Botswana's five-decade old democracy is back to its ‘occasional’ moment of self-introspection: elections! In 2019 Batswana will go back to the polls to give a renewed mandate to the next government and influence the composition of their next legislature.
Currently, Botswana’s political landscape is dominated by four major political formations: the governing Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), the official opposition, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) (a coalition of three political parties), the embattled Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and the Alliance for Progressives (AP). Of the four, only the BMD has not released a manifesto.
As the parties battle it out for the voters’ endorsement, the key issues that stick out currently stand as unemployment, the economy, governance, education, media and land reform.
In general, all the political parties seem to share the same diagnosis of the country’s problems. But, their prescriptions of solutions are almost the same, only differing in language and methodology. The one issue that is silent or less emphasised is the issue of Gender inequality and achieving parity and equality.
Botswana is still a patriarchal society in thought and action, and women, though have been instrumental in nation building and development are hardly recognised as equals. The parties’ manifestos have done minimal work emphasising how gender equality is the cornerstone to our development.
The BDP manifesto seems to be playing it safe, striking a weird balance between not overpromising, being pragmatic and punching on the right political language of ‘transformation’. The party’s claim to have presided over ‘Africa’s oldest successful democracy’ is both bold and presumptuous.
Although Botswana’s democracy has sparkled on paper, checking all the right boxes in terms of a ‘formal’ metric of democracy, it has fared very minimally in terms of ‘substantive’ maturity. The last decade was one where this was very evident and how the separation of powers within the branches of government was opaque.
The AP manifesto is very detailed which works in the voter’s favour. It is also very ambitious and adopts a cosmopolitan tone and outlook. They seem to want to capture the voter’s imagination by propelling a ‘imagine a new Botswana’ tagline that gets flashed out at different points in their manifesto.
They define this ‘new Botswana’ which becomes a central theme, with offshoots of different themes still circling around it, perfectly summing up their vision: “A new Botswana: a distinctly well-run country and economy that cares for its people and ensures all have jobs that afford a comfortable, healthy and happy lifestyle”.
This represents hope for the youth, women, minority groups and those who feel excluded and benefiting less from the economy and society.
The AP juxtaposes this idealism with the status quo, or the ‘old Botswana’ as they put it.
When it comes to the economy the parties are faced with the challenge of communicating a clear plan to address stagnant growth, job creation, economic diversification and attracting enough foreign and domestic investment to stimulate further growth. The current economic regime is clearly not getting it right.
The AP chose to peg their economic growth target at 10% in the first six years of winning state power. The UDC pegged theirs at six to eight percent per year. UDC is the only party that accurately notes our economic growth rate and situates their target in that context.
BDP only acknowledges the current growth rate with no target for the next cycle (the party seems to have a problem with setting targets in general).
The AP’s growth target is extremely ambitious, one synonymous with the Asian Tigers at their peak of economic growth in the 1960s. It is also apparent that the party’s leader is a keen student of the Asian model.
What isn’t clear though, for all the parties, is a coherent and convincing answer to how they will achieve this growth rate in such a short period of time. In economics and economic literature, double-digit economic growth is a tough sell. What is the economic mechanism that will move us from the current growth rate to 10% within the prescribed six years? How do they define growth and how do they measure it?
The UDC’s frontline commitments are; 100,000 Jobs in 12 months, a Living Wage of P3, 000, an Old Age Pension of P1, 500, free Sanitary Pads for Students, Tablets for All Learners, Tertiary Education Student Allowance of P2, 500 and Reopening the BCL Mine.
These are all urgent cross-cutting issues. But there’s still no comprehensive outline of where the jobs will come from and how the national treasury will
In fact, it is the right thing to do. But from a practical state planning point of view, there are questions the UDC needs to answer first. Which sectors will be targeted that will immediately churn out 100,000 jobs?
Will the global economy be performing well enough to give us the growth rate enough to generate that many jobs in one financial year? Will these be low-skill-low-technology-high-output jobs or vice versa? It is commendable though that the UDC has stuck to these bold targets, and the voter will use these to hold them accountable.
The jobs debate is complex. For the parties to realise their economic plans, it would mean everything goes well according to plan and that the international markets themselves are doing well.
The BDP’s economic plan on the other hand touts an ‘inclusive economy’. They only put forth a plan to increase participation in different value chains on key sectors.
For a political party with over five decades of governance experience, it is out of character that the party’s manifesto has no commitment to targets, timelines or a sufficient breakdown of their signature ideas.
Gender equality is silent within the BDP and UDC. The BDP notes Gender-based violence, a pressing issue that affects two in three women in Botswana. Our society still deals with violence against women as ‘her fault’. It will take a mindset and leadership change to address it holistically. For example, the BDP promises to train Police officers assisting survivors.
Training should be embedded in the curriculum for all trauma and healthcare providers that serve survivors, including law enforcement, officers of the legal system, therapists, social workers and nurses.
The AP manifesto in comparison recognises the value of women as equal partners to Botswana’s development, at least in the aspect of implementing gender equality treaties such as CEDAW and the SADC gender protocol.
The idea of establishing a Gender Commission by the AP is refreshing and more so that it reports to Parliament to guarantee transparency and hopefully funding.
All manifestos are silent on how they will address women’s participation and leadership in political and economic decision-making. The aspirations and needs of women are undervalued due to gender bias and gender blindness and that is where they ought to start. As the parties are adopting an evidence-based policy approach, there are case studies to learn and borrow from countries that have attained a higher level of gender equality across the board.
Under Masisi’s leadership, the BDP’s relationship with the media seems to be on track to make amends. The ruling party’s five-year promise of guaranteeing that the environment is conducive for a free, independent and viable media, will remain nothing but a promise until a commitment towards Freedom of Information and Freedom of Speech is explicitly made. This also goes for repealing the Media Practitioners Act of 2008, which essentially criminalises the media.
The AP intends to ‘create an enabling environment for a free, professional and self-regulating press’ and touts critical legislative amendments.
This is one important aspect of the media that the BDP and UDC Manifestos are silent on. For a country where the media playground is not level, you would at least expect that one of the pertinent issues that the opposition would seek to address would be the media.
The BDP has also made quite solid contributions on how they view the world and how they intend to engage with it on diplomatic fronts. While the AP has colourful ambitions for ‘a New Botswana’, and the UDC’s aspirations for ‘Prosperity for all’, both parties failed to provide an interpretation of how they see the world and its current geopolitical climate.
How will the Botswana they imagine engage with the world? It would have been interesting to know how both the AP and the UDC plan to engage on economic diplomacy, what their foreign policy would be and how their governments would engage outside our borders.
None of these manifestos are perfect. Voters will have to make a choice nonetheless. Whichever choice it is, we hope it puts women, youth and Batswana first.
TUDUETSO MADI, UNAMI JEREMIAH & BAKANG NTSHINGANE*
*The authors are young Batswana with expertise in gender, politics and international relations