failed education to a failed economy to a failure to keep people safe.  But the ANC also knew that much of this failure could be attached to our corrupt former President, Jacob Zuma, and then jettisoned along with him. By replacing Zuma with someone who is evidently less compromised, they get to banish their entire legacy of failures to the scrapheap of history along with their failed leader. The party is forgiven – its sins washed clean – and its members are given a clean slate and a fresh start. This is why we cannot speak of transformation or renewal until we have seen power peacefully transferred to another party. Only when a nation’s democracy has been successfully tested at the ballot box – when we have been liberated from our liberators – can we call it a transformation. Everything else is merely a swapping of factions. It is the job of all of us in this room to fight for this democratic change. And when I say fight, I mean using every single democratic avenue available to us. We are the custodians of our nations’ democracies – our success in ushering in post-liberation eras for our respective countries will determine the kind of societies we leave behind for our children. So it is crucial that we fight the good fight. Yes, I know it is easier to be a populist. It is easier to sow discord – to divide and conquer. It is easier to mobilise people around things like ethnicity, race and language. It is easier to make wild, unachievable promises that you have no intention or ability to deliver on. If you’re only after quick solutions for easy votes, then this is what you do. But if your task is to build a prosperous, sustainable Botswana, a Botswana with opportunities for all, a Botswana that respects the rule of law and where the same rules count for all, then you have to do it the hard way. You have to build it on values that will stand your country in good stead for decades to come.

You will also have to build your Botswana on a foundation of strong institutions of democracy. Back home in South Africa, we are learning hard lessons about what happens to a democracy when these institutions are undermined or manipulated to suit the agenda of a ruling faction. Our investigative and prosecutorial bodies were hollowed out by the Zuma government. Through their official policy of cadre deployment, they loaded the leadership of these institutions with pliable cadres who would look the other way while state resources were being plundered. Similarly our tax collection agency was severely compromised by the installation of a Zuma yes-man at its head. Not only does this allow for theft and corruption to go unchecked, it also means the tax collector cannot fulfil its crucial role of funding the state’s efforts to improve the lives of its people. These institutions, along with your parliament, your electoral commission, your judiciary and your independent media, are absolutely vital to the functioning of a healthy democracy. It is worth every drop of your blood, sweat and tears to keep them strong, independent and uncaptured. It is also your job to prevent the slide towards a corrupt and criminal state. For many leaders, the temptation of public office is simply too much. Whether it is people who have spent too long in office and have become corrupted over time, or whether it is people who spotted this easy money and quickly jumped on board, governments attract opportunists and parasites. While you’re in opposition, it is your duty to be vigilant. You need to safeguard the people’s resources from the greedy and the selfish. You need to champion the rights of ordinary citizens. And when you one day transition from opposition to government, it is your duty to never forget this respect for public money. Corruption is not, as some back in my country would have you believe, a victimless crime. On the contrary, corruption has millions of victims, and those who are hit the hardest are always the poor. Corruption takes money directly from the projects meant to benefit the poor and places it in the pockets of a small elite.

We’ve just heard our Budget Speech for 2018, and it is a harsh budget indeed. Bad news for everyone in terms of tax increases and spending cuts, but most of all bad news for our poor people. Because an increase in Value Added Tax along with cuts to the budgets to build schools, transport and housing projects will make their everyday lives so much harder. The reason we have to face this tough budget is because corruption has cost us billions and billions over the past decade. And the reason this has been allowed to happen is because our institutions of democracy were deliberately paralysed. Both Botswana and South Africa face the prospect of change. Both our countries go to the polls next year to give our people the opportunity to choose a new beginning. In both our countries, the long-dominant ruling party has weakened to the point where it risks losing power nationally. And in both our countries, a vibrant new cooperation between opposition parties has given the people hope for a fresh start. This is, for the foreseeable future, where our hope lies – in coalitions and alliances formed around collective values. Yes, we may have our differences. I am sure that many of you in this room do not agree on everything. But that’s not important. What is important is that you can agree on the things that matter most: uplifting your people, fighting poverty, creating jobs, growing the economy and safeguarding the people’s money. It is also important that you agree on values such as Constitutionalism, a respect for the rule of law, equality before the law and a society free from racism and prejudice. If you have this in common, everything else is just detail that can be easily navigated. My party has, since the end of 2016, been heading up coalition governments in three Metro municipalities. Our coalition partners come from a very wide background, and differ from us on many ideological issues. But we all recognise the bigger picture here, and that is saving the people of these cities from another five years of ANC rule. Giving them an honest, credible government that really acts in their best interest.

I won’t lie to you – it has not always been easy. We’ve clashed heads with our coalition partners on many issues, but we’ve always managed to find a way through, because we are driven by a goal that is bigger than any one of us. I am excited at the prospect of a thriving opposition alliance in Botswana. The Umbrella for Democratic Change is incredibly hopeful, particularly because we, the opposition parties in South Africa, have just been through a similar process ourselves and it is working. Perhaps when we meet again like this, it will be as two alliance governments speaking about our vision for our countries and our region. About the possibilities of trade across our borders. About our shared interest in a thriving tourism sector. About our common goals in diversifying and modernising our economies – to move further away from our heavy dependence on minerals and enter an era equally reliant on manufacturing, technology and service industries.
I also hope this common vision of our region includes a firm commitment to Human Rights on our continent. I hope we can all agree to strengthen measures to ensure that leaders like Omar al-Bashir are brought to book. This means bolstering the mandate of the SADC tribunal and remaining committed to the International Criminal Court. This vision of an open and collaborative Southern Africa is something I have dreamed about for a long time. I want to see the potential of our region unlocked in my lifetime, but this will require partners throughout the region who share this vision. My hope is that some of these partners are here in this room today
*Mmusi Maimane, Leader of the Democratic Alliance, address the first Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) congress in Gaborone on Friday.