Never has the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) had such a glorious opportunity to knock the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) off their perch in 2019 general election and never has the opposition collective blew away the opportunity with the consummate skill of a legendary failure.
Changes in leadership, demographics, an up-turn in the economy and a positive socio-political outlook mean that every election is different and that opportunities that existed in a previous general election may not be in stock in the next election.
It is argued that an economic crisis such as what Botswana is experiencing undermines support for the incumbent regime and offer opportunities for the opposition to mobilize. In that case, an economic crisis is expected to substantially weaken the bargaining power of the incumbent regime as it denies them the luxurious rhetoric of claiming to be presiding over an era of unprecedented national prosperity.
In weakening the bargaining power of the incumbent regime, an economic crisis does tilt the balance in favor of the opposition. These conditions existed in abundance in Botswana in 2014 and 2019 general elections but the UDC failed to take full advantage of the situation. There is no guarantee that in the next election such rare opportunities will repeat.
Whereas in the past the electorate had little hope for a possibility for regime change mainly because of the fragmentation of opposition parties, in 2014 and 2019 the electorate was served with a formularized menu that allowed voters to nurse a sense that change was possible.
In effect, voters began to view the opposition collective as a real alternative government. Indeed the opposition collective had appeared almost invincible, formidable and ready to deliver a better Botswana.
However, on scratching beneath the surface a completely different picture emerges. At all times, election campaigns gave the UDC the appearance of a well-oiled machine ready to actualize people’s hopes for regime change. With the benefits of hindsight, this appearance has only been artificial.
A scant examination of the UDC’s performance at the immediate past general election would reveal that though colossal resources have been expended to enhance the UDC’s chances, results have been negligible and the project almost a waste of time and emotions considering that coalitions have a limited lifespan.
Winning state power requires a party to garner a simple majority rather than over-indulgence in some charming tales about schooling abroad or sharing incoherent tales about a life of running after fame and fortune. Fairly speaking, if one considers the resources at its disposal, the UDC has performed dismally in 2019 general election which is why some are parading it as a flop.
Whereas the coalition provided sound policy alternatives, it squandered the goodwill of many voters when it started pinning all its hopes on its leader, in the process more than exaggerating his worth, while diminishing its own value.
This game plan inevitably characterized the UDC as a wretched symbol of failure. Fundamentally, this explains why the UDC always gets a heavy knock every time its flamboyant and controversial leader missteps.
The UDC had no recognizable appearance of its own because it has ceded its image rights to a valiant leader who unfortunately is a vacillating figure whose controversial conduct has morphed into negative corporate image for the coalition.
It has to be noted that the UDC was formed at a time when the electorate was getting disillusioned with fragmented opposition formations that favored the ruling BDP. Thus, the formation of the UDC renewed hope amongst opposition party fanatics and sympathizers that change was possible and inevitable.
The consensus was that the new political formation had the numerical strengths to take the ruling BDP to the cleaners. The support extended to the UDC was overwhelming and unprecedented for an opposition group. Public expectations on the UDC ballooned as the electorate somewhat got convinced that the UDC would shortly deliver the country from the cruel bondage of a network of greedy elites.
Batswana were ready for political change which is why they humiliated all the small parties that opted out of the people’s project. Thus, the UDC rode on the back of unprecedented public support, sympathy and a craving for regime change.
For one thing, the UDC support was not born out of its own internal strength neither out of a conscious program that sought to aggressively market the coalition. Instead, the UDC benefited handsomely from public disillusionment with the ruling regime. Whereas the UDC policy alternatives were solid, appealing and captivating, it is a certified truth that a majority of its sympathizers were simply fed up with the ancestral BDP and wanted to try something different.
Unfortunately, the UDC couldn’t rightly decode the message beneath the generous public support extended to it, mainly due to premature celebrations of triumph and usurpation of state power. The UDC leaders, in particular, its Godfather, started running ahead of the sun, taking arbitrary decisions and making positional and programmatic changes that gradually alienated the public.
The UDC leaders started imagining and rehearsing the (ab)use of unlimited executive authority that is characterized by issuing directives rather than taking orders from voters. Bit by bit the coalition leader became more powerful, worshipped and prominent than the movement.
Gradually, he became elitist and practically started caring more about himself, his financiers and his pompous lapdogs. Ultimately, the desire to mastermind regime change got overshadowed by a desire to publicly flaunt association with moneyed people. Over time, the leadership drifted away from the cardinal spirit to stand firm and consistent in the fight for emancipation of Batswana. The UDC essentially began dithering, disoriented and erratic to a point where it was hard to recognize and proudly associate with.
Subsequently, people started to doubt the sincerity of the UDC as it became clear that the leadership had other ideas. As the coalition’s language and politics became inconsistent and muddled, voters got confused and a holy mess ensued. While many voters chose to remain with the UDC as the only hope for a regime change, many others bolted out mainly because they couldn’t identify with the UDC anymore, after it deviated from its original mandate.
In the end, the goodwill of the public was squandered, not for the first time but for the millionth time. The prevailing harsh economic conditions that significantly tilted the scale in favor of the UDC could not be exploited once more. Public sympathy was squandered and so were other opportunities in different guises and make.
Yet, the UDC remained steadfast in ignoring grievances coming left, right and center. Rather the UDC opted to feign consonance. They underestimated the harm they were causing by being pompous, arrogant and self-conceited.
People’s doubts about the UDC’s seriousness consolidated and the erstwhile justification for a coalition became a mere academic exercise. Voters’ decision to rally behind the UDC as the only hope for regime change was shaken to the core. It was now apparent that the UDC was falling short of people’s expectations, not once but one more time and the 2019 election results confirmed that another golden opportunity has been squandered mainly because the UDC failed the test of genuine repentance.
Since the UDC has disappointed on two occasions when conditions were ripe to upset the incumbent regime, it has to be subjected to a brutal forensic examination lest it continues to waste our time and resources.
Having squandered two succulent opportunities and saved the BDP from ouster on two occasions, the UDC risk being parodied and ridiculed as a stale project and few voters would want to be part of a collection of dinosaur fossils.
While calls for the UDC leader to step aside and give opportunity to another sergeant to lead the movement and give it new impetus are valid, such calls only address a tiny fraction of the UDC ineptitude. The uncomfortable truth is that the UDC, in its current shape and form has been discredited beyond repair. It has become an exhibit of repeat failure; an article of uninterrupted ridicule and an institution for disembodied spirits of the ruling party witches.
History teaches us that it is pretty difficult to sustain a coalition that has failed when losing seemed more difficult than winning. The UDC has essentially become a symbol of opposition failure and attempts at renewing it and enhancing its image would be a case of striving on and celebrating mediocrity in our everyday lives.
The UDC must disband to allow for a completely new coalition to assemble. In this way, all political groups considering themselves opposition parties will get a shot at starting a collective project that is not burdened with past indiscretions and association with international pirates. The new coalition will have a new corporate identity and image but use lessons learnt to forge ahead with renewed passion.