A brief History of UDC
How the UDC began
The UDC was formed in 2012 as a political alliance of three opposition parties in Botswana,being the Botswana National Front (BNF),the Botswana People’s Party (BPP) and the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). A year earlier, in April 2011, the country had went through a long public sector strike in which trade unions had received support from various sections of the community in their call for salary increments for public servants, who had amid rising inflation, and thus erosion of their purchasing power, not had a salary increment for three consecutive years. Among those giving support to the cause of workers were the opposition parties. For instance, across the country, wheneverthe striking public sector workers gathered, senior members of these parties, including some from the ruling party, would address workers plights. Importantly, arising from these daily addresses, a call was made by trade unions that opposition parties must come together and form a united opposition bloc that would face the intransigent and corrupt ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) under a single ticket in the next general election to be held in 2014. Indeed, these parties heeded the call and immediately started negotiations of establishing a united opposition block. The talks involved the four main opposition parties;the BMD, the BNF, the BPP, and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP).
The talks leading to formation of UDC were not the first towards building unity among opposition parties in Botswana. There were many past efforts in that direction. Unfortunately, these efforts were unsuccessful for one reason or another.In fact, the BNF was formed after failed efforts to unite BPP factions/splinters. The absence of opposition unity, which resulted in vote splitting by the opposition parties, meant nothing, but the continued (mis)rule of the BDP. Besides fragmentation, the opposition’s quest for state power also suffered because of lack of lack of resources, and the continued use of the First Past the Post Electoral System (FPTP) that disadvantaged the opposition while unfairlyrewarding the BDP.The BDP thus enjoyed undeserved rule over the country, something it has done since the pre-independence elections of1965 to the present day.Despite setbacks at the polls, the call for opposition cooperation against the ruling party persisted until the 2011 strike, after which cooperation talks began earnestly.
The approach to opposition cooperation talks in 2011 was different from the past efforts. Most importantly, the drivers of the talks were not politicians, but members of some civil society organizations. In the previous cooperation efforts leading figures in opposition politics, especially party leaders were at the forefront of such cooperation efforts. The latest talks were different in that they were coordinated by members of the civil society who were not active in politics. Concerned about the declining standards of governance under the BDP, these actors wanted opposition parties to come together and thus present themselves as an alternative to the BDP. These patriotic citizens simply wanted an opposition bloc that could be able to challengefor state power.
The environment, too, proved conducive for opposition cooperation. The public had grown tired of a divided opposition. They knew the only solution to bring to an end almost half a century of BDP rule was through a united opposition. Indeed, the leadership of various opposition parties heeded the clarion call from Batswana. The coalition talks started in 2010 with the inclusion of the newly formed BMD, after the precursor ones between BNF and BCP in 2005 with an aim of seeing the two cooperate in the 2009 general elections failed.
Various committees were established to facilitate realisation of the UDC project. In particular, work on harmonisation of policies of the different contracting parties commenced with representatives from the BCP, BNF, BPP and BMD. They did succeed in that exercise and that promised to be a significant development towards possibility of achieving a united opposition.
Although there were many successful developments carrying the promise for realisation of the UDC project, challenges emerged. Among others, these included the issue of constituency allocation. This is where the biggest problems were encountered with parties failing to agree on how to share or allocate constituencies among themselves. Despite such challenges, all parties, except the BCP, reached a common ground in terms of constituency allocation. After protracted efforts to keep the BCP within the UDC fold, the former decided to leave the project, leaving behind the BNF, BPP and BMD.
The UDC was launched under fanfare on the 13th November, 2012 in Gaborone, where the party symbol/logo was also unveiled. At the same occasion the founding leadership of the new formation in opposition politics was announced with the BNF leader, Duma Boko, assuming the presidency of the UDC. The leader of the BPP, MotlatsiMolapise, became the UDC Chairman, while BMD leader, Gomolemo Motswaledi, was appointed the Secretary General. Following the tragic death of GomolemoMotswaledi in July 2014, NdabaGaolathe, who succeededMotswaledi as BMD leader was appointed UDC Secretary General. Having worked out a successful cooperation project, UDC provided an alternative government in the coming 2014 general elections.
The 2014 elections
The UDC went into the general election carrying the nation’s hopes of bringing to an end one party dominance that had characterised Botswana since independence. For the first time in the country’s history, the BDP was not guaranteed of electoral victory.UDC organisational capacity meant that it was able to cover the breath and width of the entire country in the lead up to elections. There was also widespread support for UDC from across wide sections of the community and, in particular, the labour movement. Trade unions, especially public sector ones, as architects of the UDC proved crucial partners and managed to mobilise its members to support UDC given its pro-labour policies.
There were, however, certain developments of great concern leading up the elections. The nation experienced the worst nightmare when it lost one of its greatest son’s, Gomolemo Motswaledi, the founding president of the BMD and Secretary General of the UDC. Sir G. As Motswaledi was commonly refereed, was the pillar of strength within the UDC and had wider appeal beyond politics. His death rocked the nation but, importantly, strengthened UDC’s resolve to win state power and usher in new possibilities for Batswana.
The performance of UDC in the 2014 was nothing but remarkable. The party posted the best performance by an opposition in the history of Botswana in its first appearance in the general elections. Despite that the party entered election race very late (i.e. two years before 2014 elections) it managed to gain 17 seats in parliament and many others at local government level and, in the process, surpassing the previous highest number of parliamentary seats of 13 attained by BNF in the 1994 general elections. The UDC performed very well in urban centres, especially the in the capital, Gaborone, where it won 4 of the 5 parliamentary seats. It also wrestled seats from tradition BDP strongholds such as Molepolole, Ghanzi South and Borolong areas. Consequently, the UDC is now the official opposition in parliament