On February 25th 2012, the BDP marked its 50 years of existence with lavish celebrations in Gaborone. Indeed, they had every reason to celebrate. The party has ruled this country democratically since independence in 1966 to date. In that respect, they are among few independence parties from the 1960s in Africa which are still in power through free and relatively fair elections instead of the barrel of a gun. The guest of honour, His Excellency President Kikwete of Tanzania and the leader of the ruling Chama Cha Mapindizi, perhaps got the nod to the big party following his party’s uninterrupted rule of that country since independence.
Not only have the BDP ruled this country for almost half a century; they have done so markedly different from their counterparts elsewhere in the continent. The party has allowed opposition parties to be part of the governance process even when ‘one-party system’ was the order of the day. As we know, embracing opposition parties – as key actors towards entrenching democratic practice – has been a challenge even in newly democratising African states. The example of MDC in Zimbabwe is informative in this regard. To that end we extend due compliments to the BDP.
Besides allowing opposition parties to participate freely in the governance process there were other more significant reasons for them to celebrate. For instance, the BDP has successfully transformed fortunes of this once impoverished nation into a relatively well-off one by attaining a middle-income status. Yes, a lot still needs to be done but successful we have been as a country when compared to others in the continent or among developing countries in general partly as a result of the BDP management of the economy. Indeed, this is a feat of great significance worthy of celebrating.
However, the question that now confronts the BDP, and Botswana broadly, is whether it can continue to transform the country into a celebrated case of success both economically and politically. I have no doubt that politically much rest with the nature and character of our opposition parties given the political space they continue to enjoy in our polity. This observation does not ignore the apparent advantages the BDP enjoys as a result of incumbency. That said, however, I honestly have strong reservations that we will see any improved fortunes of opposition parties in the near future. Undoubtedly, they just cannot present themselves as credible alternatives to the BDP! The recent back stabbing amongst them in relation to the position of Leader of Opposition in parliament summed up their self-centred and, often, self-defeating attitude. Spencer Mogapi in The Watchdog column in Sunday Standard of 4 -10 March 2012 also raises doubts about the fortunes of our opposition and hence conclude that ‘they lack a workable plan that is not shrouded in self-serving interest.’ More than anything else, they are their own enemies.
The current efforts towards resuscitating the failed Umbrella project points towards another setback particularly with the BCP currently not being part of the same. I can understand why other parties could not find it prudent to wait for the BCP. The next general elections are just around the corner such that they can no longer afford to sit and wait for a party that has previously shown no interest cooperating with others. At best, the BCP stance is motivated by self-preservation. But they should be prepared to come out clear that they are not interested in the current Umbrella project and save the nation the embarrassment that has come to characterise projects of this nature. The current Umbrella project runs risk of enhancing already heightened crisis of confidence the public has on our opposition parties. Until our opposition parties mature an act more as learning organisations, the prolonged BDP rule is assured.
That said, however, the biggest challenge before the BDP has to do with whether or not they can make sound improvement on the general welfare of citizens and particularly for the youth. I will not be wrong to suggest that lately the going has been bad for our youth. Unemployment is disturbingly high and, as a result, has helped reinforce a sense of hopelessness amongst this group. Theirs has been difficult and challenging lives despite the claimed success of this country by the ruling party. Unfortunately, this is where our future as a country lies and therefore drastic measures should be enacted to alleviate their predicament. And I don’t think our leaders are very much prepared to effectively address problems affecting our youth.
As an illustration, while listening to Gabz Fm morning talk show last week, I was not convinced that the Honourable Assistant Minister of Education, Keletso Rakhudu, comprehended the magnitude of despondency among the youth. His portfolio involves overseeing provision of quality education across the economy. But frankly speaking, as a ministry they are failing as evidenced by the deteriorating student performance over the past 4 years across board, that is, from primary up to secondary levels. What shocked me most was when the Assistant Minister was asked to explain why the so called English Medium schools continue to engage expatriate teachers when qualified locals ÔÇô especially young graduates ÔÇô were roaming the streets. All he could say was that such institutions were private business and, therefore, there was little that government could do to compel them to employ qualified Batswana ÔÇô the bulk of who are unemployed young graduates.
Hence, to him, private businesses could do as they please despite running a business in a sector like Education! The Assistant Minister needs to be reminded that education is the hinge on which Botswana development turns. We cannot allow a situation where our own people are denied employment opportunities by private businesses doing their trade here in Botswana. The Minister ought to be reminded that collectively they are there to protect the interest of Batswana. They should not sell this country to private business interests; rather, they have to provide an enabling environment that nurtures success for Batswana in general. His ministry should therefore effectively regulate the affairs of such private businesses in so far as provision of quality education and creation of employment are concerned. If they cannot comply, then, they might as well relocate and establish their operations where they can get cheap labour to exploit. So as the BDP continues to celebrate they should at the same time reflect on their failure to address the needs of the youth and other unfortunate members of this country.
Molefhe is a lecturer in the Dept. of Political Science & Administration