ON October 23, Botswana will go to the polls to choose who will govern the country for the next five years.
Voters could perhaps break the hegemony of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) that has been in power since 1966 when Sir Seretse Khama became the country’s first president.
The official coalition opposition party, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) has been hoping to build on its gains in the 2014 election when it won 17 out of 57 seats, a result that was seen as a protest against Khama’s autocratic rule. The BDP won with 37 seats, 46 percent of the vote. In 2009 it won 45 seats or 53.3 percent.
That the BDP has been in power so long, does not detract from its democratic principles, says President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who took over from Ian Khama 18 months ago when the former president resigned in terms of constitutional restrictions.
‘Since independence, Batswana have been presented with a choice every five years and we are thankful to them that in this free and fair process they have retained the BDP as a governing party. We remain positive that they will choose the BDP again because its policies are more in tune with their aspirations than are those of the competition,’ he said.
Masisi said the BDP is expecting a big increase in the popular vote, saying that since April 2018 when he took over the presidency, the party had transformed and its policies and solutions are more in step with the expectations of Batswana.
Pundits say that under Khama, the BDP had lost sight of its traditional mandate, and that a lot of work had been put in to get it back on track to serve the people and not the interests of the few elites.
Working for Khama was not easy and Masisi has certainly paid his dues. Before becoming vice-president in 2014, he served as a minister in a number of portfolios. He has publicly said working for Khama was difficult, but he kept his own counsel and carried on doing his job. It would appear that Khama expected it would be business as usual, once his deputy took over the presidency, with Masisi allegedly doing his bidding. But he could not have been more wrong.
After Masisi told Khama that he now was calling the shots, his former boss allegedly threw a tantrum. Masisi had also allegedly refused to appoint Khama’s brother, Tshekedi (TK), as his vice-president. It is likely that the final straw for Khama was that Masisi fired his close ally, Botswana intelligence boss Isaac Kgosi and charged him for various corrupt practices and obstruction of justice.
Transparency International has described Botswana as the least corrupt country in Africa. Masisi told South Africa’s Business Day newspaper that his presidency refuses to tolerate any type of corruption and is working hard to nip it in the bud.
‘My administration does not tolerate corruption. All those who are implicated are investigated and those who should face prosecution will have their day in court,’ he said.
After the showdown with Masisi, Khama quit the BDP, the party his revered father had founded, and in July formed his own party, the Botswana Patriotic Front. Khama appointed one of his former BDP acolytes, Biggie Butale as party president. TK remained in the BDP as minister of the environment but quit the BDP last week to join his brother’s party. However, the Weekend Post reported that TK was a founding member of the BPF, which would indicate he had a serious conflict of interest for the past few months.
Former president Festus Mogae said in an interview with The Voice, a Botswana daily, earlier in 2019 that Khama was ‘a strong-headed, manipulative and divisive character who throws tantrums if he does not get his way.’
Mogae said he had appointed Khama to succeed him to help unify the BDP, but instead he did the opposite. ‘Ian is nothing like his father, he is a disappointment,’ he said.
Earlier in 2019, Khama accused Masisi of becoming an autocrat and threatening the country’s reputation as a beacon of stability in Africa.
The former president said that some BDP officials feared the party may be headed for an election defeat because Masisi was now a ‘liability’.
Masisi was criticised for lifting the wildlife sports hunting ban imposed in 2014 and Khama accused him of cracking down on dissent.
‘When he was my vice-president he never displayed any of these issues we are now seeing, [he was] always very intelligent, very supportive of all these policies that he is now reversing,’ Khama said.
The UDC, headed by Duma Boko, has been hoping to build on the promising results in the last election but his efforts may well now be frustrated by Khama. The BDP is part of the UDC coalition, which from the start was anti-Khama and on which it built its success.
The four presidential candidates – Masisi, Boko, Butale and Ndaba Gaolathe of the Alliance of Progressives (also part of the UDC) coalition – have much in common. They all are well educated and sophisticated. Boko has a law degree from Harvard, Masisi a master’s degree in education from Florida State University, Butale is a pastor and has a law degree from the University of Botswana, while Goalathe has a business degree from Wharton in the US.
They are all capable, but Masisi has the most comprehensive experience in running a government.
Masisi says his first order of business is job creation.
‘We are focused on attracting FDI [foreign direct investment]. In the recent past, we have created over 7,000 jobs by attracting 3.2bn pula ($293 million) of FDI into the country. The mining sector is showing positive growth and we also looking at the possible reopening of Selebi-Phikwe mine with private investors. We will transform the economy, make it more investor attractive for both citizens and international investors.’
Masisi appears to be a force to be reckoned with because seeing off Khama was no mean feat. He has proved that he is his own man, thankfully free of Khama. Boko must most certainly wish he could say the same.
All attempts to contact Boko, Butale and Gaolathe proved to be unsuccessful.