Time for clear laws

A voice clip, purported to be a conversation between some South African financial heavyweights and representatives of a faction of our ruling party was circulated on social media in the past week.

The subject was regime change. It spoke to the possible involvement of South African capital in the tempestuous feud between Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) factions then vying for the party, and by extension, the national presidency. No one has since come up to refute the same.

The suggestion that foreign capital has taken interest in local politics, or were playing kingmakers in Botswana presidential politics should worry us all.  It raises the unanswered question as to who approached them, on what terms, and what exactly was in it for them. Does foreign capital have a place in our electoral process?

Clearly, in an environment where there is no political party funding, the struggle for State power can be quite difficult. Botswana is a vast desert country, blessed with prohibitive and debilitating terrain. No meaningful challenge for State power cannot be achieved without a substantial budget and a properly funded campaign.

In our country, government traditionally abuses State resources to favour the ruling party and to give it a competitive political edge over opposition parties.

Government, for example, runs a media empire solely dedicated to self-praise and the exaltation of the ruling party and its functionaries.

That is the only reason why The Daily News, a publication that should be coming out at the most bi-weekly, and invariably disappears between puffs of marijuana, comes out daily at enormous expense to the taxpayer.

The memories of a Botswana Defence Force (BDF)  aircraft being deployed to transport BDP party functionaries for specific party errands is still fresh in our minds. It is fair to say that opposition parties are therefore perennially sailing against the wind while the ruling party runs its campaigns, partially at public expense. But then, I risk digressing. At hand is not an inter-party dispute. We are dealing with the removal of a party and national President and his replacement by or with the assistance of foreign capitalists.

Whilst that does not in and of itself suggest a vile motive, clearly, it does raise questions and should get us concerned.

I would be unfair to single out any party on this score. Both the ruling and opposition parties have generally not been transparent as to the sources of their campaign finances. It could be because there are no electoral laws that govern party or campaign financing. It could also be that the respective parties have issues with regards to transparency in terms of their financing. 

As a result of this secrecy, Batswana are virtually fair game to State capture. It is beyond doubt that the ruling party is already hostage to the shenanigans of tenderpreneurs of Asian extraction; the prime beneficiaries of government’s recurrent and development budget. To the extent that such carry national registration cards, it is a reality we have had to live with as a people and to some extent, to accept even. There were suggestions in the run up the last general elections that Hollywood money was being used to finance the opposition umbrella and that American actors with Chinese looks were giving financial impetus to the UDC. 

As a result, at least one American celebrity was put on a visa list. That was unfortunate considering the un-level political playing field in the country. The ruling party has always flirted with the likes of Patrice Motsepe. We are told that they have, at some point, accepted a seven figure financial pledge. I wondered therefore, why the party would have trouble accepting that other political parties could likewise source foreign capital. Botswana elections are free; but have they really been fair?

Principally, there is nothing wrong in a party sourcing financing outside the country. The risks inherent in so doing, however, call for legislative scrutiny in the public interest. Disclosure of party funding has the benefit of ensuring that capital does not usurp political power and that our democracy is not reduced to a sham. Naturally, capital is self-seeking and will only fund leaders or parties whose policies and positions will work for them. Capital rarely, if ever, plays political charity. Only laws can ensure that constitutional power bearers are those elected by the people and that democracy is not hijacked and the people shortchanged. The last thing we need in this country is foreign state capture.

The other benefit, which is correlative to the one stated above, is in ensuring that power is not in the end, abused to pay back political backers. External political funding, whether at party or personal level, must by law, be declared. We need to wake up to this reality if we are to avoid a situation where real political power belongs to briefcase men in dark suits and shades and our leaders are beholden not to us but to foreigners. Let us have proper laws on campaign finance and party funding.

It must all, of course begin with the government. Some concession need be made in favour of political party funding. Political parties, play a key role in national progress and are essential to our democracy. We must as a people invest in our democracy and ensure that the lure of foreign money –almost invariably conditional - is less appealing to our political parties and political leaders.

Editor's Comment
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