Botswana, Africa’s most stable country goes to the polls in October but this time, the elections will be anything but a routine triumphal march for the ruling party, the Botswana Democratic Party. Analysis by Ale-esi Makgekgenene.
Botswana is celebrated as one of the oldest democracies in Africa and a model for the African continent. The countries politics, despite several undercurrents, is uniquely in Africa, generally devoid of drama. It has also had, until a few years ago, an enviable record in terms of the lack of corruption and its leaders have usually always been understated rather than florid.
Botswana has also been ruled for over half a century by the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) which has developed a well-oil machinery that it rolls out election after election. The transition from one administration to another (President Terms are limited to two five-year terms) has always been smooth and well co-ordinated.
It has been a tradition for the BDP that the incumbent President vacates his seat some 18 months before the end of his second term in office. The Deputy President, carefully handpicked by the BDP elite, then steps in as interim President and has a year and a half to both ease into the job and also use the advantages of incumbency to campaign for the elections that follow at the end of the five-year term.
The President is elected by the National Assembly so victory in the general elections guarantees that the interim President becomes the de jure national leader.
But this time around, it seems that the well-oiled machinery may slip off its tracks and BDP’s stranglehold on the country’s politics may be weakening.
The BDP’s problems are mostly self-inflicted. The party is more divided than ever before in its history and its coffers, reportedly buoyed by various Israeli interests, are virtually empty.
More damaging has been the bitter falling out between the immediate former President, Ian Khama and his chosen successor and incumbent President, Mokgweetsi Masisi.
Approaching the end of the constitutional maximum of 10 years in office, Ian Khama, stepped down with 18 months still to go to the next general election and handed over power in April 2018 to Mokgweetsi Masisi, who was then his deputy.
But instead of taking a back seat as is usual in these cases, Ian Khama has weighted into Masisi. Khama, has accused Masisi of becoming an autocrat and threatening the country’s reputation as a beacon of stability in Africa.
He stated that he took the “very painful” decision to leave the BDP because of the “immature and arrogant” attitude of President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s government.
“The person who I nominated to be my successor, as soon as he took office became very autocratic, very intolerant and it has led to a decline in the democratic credentials that we have a reputation for,” Khama said in an interview.
Soon after being sworn in, Masisi unleashed changes that were unthinkable a year ago, rewiring the Presidency and moving to cleanse it of his predecessor’s autocratic legacy.
He has steadily prised away the hands of the Khama family from the levers of power. Ian Khama’s trusted security chief, the head of the powerful Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services, Isaac Kgosi, was the first of key allies to be sacked in April last year, earning Masisi Khama’s wrath. Kgosi was also later, in January arrested on suspicion of tax irregularities.
In fact, the two leaders clashed so bitterly that Ian Khama quit the party and formed a new party- the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF). Khama, whose father Sir Seretse Khama co-founded the BDP in 1962, has publicly declared he would form an alliance with the Umbrella for Democratic Change to campaign against his former political party the BDP in the October elections.
Veterans take umbrage
The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) is a coalition party comprising of the Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) and Botswana Congress Party (BCP).
Duma Boko is president of the (UDC and he is also the president of the Botswana National Front (BNF). Of the three parties which make up the UDC, the Botswana National Front has the largest numbers of members and it is the biggest and oldest opposition party in Botswana. Of the three, it also has the most members of parliament.
With Khama’s new party, the Botswana Patriotic Front on its side, the UDC now poses a serious challenge to the BDP.
However, all is not well in the UDC camp. The Botswana National Front (BNF) Veterans League made up of BNF MPs who have stood the test of time by repeatedly winning their constituency seats have expressed grave doubts about the direction their party, under the UDC coalition is taking.
In a statement, they expressed their dismay that their party was making common cause against their traditional ‘enemy’ the BDP in the guise of Ian Khama’s new party. They criticised ‘secret’ funding deals with Khama, saying “These secret deals and funding are inconsistent and at variance with the well-known BNF political character, culture and traditions, and undermines time honoured BNF principle of collective leadership.”
They also dismissed Khama’s overtures to the UDC stating they will “not sell their soul for Ian Khama’s pot of soup and diphaphata (oven top muffins popular in Botswana) or Moti Group largesse.”
The latter refers to South African entrepreneur, Zunaid Moti who provided two aircraft, a helicopter and a jet, emblazoned with slogans saying ‘Duma Boko for President’ towards the UDC campaign. Both aircraft were impounded earlier this year by the Botswana Unified Revenue Service over alleged customs irregularities.
They also took a swipe at UDC leader, Duma Boko demanding to know what deals he had made and what “are the unknown conditionalities of the secret deals and funding, and their implications for our national sovereignty”.
Meanwhile, President Masisi will be leading a reportedly broke BDP to the 2019 general elections, against an adversary with a huge war chest.
For the first time that anyone can remember, the BDP will be campaigning when the election outcome is not cut and dried. However, Masisi has so far proved himself a popular leader and has quickly established his own style. Never write off the BDP.