Do manifestos really matter?

One morning in November 1993, Radio Botswana announced a coup in Nigeria. In the same reel, another coup was reported at the University of Botswana. Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) yearlings GS-26 ambushed and deposed SRC president Kabelo Lebotse of MASS-BNF.

The next day, Sir Ketumile Masire called Bernard Bolele and companions to the State House for a tongue lashing. His fears were simple. The young democrats were learning behaviours inconsistent with our democratic credentials and alien to Batswana.

Botswana has built a reputation of a different breed of Africanism. With exception of  March 1965 and September 1984, the beacon of democracy traditionally holds elections in October. The BDP National Council will forward a motion to the next congress billed for July 2019 to ratify a postponement of intra-party elections. This is a red flag for democracy.

Section 34 of the Electoral Act provides the President of Botswana with powers to issue a writ of elections for the National Assembly. The same Act empowers the Minister of Local Government to issue a writ for Local Government. The President and the Minster are operatives of the BDP. Whilst these provisions do not necessarily undermine free elections, it is the alien behaviour of postponing of intra-party elections that needs to be curtailed. Left unchecked such despicable acts become habit and could spill into the domain of general elections.

Barring drastic unreasonableness Botswana should go to the polls in six months. We are guaranteed a show down. There will be a surge as political promises, bouts of sparring and non-issue dirty campaigning taking centre stage. The Alliance for Progressives (AP) are first to launch their manifesto. Which begs a simple question – do voters read these pages of drivel?

AP in its policy statements have preached a somewhat different model of governance accusing government of abdicating its responsibility of human capital development, infrastructure development, and mass employment creation in research and development. Most appealing in promises made by Ndaba Gaolathe, is a shift towards state-of-the-art infrastructural development to aid small and medium enterprises and a call for the government of Botswana to increase its stake in diamond giant, Debswana.

AP’s opportunity based policy proposition trumpets the virtues of dignity around people living in poverty perhaps in a more poetic nature than most parties have tried to do. In short, theirs is a simple question to seek understanding of why the world’s largest diamond producer by value has seen its wealth squandered or stolen.

An overwhelming number of elites who take their children to private schools and access world class medical facilities do not seem to have an answer to AP. Generational disposition has removed this lot and their kin from government hand-outs. These innovators and hustlers tend to look away from politics and to a wider world they are exposed to for solutions.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi leads a fractured BDP into the 2019 polls. The build-up to the elective congress in Kang has severed cords that have bound the BDP together since the 2010 split. A larger fraction of the BDP is glued to the scorched earth battle against Former president Ian Khama in the process obscuring President Masisi’s theme and roadmap and shoving aside democratic demands of middle and lower income groups.

In February 2019, Masisi informed a BDP regional congress of a need for a copper strategy. Masisi said, “We are going to develop an electric car in Botswana. Our copper reserves are way too much. I have challenged the Ministry of Energy to develop a copper strategy”. With this pronouncement would emerge fundamental flaws by researchers and think-tanks who form the back-room of the Masisi’s promises.

Electric cars are built on nickel, a crucial component for long storage lithium-ion batteries. The project, should the ruling party embark on, is one of vanity with the more immediate need being to re-open BCL mine and re-create more than 5, 000 jobs lost at closure. If the catalogue of Masisi’s first year achievements and the plagiarised speech that slipped through fingers are anything to go by, the BDP manifesto looks to articulate little.

Manifestos are built on a developmental agenda with tangible expectations like reducing youth and graduate unemployment; transforming the education sector, and reducing expenditure on social safety nets with measurable numbers of people exiting the poverty eradication programme. Demystifying the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) does not constitute a calamity the greater population faces. Gleaning from general euphoria it appears the middle class is caught up in mass delusion of inflated expectations and miraculous results. The BDP stands to suffer a severe backlash should tangible goals not be articulated and realised.

The ruling party will limp into the elections. Opposition parties have accused the ruling party of leveraging on ministerial positions to benefit inadvertently in campaigns. That advantage is minimal. Candidate centred dynamics will work against the BDP in constituencies fielding relatively unknown activists against experienced opposition cadres. 

A combination of the Botswana National Front (BNF) and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) poses an existential threat to the BDP. In 2014, the BCP coined the best message and manifesto. The return of three MPs undercut the brilliance of the 2014 manifesto.

From formation, the BCP has always striven for administrative excellence. Absolute popularity of a combined vote points to 37 constituencies that would have seen a change of government. UDC’s Achilles’ heel may be President Duma Boko’s affection for last minute high impact sprint as opposed to long term campaign.

Manifesto consultative meetings shepherded by the UDC seem to incline to the economy, governance, labour and employment, education and health. Governance as promised by the UDC focuses on proposal of a new constitution and advancing separation of powers with devolution of some powers currently housed in the presidency. Current buzzword 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) has been touted in the consultative forum.

Within the BDP only President Masisi and Minister Bogolo Kenewendo have at best tried to leap into the 4IR debate. When articulated emphasis seemed to lean more to government involvement to the exclusion of the private sector. Although pitched at high level, it is obvious that changing the nature of work and anticipation of the Fifth Industrial Revolution remain far-fetched by both ruling and opposing parties.

The 4IR refers to introduction of new technology such as robotics and artificial intelligence. Industrial revolutions have seen automation increase efficiencies and bring vast improvements in the workplace. 4IR is driver for data accumulation to guide ultimate decision making. Industrial revolutions not managed well come at the cost for human labour in an environment where unemployment is at a high.

The 2019 elections will likely deliver a hung parliament and a first coalition. Manifestos might just act as a starting point for post-election negotiations. Without mention of which part of the manifesto constitutes aspiration and which is cast in stone and never to be pledged away, maybe and just maybe, there is no harm is doing away with them.

The National Petroleum Fund, the Capital Management Botswana (CMB) scandal and the allegations of P4 billion that has disappeared at the Bank of Botswana might just be the manifestos for decision making. Corruption remains a burning issue. The founders of this country must be turning in their graves are at the sight of other alien behaviours.

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