A snapshot of a purported agreement between Leader of Opposition Duma Boko the chairperson of the Zunaid Moti group floated on social media a few days ago.
In this snapshot appeared commitments from the Moti group in exchange for some benefits to be derived by the sponsors once Boko assumes power.The picture went viral of course. For an excitable audience such is the juicy news needed to spice this already heated electoral contest.
The snapshot is fake and forms part of the dirty world of propaganda that seeks to cast suspicion on individuals and party alike.
There is no information available to the public to know who funds which party. Any mover can accuse opponents of all sorts. It is possible that donors fund all contenders, perhaps not to the same extent.
The 2019 general elections promise to be a showdown. Gone are the days where the financial misfortune of opposition parties served as a disabler to putting up a formidable contest. Opposition parties have for the longest been considerably disadvantaged by their weak financial position. This always resulted in a skewed struggle between the ruling party and opposition candidates. This imbalance also extends to the demise of marginalised groups such as women and youth.
The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) is swimming in an endless pool of funds. The rallies, the launches, the conferences and much to the annoyance of the government of the day; Moti’s airplanes tell a story. The Alliance for Progessives (AP)’s pond of funding is not as deep. Benevolent donors have showered the angelic purple brigade with buses. The advantage of incumbency enjoyed through eternity by the ruling party is being eroded.
For a first time there will be a semblance of a level playing field.
Political parties play pivotal roles in the public administration and aggregation of demands to advance nations. Political competition is economically demanding. Bulela Ditswe costs aspirant candidates anything up to P600, 000. Equally the same amount would be splashed in the run up to the general elections.
Electoral costs are a burden left on the shoulders on the families of contestants. Primary elections whittle family wealth as hard earned revenue is consumed to fund democracy. For perennial losers the journey in politics is a chilling walk to poverty – all the way to the grave. For the victors, temporary reprieve comes from civic reward, which on its own is by no means enriching.
Political parties are the soul of every democratic governance. They are sacrosanct in leadership selection and legitimise the colour of the government in the eyes of the nation itself and globe. The functionality of democracy is symbiotically dependent on adequate funding, which can be legal or illegal. A thin blurry line between legal and illegal political party funding has caused consternation to the electorate. What if politicians are tied to financiers in an unregulated market?
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has up to now failed to consider and pass into law political party funding. Once enacted, such a law would compel parties to tell voters who funds them. Put simply, there will also be limits on how much donors can give a party. Well-articulated laws in this regard, further an environment where politics becomes a platform for good parties winning support of voters as opposed to the wealth of the donors.
The ruling party has enjoyed more resources. Leveraging on state power, the party has also seen kindness of business community leaning more towards the BDP. Just this week, a video emerged on social media of a stack of t-shirts in a production warehouse in what looked like an Asian
Political leaders cannot continue to bury their heads in the soil and pretend that the pot of inequality is not close to boiling over. The closest that the BDP ever came to discussing political party funding was Botsalo Ntuane’s aborted electoral changes midwifed by 2015 Reform Agenda.
Voters no longer place history and legacy at their centre of their voting decisions. People are now placing their socio-economic needs at the helm of party choice. Voters are now interested in who will represent their interests, whose politics address their concerns the most and most importantly, who do they feel is listening to them.
Seemingly, opposition parties in previous elections displayed certain levels of complacency. They had resigned themselves to the understanding that the BDP will continue to win elections and their only play to represent minority interests. They have never shaped themselves as real alternatives to the governing party, which was a grave mistake on their part.
Boko to his credit has transformed the UDC. Gaps that existed between the opposition and the governors have been bridged. The UDC leads in messaging and theirs has been the easiest to convince electorate. There is no doubt that huge investments have been made upstream. The strength of the UDC faces off against a measure of force extended by arms of government to frustrate extensive penetration.
In May 2019, a plane delivering the UDC manifesto was detained temporarily at Maun Airport. This was a continuation of grounding of UDC bound planes following the Francistown fiasco a month earlier. The absurdity of the constraints placed on the UDC is such that flying from Gaborone to Kasane is via Lanseria Airport, South Africa.
Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) is the remaining leverage that the current government holds to minimise chances of opposition traversing the country. The constant harassment of Boko over the BMW sedan of foreign registration is an eyesore for democracy.
If there is a genuine concern that citizens will be at the receiving end of an unhealthy relationship between funders and politicians, then Parliament ought to have done right by citizens. The ruling party has enjoyed funding that is shrouded in secrecy. No election can be free of electoral manipulation when the inflow of money is not regulated. The impact of this on the political system is enormous.
First is an electoral machine controlled by political entrepreneurs and their civilian business cronies turned political financers. Secondly, elections become a commodity for candidates on the highest financial pedestals, which certainly is not within the reach of common men. It is not enough to blackmail voters into a thinking that the influx of funds amongst previously disadvantaged competitors is tantamount to selling the country.
All parties are guilty of selling the country. But man is innocent until proven guilty – so if one professes innocence then all are innocent.
The electoral process does not start on election day nor end there. When there is no equality in funding between political parties, elections amount to putting one on a horse and the other on their legs.
Society should have mercy for the small blanketed. As Dark City Sisters penned in their song “Bonang Ba Dinao’, those on horseback should not eat alone.
These elections will be some showdown!