Reflections on Botswana’s 23 October2019 General Elections

Published on 22nd October 2019

Botswana is one of the few countries on the African continent that have held regular elections since the mid-1960’s in which I have had an interest. Two of those elections took place when I was exiled in Botswana although my dad hails from Mochudi, about 40 km from Gaborone. He was present during the 1966 independence celebrations in Gaborone.

The fact that there have been regular elections doesn’t mean Botswana was or is a democratic country. Like all the countries that claim to be democratic - including those in the West - hold elections and thereafter go about their business taking decisions that have little or nothing to do with the people who elect governments into power but have everything to do with the interests of corporations and the elite.

For instance, the diamond industry, business and residential land in the urban areas haven’t benefited Batswana the way they are supposed to. The main beneficiaries are the elite and foreign owners of Botswana’s mineral wealth such as De Beers as well as other resources. De Beers’ Nicky Oppenheimer has been reported to have funded the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).  As a consequence, Oppenheimer meddles in Botswana’s internal affairs.

There have been media reports that business people in South Africa have been funding and/or trying to fund some politicians in Botswana such as former President Ian Khama, his sidekick Pelonomi Moitoi Venson and Duma Boko. Boko’s alleged benefactor is also reported to have bankrolled Emmerson Mnangagwa and his deputy before they ditched him.

In South Africa it isn’t any different if not worse. Corporations and some wealthy people, especially the white elite including Nicky Oppenheimer donated R1 billion to Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2017 ANC presidential campaign In2014 Adriano Mazzotti, accused of dealing in counterfeit cigarette and tax dodging paid R600,000 for the EFF’s registration fee for the elections. The two top leaders of the EFF are embroiled in a VBS bank scandal in which they are accused of having looted the bank.

It has recently emerged that DA’s Mmusi Maimane wasn’t squeaky clean either because he was driving around in a car and living in a house that belonged to or was donated by Markus Jooste of Steinhoff who defrauded pensioners of billions of rand.

The PAC is the only political party that hasn’t been tainted with corrupt money. Most politicians have no qualms receiving money from unsavoury characters. This money is given on a quid pro quo basis. People know that he who pays the piper calls the tune. Money from corporations and the elite is not donated for charity or philanthropic purposes. The donors expect something in return. For example, South Africa’s pharmaceutical giant Aspen - with links to the Ruperts – contributed towards the R1 billion for Ramaphosa’s ANC presidential election campaign and has in turn been awarded a R2 billion contract to supply antiretroviral drugs to the ANC government.

As stated above, the fact that there have been regular elections doesn’t mean Botswana was or is a democratic country. A democratic country is one in which leaders listen to their citizens and address their aspirations as Robert Sobukwe said in his 1949 Fort Hare graduation speech, “We must be the embodiment of our people’s aspirations.” In the past 53 years the ruling BDP hasn’t listened to or addressed the aspirations of the people of Botswana. The advent of democracy in Botswana saw a constitution that was not drafted by the people of Botswana. The same applies to South Africa’s elitist constitution. Botswana’s constitution curtailed the powers of Dikgosi who cannot intervene on behalf of their subjects and rein in corporations and the greedy elite since the constitution prohibits it.

Basarwa, for lack of a proper word, have been uprooted by the Botswana Democratic Party government from the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR) in 1997 and 2002 because diamonds existed at Gope inside the CKGR. That can hardly be described as democratic. Who benefits from those diamonds that were mined at the expense of Basarwa. What is even sad is that dependence on diamonds has led to the failure on the part of the BDP government to diversify Botswana’s economy in order create employment.

In Diamonds, Dispossession and Democracy in Botswana, Professor Kenneth Good, declared a Prohibited Immigrant (PI) because he criticised the Botswana government, writes inter alia that, “While diamonds also bought imported food and manufactured gods from efficient neighbouring producers – because the planners deemed this the financially preferable alternative to the task of stimulating domestic agriculture and manufacturing – this choice severely narrowed openings to economic diversification and transformation which still elude the country today. Botswana’s growth, as some recognise, was ‘mainly driven by capital accumulation’, rather than by improvement in productivity and growth in employment. Wealth was accumulated on a very narrow base with structural transformation ignored.”

Good was chucked out of Botswana by Festus Mogae, Ian Khama et al, however, these grave economic realities are with Botswana and will be with Botswana for a long time to come unless something drastic is done to address them if the elite have the interests of Batswana at heart. The outcome of the 23 October 2019 election should be a mandate to address these and other nagging governance issues not to serve the rapacious elite and corporations whose insatiable and voracious appetite can never be satisfied because the more they get it is the more they want.

Botswana’s governance system is crying out loud for overhauling. Presidential succession like in South Africa should not occur over the heads of the people. Regular elections in Botswana and in South Africa have never produced a change of government.

As Professor Good stated, the characteristics of Botswana’s politics were emulated by Namibia after 1990 and by South Africa after 1994.

State power in Botswana is centralised in the person and office of the executive president. He is at once head of state, head of government, leader of the ruling party and commander-in-chief of the military. This is similar to what the situation is in South Africa.

Automatic presidential succession in Botswana should be done away with. A president must be elected by the people. In Botswana and South Africa, a president is not elected by the people. In Botswana, the president chooses his successor while in South Africa, about 3000 to 4000 ANC delegates choose the president for the entire country. The buying of the ANC presidency by corporations and wealthy white elite at the cost of R1 billion is a clear indication that such a system is flawed and should immediately be changed.

The political systems that obtain in Botswana and South Africa discourage opposition and delays change which these two countries desperately need. African leaders should initiate change on behalf of the people they claim to represent without being forced to do so.

By Sam Ditshego

Republic of South Africa.

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