Remembering the Social Democratic Programme- part 1

0001Reverend Prince DibeelaIn the next few weeks I shall reflect on the Social Democratic Programme (SDP). This is a publication of the Botswana National Front which spells out both its political and economic vision for Botswana.

This document was developed in 1995, revised in 2009, and it spells out the economic vision of the Botswana National Front. The SDP is presented with clarity, passion and is unapologetically pro-poor in tone and intent. If ever there was any doubt about what kind of government the BNF would be when it comes to power the SDP offers such a blueprint.

It states 'the BNF belongs to that genre of radical political programme that seek to maintain a balance between free market economy, planned economy characterized by state intervention, and parliamentary democracy.'

This policy document challenges the neo-liberal policies of the Botswana Democratic Party which have resulted, among others, in a country whose economy is under the control of foreign businesses and the local elite (the comprador class), one of the widest gaps between the rich and poor and an overly centralized economy. The SDP also observes the vulnerability of our economy primarily because of its dependent on the export of raw materials.

Among its objectives the Botswana National Front seeks 'to mobilize all patriotic forces into a political force,' with the view to contesting and democratically taking over state power. In a sense this has been partially achieved through the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change. Hopefully it will be made even more formidable by the participation of the Botswana Congress Party. However, the vision of the BNF is even more lucid.

It seeks the involvement of a strong civil society, i.e. Churches, CBOs, NGOs, in the shaping of the political vision of their country. Under the BDP civil society has been weakened through infiltration by the security forces, poaching of key civil society leaders, starving non-governmental organizations of financial resources and through intimidation of all sorts. The SDP envisions a society where civil society will not only be strong but will be allowed space to participate in the shaping of public policy.

The SDP uses calculated language in describing Botswana's brand of democracy. Over the years the parliament of Botswana has been weakened by the Botswana Democratic Party. For example, the ruling elite has used its political power to politicize the position of the speaker.

It has consistently pushed for known BDP activists who report not only to the President but obliquely to the Central Committee as well. This desperation to ambush and control parliament was most demonstrated in the recent shamble of a court case initiated by the Attorney General challenging the constitutionality of the standing orders of parliament.

Through this action the Executive, or more precisely the President, was seeking to bar parliament from choosing specially elected members through a secret ballot and rather through a show of hands.

It couldn't have been clearer that the current President and Executive want to muzzle parliament, especially to monitor the back-bench of the BDP so that they don't exercise any measure of independence. It is small wonder that the Social Democratic Programme calls this a sham.

The vision of the BNF as encapsulated by the SDP is also of a transformed political system where the President is elected by the people and not parliament. It is also a vision which seeks to foster a pluralistic political system that is not based only on elections once every five years.

Institutions such as the Independent Electoral Commission, the Ombudsman, the DCEC and others ought to be transformed and made independent from the Office of the State President. They have to report directly to parliament which ought to be the one institution directly accountable to the people.

The SDP also makes a crucial observation of the crisis of education in Botswana. It cites a shocking statistic that indicates that in 2009 35% of the 7-13 year did not go to school. This is besides the fact that many rural children have no proper access to schools because of the distances they have to travel, the fact that there is no electricity in many schools, and there is often no accommodation for teachers and the end-results if often that the learning of the children is compromised.

More troubling is that the government under the BDP has invested billions of pulas into an education system that renders its recipients unemployable. Due to lack of vision and poor planning we have an over-supply of certain skills and hardly any skills in areas that are crucial to making the economy thrive. This includes areas such as the textile industry, agro-business, mining specialists, water experts and other areas that are crucial to the economy.

The consequences of this crisis is that we import labour for even the most basic of vocational skills. Critical areas of the economy such as the mining industry and the agricultural sector are full of artisans and professionals from other countries.

In the next instalment we will look closely at the political vision of the Botswana National Front as espoused in the SDP.

Over the years the BNF has not only critiqued through social analysis, it has also offered clear political proposals of how our country can be transformed and brought to true political and economic emancipation. Some of its ideas have been picked by the current government only to misapply them.

Dibeela writes in his personal capacity


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