There is an old saying that an organisation is as good as its leader. In an endeavour to gauge how the presidential candidates for the four main political parties have inspired their political organisations ahead of the October 23 general election, Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE looks at the role played by the political heads in one of the country’s tight political contest
JOHANNESBURG: As the curtain falls on the campaigns for the impending 12th general election pencilled for next week Wednesday as the country goes to the polls, it goes without saying that the quartet presidential candidates are the cynosure of all eyes.
The critical question is who of the quartet of Ndaba Gaolathe of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), incumbent Mokgweetsi Masisi of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), Biggie Butale of Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) and Duma Boko of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) will win the ultimate prize?
The nation could have had a hint of what their aspiring presidents have for them from the Wednesday presidential debate. The strengths and weaknesses of the presidential candidates including proper articulation of their parties’ manifestos and policies are some of the issues that might have helped the voters make good choices.
Two prominent University of Botswana (UB) academics, Kebapetse Lotshwao, senior lecturer in politics and lecturer in political and administrative studies, Adam Mfundisi diametrically hold contrasting views in their assessment of who of the presidential candidates will lift the crown.
Lotshwao thinks the leader of the BDP, also state President, Masisi, “has done more than other leaders in terms of swaying voters in favour of his party”. In 2014, Lotshwao analysed that the BDP, for the first time since independence, retained power with less than 50% of popular vote.
He attributes the BDP’s loss of legitimacy and popularity to bad governance that gripped the country during the reign of former president Ian Khama. Under Khama, he says, there were extra-judicial killings, massive corruption (Morupule B and others), intimidation of the private media, interference in the appointment of judges, and lack of consultation in policy-making among others.
His take is that when Masisi succeeded Khama, he changed from Khama’s style, and advocated for good governance consultation. To him, this has restored the legitimacy of the BDP, making it more likely for the party to retain power next week. “In my view, the BDP leader, Masisi is stronger than the other presidential candidates.
Firstly, Masisi is in touch with society, and cares about public opinion, and he has done his best to address some of the concerns that Batswana had during the time of Khama,” he observes.
Secondly, Lotshwao sees Masisi as the leader of a hegemonic party, which has history on its side.
Although he concedes that there are challenges such as rural poverty and youth unemployment, the political scientist is steadfast that the BDP has something to show for the years that it was in office, “including improvement of living standards of the majority, provision of basic social services such as water, education, and health among others”.
While the UDC has significant following, Lotshwao finds the weakest link is its leader, Boko.
“Boko has many limitations, and these limitations will work against the UDC,” he quips and adds: “Most importantly, Boko is not consistent on any national issue, something that undermines his credibility”.
For instance, he cited that Boko has in the past criticised Khama, but has now embraced him, something that has affected UDC’s chances, as many Batswana detest Khama because of the way he ruled the country.
He would further show that Boko’s credibility is also undermined by the fact that he never delivers anything that he promises, including holding government accountable for the Matsha accident that claimed student lives.
“Finally, Boko’s arrogance works against him. Among others, he has attacked judges, academics, and journalists. To win power, one needs to know how to build a coalition by bringing on board all those that matter,” analysed the UB don.
To him, Boko does not understand that, “Masisi on the other hand understands it so well, and has cobbled a winning bloc by bringing everyone on board”.
In terms of articulating policies, the AP leader, Gaolathe according to Lotshwao competes with the BDP leader, Masisi. Unfortunately, the AP is a new party, and does not enjoy much following.
As for the UDC, Lotshwao finds the problem with its populist manifesto that attempts to take advantage of the predicament of the ordinary people. “The weakest link, which makes it even difficult for UDC leaders to explain their manifesto, is the question of how their promises will be funded,” Lotswao pointed out.
His explanation is that a party cannot just promise to spend money; it has to have concrete strategies of growing the economy and generating money. “UDC is mute on this, except to promise to re-open the BCL Mine.” Some of the main issues in this election are governance, service delivery, and job creation.
In Lotshwao’s view, “as I stated earlier, the BDP has high chances of retaining power, largely because after ascending to power, President Masisi has made efforts to address the concerns that Batswana had during the presidency of Ian Khama.”
But, this time around, the UB political scientist is adamant that the majority will vote for the reforming BDP, and shun a UDC that works with Khama, “the worst leader the country has had since independence”. For his part, Mfundisi sees Boko of the UDC lifting the prize.
He says Boko has greater attributes; from humble beginning to great heights, challenging privilege in our society. To him Boko has been able to form a formidable union of diverse political formations and steer it through hard times. “He is a strategic leader who is visionary, charismatic, and an effective communicator.
Together with his high command, they have crafted a manifesto that is at the centre of national debate. It identifies sections of the population, their problems and possible solutions,” posits Mfundisi.
He added: “The manifesto was a product of countrywide consultation and the solutions are customised as they appeal to the hearts and minds of the voters. Boko has also mobilised massive resources internally and externally to level the political landscape”.
He says Boko has adopted a collective leadership style that promotes participation and involvement of a broad section of the leadership and beyond.
Boko’s main weakness, he says, is that there are integrity issues where there are allegations of tax evasion and association with dubious characters. “All of these allegations against him have had political connotations.
The narratives that have been propagated by his opponents discredit him. But he has not been intimidated showing strong character and judgement,” he analysed and noted that time management has been a growing concern but he has improved tremendously.
He credits Boko to have worked tirelessly to spread the message of hope and progress.
He has appealed to the hearts and minds of voters as he effectively articulated the UDC manifesto anchored on ‘decent jobs, decent lives’ appealing to the broad sections of the voters. “To be candid, the UDC manifesto is the basis of political deliberations in all national interactions.
Other political parties are promulgating UDC manifesto even if they claim to be attacking it. But it is the talk of town; at taxi and bus ranks, in bars and restaurants and all public gatherings.”
Mfundisi holds a strong view that there are basically four major issues; corruption, poverty, unemployment, and redistributive policy. He feels these amongst others will determine the winner of elections.
“The crack in the support of the BDP hitherto heartland in Central District or CDC particularly Serowe and its satellite, coupled with the aggressive campaigns by the UDC and its appealing manifesto we should see a great victory,” he says.
The BPF he observes is the game changer in the political calculus whilst he insists that the AP has lost its appeal since the ascendancy of the BPF. President Masisi’s strengths revolve around the incumbency factor, says Mfundisi.
He says Masisi has managed to employ state resources and institutions to overly and covertly launch his campaigns.
He particularly points at Kgotla meetings as well as the extensive use of the state media, which has broad coverage to appeal to the broad population and voters. Kgotla meetings were used to give a veneer of consultative democracy.
“Strength relates to the abuse and misuse of state power to harass and intimidate particularly the UDC leader.
He has unleashed the BURS and the DIS to stall the UDC campaigns by grounding the UDC helicopter and aeroplane under some pretext of safety and tax related matters,” the political scientist points out.
In some instances, he says, this delayed the launch of some candidates but did not achieve its intended objective of dampening the spirit of the campaign team.
President Masisi’s weaknesses, according to Mfundisi are profound. The first one relates to the toxic relationship between him and his predecessor Khama. He is alleged to have unleashed a propaganda machinery to discredit Khama, which eventually backfired.
“President Masisi is accused of participating in unethical behaviour relating to National Petroleum Fund (NPF) saga where it is alleged he was sponsored to the tune of P3 million of public funds. He has failed to account for the millions lost in the NPF,” insists the UB academic.
Populism has been the hallmark of Masisi’s presidency according to Mfundisi who cited policies on wildlife-human conflict, handing over of Tourism Park, renaming of state properties in Francistown and the employment of the nurses who were fired during the 2011 Public Service Strike.
“BDP is the greatest loser in this year’s general elections. It is going to be vanquished in north of Dibete.
If it loses the northern votes, it has lost elections,” he stressed. Most constituencies the BDP won in 2014 were in the northern part of the country. In 2019 a culmination of events might dent its support base.