Since 1965, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has always dominated the political landscape partly due to massive financial support from Whites, Asians, and other businesspeople.Throughout its dominance, the BDP has used both State and private funding to overwhelm opposition forces that depended on their own self-generating sources of revenue. Mmegi scribe, RYDER GABATHUSE looks at how money and the power that comes with having it, influences local politics
FRANCISTOWN: It’s not in doubt that money power continues to oil the wheels of political machinery within our shores, as it is the case elsewhere in the world. The power of money in politics becomes even more pronounced when politicians and political organisations prepare for general elections in particular.
In politics, there is a firm belief that a well-organised campaign is where money has been poured into campaigns.
Spending tends to be heightened during an election year as individual politicians and political parties fight with anything at their disposal to win the hearts and minds of eligible voters.
Political pundits on the other hand have their concerns about, “extravagant campaign costs, which they feel leave beneficiary politicians and organisations vulnerable as there are always conditions attached to donations”.
Journals tend to corroborate this, highlighting that high campaign expenses foster corruption, threaten the quality of governance and undermine the fairness of the electoral process.
“Rich candidates or candidates with wealthy backers are at an advantage while poor but capable candidates are discouraged from even running for elections. High campaign expenses foster corruption, threaten the quality of governance and undermine the fairness of the electoral process,” warn the journals.
The greatest worry is that individuals and institutions hardly donate their hard-earned money without the expecting to benefit somehow. Towards the historic 2019 general elections, Botswana has witnessed in particular the tri-party coalition Umbrella for Democratic Party (UDC) attracting substantial funding from private Samaritans and well-wishers who have bankrolled their campaigns to the chagrin of the ruling BDP.
University of Botswana (UB) senior lecturer in politics, Dr Kebapetse Lotshwao stressed the importance of money, declaring: “Money is very important in politics. Amongst others, money funds political campaigns, thus allowing parties and candidates to reach the electorate”.
Lotshwao observed that where necessary, money was also used to buy-off some political opponents as well as to buy votes, especially in developing countries which have widespread poverty.
He highlighted that the agenda of funders was to put in political office parties and individuals who can push the economic and strategic interests of the funder.
“The danger with political funding is that in many instances it exposes recipients to control and manipulation by the funder or donor, leading to corruption, abuse of office and State capture broadly,” he warned.
He was of the view that recipients of political donations were reluctant to disclose their funders because disclosure would reveal the real powers behind the throne. The interests of such powers, he added, usually took precedence over the needs and interests of ordinary citizens.
To eliminate illegal funding, the UB don opined that the government should introduce State funding for political parties.
“The electoral commission (Independent Electoral Commission) should also enforce regulations that require parties and candidates to declare their electoral expenses,” the UB political scientist advises.
Another UB academic, lecturer in political and administrative studies, Adam Mfundisi argued that the influence of private political donors have always been with us since 1965.
He pointed out that the BDP has for a long time dominated the political landscape due to massive funding from covert donors including De Beers in the 1980s with the de facto control of government by the late Louis Nchindo.
The latter at the time, posited Mfundisi, determined who was appointed to Cabinet because he was the major funder through De Beers Company.
In his analysis, the recruitment of former president Ian Khama from the army was the outcome of donor pressure to salvage the BDP from imminent defeat.
“They succeeded in ensuring that the BDP stayed in office albeit with reduced national support. The Khama factor undeniably helped the BDP to stay in power. The BDP leaders derived their rents from State power as well as inherent rewards of status,” he pointed out.
Donors influenced policy development and implementation in order to benefit them through the tendering and procurement processes.
They even sponsored politicians to advance their interests in Parliament and more effectively in the Executive branch of government.
“If as a donor you capture the President, you have captured the State because the President has enormous power in the administration of the State and government,” analyses the UB lecturer.
Political lobbyists have always been at the forefront of funding political parties worldwide. Mfundidi said in Botswana, the sole beneficiary of private funding from lobbyists has been the ruling party, the BDP.
Currently, tenderpreneurs have captured the BDP for economic and financial advancement. Politics, they have realised, is the easiest gate way to prosperity.
“Political corruption is a dominant feature in Botswana allowing the political and bureaucratic elite to plunder the resources of the country. Big businesses owned by whites and Asians have been big donors of the BDP,” insisted Mfundisi.
He added: “And they have controlled public policy. They have won big contracts through corrupt practices. The quality of their services leaves much to be desired because they bribed inspectors and therefore presented low quality services. They dominated government tendering and procurement of goods and services”.
He was worried that, “prices are inflated to include money for sponsoring the BDP and its operatives. Donors also determine the appointments of people in government institutions particularly parastatals in order to influence public policy”.
Mfundisi felt that Botswana has long been mortgaged to the highest bidders with the BDP and its leadership having been the primary beneficiaries of donor funding.
And opposition parties, since 2014 have learnt after years of financial scarcity, that private donor funding was the only way to leverage the political landscape.
Effective political competition demands the political play field to be levelled.
What are the dangers of private political donations?
Corruption and party funding are interrelated, interdependent and intertwined. Private donors are a threat to democratic governance. They abridge the rule of law and therefore, arrogate corrupt people to be above the law. “Citizens are afflicted by poverty, unemployment, criminality, and poor delivery of public services. The rich and the powerful have always dominated the political system through rent seeking.”
Shady donors have since independence dominated political parties, especially the ruling BDP. Starters assume that this is a new phenomenon characterised by the 2019 elections mobilisation. Rather, the new phenomenon is the ascendance of the UDC as a formidable force able to mobilise internal as well as external funding. Private donors are the same as their motives are to influence public policy. And this has always been with us since political independence.
Rewards for donors may come through socio-economic and political outcomes. The primary benefit derived by donors is the influence over policy process. There are in fact, short, medium and long-term benefits.
Mfundisi did not want to dissociate private funding of political parties from donor aid to countries.
The ruling party has always resisted the State funding of political parties because it was the main beneficiary of such. Private donations to political parties have always been secretive. The UB academic said the BDP has a secretive government hence reluctant to introduce Freedom of Information legislation. To him, without a Freedom of Information Act, political funding will remain secret.
“Some donors will not want their identity revealed for socio-economic and political reasons particularly those supporting the opposition parties. In Botswana we know that Satar Dada and Motor Centre were major donors of the BDP for a long period influencing the electoral outcome,” he observed. He deems money as a necessary tool, but not a sufficient one to win elections.