On the ground with Botswana Movement for Democracy

By Harriet Shone, Liberal Democrats Head of International Office

“It’s clear from what people have said to me that they have had enough of being let down by the government. They want change. I am fighting to make sure we have better schools, smaller class sizes, a strong economy where everyone has a job, and a transparent government that people can trust.”

These words were shared by MP and opposition leader Ndaba Gaolathe across thousands of households in Botswana. They remain his commitment to the people of his constituency. Ndaba is now actively working to improve the lives of every Batswana.

In reaching this point, the Africa Liberal Network in collaboration with WFD initially focused on three primary areas of support for the ALN’s sister party, the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). These included campaign support in a local by-election, a best practice workshop on political communication, and finally in the run-up to 2014 national elections, research and voter outreach. Doing so directly contributes to WFD’s four outcome areas: the ALN’s support has helped strengthen the policies developed by the BMD and its ability to both represent and reach out to Botswana’s citizens, improving their engagement and participation in the political process.

To the shock of many Batswanas and the campaign team, the much celebrated and admired BMD leader Gomolemo Motswaledi passed away in a car accident just a short while before Election Day in the country. This tragedy was a major blow to the BMD, ALN and all involved in the campaign. Still, the ALN was determined that more could be done to grow liberal democracy in Botswana. The belief was that this would be the best way of commemorating the late BMD leader.

With a firm understanding in sharing successes amongst our members in Africa and abroad, the ALN facilitated the involvement of the Democratic Alliance (South Africa) and the UK Liberal Democrats Head of Strategic Seat Operations, Victoria Marsom. This led to a peer-to-peer mentoring programme of the BMD and its coalition partners in the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

BMD2Towards the end of the project, Victoria worked closely with the leadership of the UDC, guiding their assessment of key constituencies and the setting of targets.

“Polling day was approaching. I spoke with Ndaba Gaolathe who had taken over as BMD Leader and Deputy Leader of the UDC.

“I arrived in Gaborone six days before the election. It was a hectic week! The handwritten blue letter from Ndaba was delivered across the constituency by the volunteers in around five hours and it really energised the team and motivated voters who’d never received anything like it before.

“On Facebook, Ndaba already had a successful personal page and a campaign page which had thousands of likes. I livened it up with calls to action such as asking supporters to change their profile photo after they had voted for him, filling local Facebook feeds with his image.

“The phone bank on election day also had a huge impact – I bought seven cheap handsets and some credit, wrote simple scripts (which were translated in to Setswana) and organised the data from the months of door to door campaigning. Nine callers took it in turns to call identified supporters, and we spoke to around 7,000 people during election day.”

The success of this project speaks for itself. The UDC now holds 17 seats in Botswana’s parliament, an increase of eight seats since the previous elections. The message of delivering change resonated with voters. Identifying key issues and themes was an exceptionally important part of the campaign, with voters now benefiting from the BMD and UDC’s work in improving sanitation, education and a cleaner, more transparent government.

Ultimately it will be Batswanas who benefit from these policies and having a party which works hard to reflect their views. Westminster Foundation for Democracy funds programmes which support political parties because doing so builds their ability to make better policy, strengthen accountability and improve citizen engagement and participation – particularly among marginalised groups like women and youth. That is exactly what the BMD has achieved with the support of Victoria and the ALN.

The BMD along with its broader UDC coalition have championed key issues to campaign on, such as access to clean water and reliable electricity. They have continued campaigning and won by-elections including a parliamentary defence and gained local council seats. They provide Botswana with a hope for a different kind of politics, and that there can be an alternative future in a country which has never changed government since independence.

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