The year gone by will be remembered for everything from the ascendancy of the fifth president, to the 87 poached elephants that weren’t, to numerous high profile deaths locally and beyond. Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI, looks at the key news items to keep an eye out for this year
Eyes to the skies
With threats of El Nino already manifesting themselves through the late onset of rains this season, subsistence farmers across the country will spend the next few weeks looking to the skies and praying the Heaven’s open and stay open going forward. Minimal planting has taken place in the South, including the Barolong Farms heartland, and thanks to the late onset, many farmers have abandoned their fields. Those who have stayed faithful will be hoping the rains become more consistent and stable, enabling some form of crop maturation in the months before the onset of the evening winter chills.
Final “count” down
In March, elephant researcher, Mike Chase is expected to unveil a final report showing the country’s elephant population and key trends such as mortalities and their causes. The report will form part of the National Elephant Action Plan, which could include a review of the 2014 hunting ban placed on elephants and other species. Chase’s preliminary report late last August caused a national and international uproar, after the renowned research scientist claimed 87 elephants had been poached in a matter of months due to the “disarmament of park rangers”.
Staring at death
Thabo Masilo, who brutally killed a 19-year old St Josephs student in her home in Phase 4, will know later this year whether or not he has a date with the hangman. One of the most keenly followed cases nationally, Masilo’s road to infamy will have a pit stop in February for extenuation and mitigation, before sentencing thereafter. Masilo is already serving a 15-year sentence for other offences including rape and robbery.
First citizen bank?
BBS Limited is on track to make history by becoming the country’s first citizen-owned commercial bank. The demutualised building society is scheduled to submit an application for a banking licence in the first quarter of the year, with high hopes of a favourable outcome from the Bank of Botswana. BBS Limited, whose biggest shareholders include the Botswana Privatisation Asset Holdings, Motor Vehicle Accident Fund and the Botswana Police Savings and Loans Guarantee Scheme, recorded a major milestone by listing on the Botswana Stock Exchange’s Serala board last year.
D-Day for Domi
The ruling Botswana Democratic Party is scheduled to face a watershed moment in its history at a special congress in July. For the first time, a challenger has appeared for the presidency of the party, throwing open the ultimate race for the country’s presidency (assuming the ruling party wins the general elections in October). While the ruling party has suffered factional battles before, this one, pitting sympathisers of the former president, Seretse Khama Ian Khama, versus allies of his successor, Mokgweetsi Masisi is by the far the gravest threat to the party’s future in its history, according to most analysts. Other observers believe Masisi may well push for the congress’ postponement in order to sidestep the divisions until after the general elections.
Crowded under the umbrella
While the BDP battles with its own internal fissures, the opposition in 2019 will be somewhat hamstrung from capitalising fully thanks to mammoth case in which the Botswana Movement for Democracy is suing its former partners in the Umbrella for Democratic Change over expulsion from the opposition bloc. After a period of threats and counter threats, papers were served late last year and it is expected that the High Court will at some point this year call up the matter, one due to feature a large number of prominent local and foreign attorneys. The outcome and blowback of and from the matter will have a significant impact on the October general elections.
To the wire
The highlight of the year will be the general election, due in October. Most of the major parties are finalising their primary elections, many of them bruising battles that regularly end in court disputes. Leaders of the major political parties are expected to ramp up campaign activities this year, with the ruling party acutely aware that the last elections produced its poorest popular vote to date. Party leader, Mokgweetsi Masisi has the unenviable task of delivering a victory for the party, should he retain his own position from a strengthening inner party challenge. The opposition, meanwhile, also suffered a major split in 2017 and the major bloc, the UDC, is facing more existential challenges this year.
Trial of the century
Hundreds of million of pula allegedly diverted, missing or “eaten” later, the country’s biggest money laundering case could possible be set down for trial later this year. The dramatis personae in the matter have dropped jaws countrywide: a former Cabinet minister, a High Court judge, prominent asset manager, former energy affairs director and others. Add a dash of spy agency involvement and mention of political higher-ups, and the National Petroleum Fund case will be the trial of the century, if it does get underway this year.
Spotlight on 2012 Olympic heroes
The IAAF will this year re-test samples submitted in 2012 by three local heroes of the Olympic games of that year, in a move which has already caused consternation within the local athletics fraternity. Olympic heroes, Amantle Montsho, Nijel Amos and Isaac Makwala will have their 2012 samples retested as a result of technological advancements in IAAF’s testing affecting all countries. With the global spotlight of scrutiny focussing on local athletics recently due to several doping scandals, the local association will be keen to emerge spotless from the latest inspection.
Have a seat, De Beers
The sales agreement negotiations between the Government of Botswana and De Beers intensify this year, with a statement of an outcome or update, possible before year end. The top secret talks essentially govern the conditions around the sale of diamonds from Debswana through the De Beers process. The last such talks, concluded in September 2011, delivered by far the best deal for Botswana, with the migration of multibillion US dollar diamond activities from London to Gaborone. A few hints about the agenda on the table have dropped, but a clearer picture of concessions is expected by year end, as the current agreement ends next year.