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Monday 24 November 2014, 16:31 pm.
Monopoly politikos: An account of a de facto one party state

In this four part series analyst *DITHAPELO LEFOKO KEORAPETSE explores the international image of Botswana as a paragon of democratic practice and finds that upon closer scrutiny it does not quite match the image. This first part introduces the objectives of his journey starting with an exploration of the concept of authoritarian liberalism.
By Staff Writer Wed 26 Nov 2014, 02:09 am (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Monopoly politikos: An account of a de facto one party state








Botswana is exceptional as the only Sub-Saharan African country to have maintained an uninterrupted record of liberal democracy and political stability as well as economic prosperity since independence in 1966. First democratic elections were held in 1965, and similar free and relatively fair polls have been repeated every  five years ever since that date. The country has been hailed as exceptional and termed the 'African Miracle'. It has been also praised as an African success story-a phrase which according to Good has been originally coined by Thumberg in 1978 and repeated by Samatar in 1999. These accolades emanate from less profound majors of democracy; procedural and institutional democracy of regular free and fairly fair elections. On a more profound yardstick for liberal democracy, the quality of Botswana's democracy appears blemished.  In view of the participatory deficiency in public affairs, John D. Holm describes the political process within which Botswana's elections are held as 'paternalistic' democracy. Picard contends that Botswana is a de facto one party state, that notwithstanding the facade of multiparty democracy, only one party has won all the elections since independence elections in 1965. This view is shared by Huntington, who contends that Botswana's democracy is still brittle as it has not passed the test of alternation of political power, in which the ruling party loses elections and becomes an opposition party. Horowitz states that "Botswana's opposition is acsriptively limited...ascriptive minorities cannot become majorities, so elections are safe". Opposition parties have been blamed for helping sustain the one party dominance because they failed to provide a viable alternative to the ruling party. They are fragmented and have been relatively disorganised. The dominance of the ruling party is also ascribed to the unrepresentative nature of the First-Past-The-Post electoral system that obscures the strength of the opposition parties. This chapter digs underneath the faŤade of Botswana's acclaimed liberal democracy and gives a discussion of reasons for one-party dominance. It argues that the dominance of the BDP lies in the authoritarian nature of the state with a powerful executive president and empowered elites at the helm and conversely passive masses below. The chapter also attributes the de facto one party state and lack of regime change in Botswana to the relatively good policies of the ruling party since independence and argues that Batswana have over the years credited the socio-economic success of the country to the BDP and have been relatively satisfied with these policies. It is further contended that opposition parties are partly to blame for the state of Botswana's democracy. They have been afflicted by internal feuds leading to splits and have been disorganised consequently failing to provide viable alternative programmes. However, it is claimed here that opposition parties are not entirely at fault, they are demonised by the ruling party and government. While the BDP abuses state resources for political reasons and is well resourced to organise and run effective election campaigns, opposition parties lack resources and hence their inability to effectively organise and campaign well. Opposition parties also lack access to state media. The plurality system misrepresents opposition parties' strengths in that their popular vote win is not reflected in parliamentary representation. The BDP led government is resisting electoral reforms that would democratise Botswana further to a point of consolidation. The chapter provides a synopsis of the 2009 election to illustrate some of the arguments raised herein. Lastly, the ruling BDP has split in 2010 following a long battle between its two main factions. The newly formed fragment, Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) is currently in opposition cooperation talks with other three opposition parties to topple the ruling party in 2014.

Authoritarian Liberalism, empowered elites and enfeebled masses
Botswana is for all indents and purposes an authoritarian liberalism. The masses are passive and hardly engage in protests or activities aimed at challenging government to account. Service delivery protests, industrial strikes, anti-corruption demonstrations or any other form of popular protests hardly ever arise. The state has not hesitated to deplore the army and police to harshly quell a few protests that arose in the past. This political culture can be traced from the pre-colonial era where chiefs demanded unquestioning obedience from the ruled.Batswana evolved as a people who respect and submit to authority. This can also be attributed to the fact that Batswana don't have a culture of struggle in that they didn't have to violently fight for their independence.

Moreover, the educated and politically sensitised are found mainly in the cities and towns while the less politically sensitised are found in the rural areas where the majority of the people live. Du Toi observed that one of the distinctive traits of Botswana's democratic politics is that presidential politics have subjugated other aspects of the parliamentary process since independence. Presidential dominance means that the executive dominates other institutions. Key developmental and other policy decisions are decided by the elites; the president, his cabinet and a few in the top echelon of the bureaucracy, with parliament playing a miniscule role. The dominance of the presidency has become more apparent under the presidency of Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama. He is widely accused of militarising the country, single handedly making key decisions and for being dictatorial by the opposition, civil society and the private media. Kenneth Good bluntly puts it:"Since the succession of Liutenant-General Ian Khama to the presidency in April 2008, an escalation in the militarisation and personalisation of power in Botswana has taken place. Repressive agencies have been operationalised, military personnel have entered government in increased number, an informal coterie of advisers has come into being around Khama, and a spate of accusations of extra-judicial killings by state agents have been made. Governance and democracy are thus seriously undermined in what is conventionally represented as an African success..." (Good).

Presidential dominance is backed by extensive constitutional and other powers of control and influence that the president enjoys. The powers that the president has and the consequential domination of his office over other democratic institutions abet the dominance of the ruling party and perpetuate one-party dominance. This authoritarianism, which has become a defining characteristic of Botswana, counteracts principles of popular participation, transparency and accountability. The president in Botswana is not popularly elected by the electorates. He is elected by Electoral College kind of arrangement by Members of Parliament.   The Constitution of the Republic provides two types of presidential elections. First, after the dissolution of Parliament, usually after five years, nominations for presidential candidates are delivered to the Chief Justice, who acts as a returning officer for the purpose of election of the president. One thousand registered voters must pledge their support for a presidential candidate and the candidate must be endorsed by any parliamentary candidate who is vying for a parliamentary seat under the same ticket with him/her. If, after the parliamentary elections, more than half of the voted MPs have declared support for the presidential candidate, then that candidate stands properly elected.

Secondly, if this process fails to bring about the election of the president, the president must then be elected at the first meeting of Parliament held exclusively for the purpose. If both processes fail to produce a president then the general elections would be nullified. Therefore the president is indirectly elected and it is assumed that when one votes an MP their vote counts towards election of the president.  A better way to confer legitimacy, it is submitted, is through direct election of the president. The essence of democracy is that rulers must be chosen by the ruled and be removable by the ruled. Universal adult suffrage which consists of the extension of the right to vote to citizens as a whole is a fundamental requirement in a democracy. It is a means through which presidential office should be constituted in Botswana especially given that the president enjoys sweeping powers. The Constitution also enshrines automatic succession to the presidency by the vice president upon resignation, retirement or death of the president. An earlier arrangement was that parliament would sit and elect a president, as happened when Seretse Khama died in office. The provision was amended during Ketumile Masire's presidency to pave way for a smooth succession of Festus Mogae. Automatic succession gives the sitting president room for manoeuvre and or a chance to determine a successor. Usually a vice president is a person preferred by the president. Former president Festus Mogae threatened during the 2004 election campaign to dissolve Parliament if his preferred vice presidential nominee, Ian Khama, was refused by the parliament after the polls. It takes the president to influence who becomes the vice president at the right time and this person's chances of ascending to the highest office are high. This system of automatic succession has been criticised as undemocratic and a no model for Africa. It has been argued that Botswana's president wields enormous powers of control and influence.

In terms of the constitution, the executive power of Botswana, that is the power to govern, vests in the president and he decides alone (Constitution of Botswana). The constitution clearly states: "In the exercise of any function...the president shall...act in his own deliberate judgment and shall not be obliged to follow the advice tendered by any person or authority"  (Constitution of Botswana Section). Dingake argues that this effectively authorises the president to rule single handedly and/or authorises dictatorship and that it is difficult to comprehend the rationale behind this provision in view of that in Botswana the president is not directly elected.

The president appoints members of cabinet, as well as Vice President, all of whom, unlike him, must be elected (or specially elected) parliamentarians. The president is endowed with powers of appointment. He appoints all bureaucratic chief executives. He is the commander in chief of the armed forces, appoints its commander and senior staff and wields power over deployment of the armed forces. He effectively single handedly appoints the Chief Justice, Judge President, Attorney General, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Director of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), and the Ombudsman, among others. Nobody or authority effectively scrutinises these appointments. He appoints judges acting in accordance with the advice of the Judicial Service Commission, themselves all presidential appointees, except for one member from and nominated by the Law Society of Botswana (Constitution of Botswana). It is argued that if the executive enjoys an exclusive privilege in selecting judges and other heads of oversight bodies aforementioned, a risk always exists of misuse of the power of appointment. Sometimes political or other considerations may prevail over the merit criteria for appointments.

Thus by facilitating nepotism and political favouritism, the quality of these institutions might be diluted. Officials who obtain their position as a result of executive discretion or favour could be compelled to serve the interests of their appointing authority in a manner which might undermine oversight bodies' independence. The DCEC independence came under spotlight recently after WikiLeaks revealed that President Lt Gen Ian Khama interfered in investigations by the directorate involving his twin brothers Tshekedi and Anthony. The institution is headed by a cousin in law of the president. The President can appoint a commission of inquiry and decides whether it sits in public or camera and whether its findings are made public or not (Commissions on Inquiry Act). The Office of the President exercises direct control over the police, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), the military, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) and the departments of Information and Broadcasting (constituting the Daily News-distributed nationally free of charge, Kutlwano Magazine, Botswana Television and two radio stations).

The president has been accused of using the intelligence agency to spy on his opponents in the ruling party, opposition and civil society. The abuse of the state media is a topical issue in Botswana; the ruling party and mainly the president is given wider coverage than the opposition. The extent of the abuse shall be elaborated below. The president cannot be impeached by parliament even for violation of the constitution or gross misconduct.He cannot be sued and he is effectively above the law (Constitution of Botswana). The courts held, in Gomolemo Motswaledi's case that the president cannot be sued.The President had in the run up to 2009 elections suspended Gomolemo Motswaledi from the BDP and revoked his parliamentary candidacy for Gaborone Central constituency. Motswaledi could have successfully challenged his suspension but he could not because the president cannot be sued.

*KEORAPETSE  is a lecturer at the University of Botswana. This paper appears in the book Regime Change and Succession Politics in Africa Five Decades of Misrule. Published by Routledge in the UK and USA.



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