Thursday, June 20, 2024

Running short of believers: Gambia offers a peek into Botswana’s path into the future

From the look of things, the same reasons that led to a shock decline of the Botswana Democratic Party’s share of the popular vote to below 50% in the last elections are unlikely to improve; poverty remains on an upward trend, unemployment is literally on a runaway. And corruption is on an ascendant trajectory.

For ten straight years Botswana has had a constant decline in real wages. Purchasing power as measured by disposable income has shrunk to levels not seen since the discovery of diamonds.

There is not much growth in the horizon to douse the smouldering fires of anger among the youth, many of who are increasingly of the view that they owe the republic nothing.

These are factors identical to those that last week caused Gambia’s long time strongman, Yayha Jammeh to lose power after 23 years.

As events in Ghana too are beginning to show, Africa, like the rest of the world is not immune to an unpredictable political landscape that is taking root across the world.

In a major speech in 1960, a British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan called similar events “Winds of Change.”

Botswana likes to self-congratulate herself as Africa’s most democratic country. By definition that position should go to Ghana.

It is as difficult as to be near impossible to fully assess and determine the country’s democratic credentials until there is a smooth transition and transfer of power from one party to the other.

Botswana has never had such a transfer of power from one political party to another.

In the next few weeks, Ghana will undergo a fourth such transition after holding peaceful election this past week.

The BDP, we must admit, has over the years used resilience as its chief stock in trade. And unlike Jammeh of Gambia, who first came into power through a coup, the BDP has always and with a fair measure of success tried to drape itself with a veneer of democratic pretensions.

Additionally, it would be grossly unfair to compare any BDP leader to Jammeh, a ruthless dictator who upon seizing power went on to kill his own people.

This is of course not to take away from Jameh the fact that against all expectations he allowed a free and fair ballot to decide his fate. And having lost, graciously conceded.

The BDP, we must point out has never before faced the kind of problems that it does today, nor has it before had to face up to a kind of ambitious and determined opposition that the country has today.

This is why it would be foolhardy for them to be complacent and continue singing hymns from 50 years back as they continue to do.

Across Africa there is evidence, that spearheaded by the youth there is hunger for change, based on genuine reforms rather than sentimental slogans and attachment to past glory.

Here at home, without much input of their own, events are almost on a daily basis playing to strengths of the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change while also conspiring against the BDP.

In many ways the BDP is not measuring up.

Instead of swimming up the tide, the party looks like it is for a greater part drowning down the stream.

The State of the Nation Address by President Ian Khama offered an opportunity for the Government and party to show innovation given the stark challenges.

Instead the president opted for a path of vagueness, denial and disinterest.

He did not even go as far as to commit himself, his Government or party on any specifics, much less on the number of jobs he intended to create.

Other than harping and harking on the tired annual mantra of Transparency International, the president did not commit his government on how he planned to fight official corruption.

The speech lacked clarity.

Even to an untrained ear, it was clear that what the President was plodding through was a disjointed concoction of points hastily drawn from various ministries without any attempt at the Office of the President to sift through the fodder and establish if not believability, then at least coherence and clarity.

And that is not all.

After fifty years of the BDP, many feel that the many problems afflicting the country aside, it is finally time for change.

If they BDP indeed want to continue in power it must stop singing songs from its history books and learn new innovative ways to solve the intricate new problems that the country faces.

As it is, the party is fast running short of believers.

And with what has happened in Gambia, it is not an exaggeration to say Botswana is ripe for change.

Over and above Gambia and Ghana, in the last two years alone, Africa has seen transfers of power in Nigeria, Benin and the Cape Verde.

Admittedly, Burundi and Rwanda where constitutions were changed to allow incumbents more time in power remain a blight on the continent’s ongoing experiment with democracy ÔÇô especially the aspect of it that leads to smooth transfer of power from one party to the other.

The situation is far worse in the DRC where elections were effectively put on hold.

For all its imperfections, Botswana is in good company.

But we are far from leading the pack.

There has to be transfer of power from one party to the other before we can continue with our ritual but misplaced self-congratulations.

That day, for some does not seem to be too far away.

Unlike their predecessors, the current crop of opposition leaders has all the necessary ingredients to take a good shot at power.

The speech by UDC leader in response to that of President Khama was crafted to position the UDC as a torchbearer of the country’s future.

The speech provided hope, addressed the people’s aspirations and squarely confronted the demons that afflict their daily lives.

The BDP better beware. The party is fast running out of believers. Great lessons can be learnt from Gambia of what happens next when one follows down that path.


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