Botswana is locked into a hot election campaign.
This picture is one that has saliently been on the drawing board since the first quarter of 2018, almost taking the country to an American-style election of long drawn out campaigns. As October draws nearer, it is increasingly clear there are only two extremes worth paying attention to.
There have been as fiercely contested elections – 1994 and 2014 – but none focused on the sustenance of the status quo or change of government in this manner. Never has this country been this spoilt for choice – perhaps not of stark ideological choice – but one very interesting enough to limit scope. The BDP contests to maintain a continuing stranglehold on governing. The UDC, along with its newly found bedfellows that is the BPF, wants to bring an end to BDP’s stay in power.
The loose coalition of the UDC and BPF renders AP irrelevant in these elections. Loose in the sense that the union does not conform to known contractual shenanigans and succinct policy fusion. The whimsical announcements of which constituencies either party will contest as a union and in which they will jointly field candidates presents a strange scenario yet suited to their one object – to unseat the BDP.
There are several factors that have been at play leading to these elections. Having held the coalition through post 2014 election turbulence, UDC leader Hon Duma Boko has forged a combination with the BCP and one that presents an existential threat to the BDP. Then UDC then ditched a Sidney Pilane’s BMD, after the BDP breakaway tore itself asunder to birth AP.
The BCP suffered embarrassing losses in 2014 despite going into the 2014 elections with the best message for those with a comprehension of English. Translating and localising their electoral promise proved insurmountable.
The lingering effects of a recession, unemployment and general discontent always meant the first party to appear to be responsive to societal desires would gain an upper hand in the build up to the 2019 elections. In fairness to Boko, and as an early indicator of upstream readiness, the first mention of 100 000 jobs and P3 000 living wage was in February 2018, when responding to the Budget Speech.
Speaking on the floor of Parliament Boko said, ‘this Government must adopt out policy position as the UDC and ensure that no employee in this country earns less that P 3 000 per month’. Announcing the commitment to creating a 100 000 jobs in the 12 months, Boko stated that these will be within an overarching framework of a living wage of at least P3 000 and components of ‘rapid job creation and economic transformation strategy’.
It is not common place for a party to get direction from a rival. Given however, the incoherent nature of the BDP campaign, hindsight would suggest that the leadership ought to have taken to Boko’s recommendation. Closing out his response to the Budget Speech, Boko urged ‘government to embark on the formulation of a jobs strategy and set itself performance targets on job creation and employee compensation’.
The first to trash Boko and accuse him of being in another world was then Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi, saying, ‘it is very clear that he either did not understand or he chose not to understand the budget, or both at the same time’. But time has brought us here. From first ruling out the possibility of 100 000 jobs, the BDP has now moved to say it could offer more jobs with the electric car.
The extent of BDP unpreparedness is attributable in one part to the internal strife that has consumed the institution. While
The internal mechanism entangled itself in the presidential contest that it forgot beyond Kang there was a general election. From May onwards, the BDP had to contend with the threat of Former President Ian Khama ditching the party, something which was confirmed at the end of May. Ever since June and to date, the BDP has in reality been a melee of confusion.
The BDP does not have a crystallised message going into these elections. For that, the empty vacuum that forms the echo chamber at the Secretariat is to blame. It is like elections caught them off guard. The BDP launched its manifesto, launched a few candidates and in retrospect appointed Ms Tebelelo Seretse as campaign manager when the horses had already bolted.
The entry of the BPF in the marriage of convenience has thrown the BDP into further disarray. Previously, BDP rallies were about discrediting Boko and the UDC. Shortly after the formation of the BPF, there was at attempt to castigate Khama and BPF. Somewhere the language shifted, perhaps with the memo not shared by all. President Masisi now wants Khama back in the BDP while other functionaries continue to hurl obscenities at Khama.
The use of polarisation as tactic was uncommon among Batswana until Khama’s presidency. Polarising figures sometimes embrace class warfare, in essence adopting a policy of discrimination towards one sector of society. The middle class felt alienated by Khama’s policy and in the process earning Khama an uncoveted title of being the second most hated man after Isaac Kgosi.
There is a singular perception that it was the absence of the BCP in the 2014 coalition that saved BDP. On account of absolute numbers, a combined opposition vote would have guaranteed 37 seats in 2014. Perhaps, what has remained opaque in the saving grace was the popularity of Khama.
One day, others will interrogate that and apportion appropriate worth to just how single handedly, Khama could also have been instrumental in the 2014 victory of the BDP. Without doubt, the elephant in the 2019 electoral arena will be Khama and the degree to which he can take away votes from the BDP and the UDC.
The October poll boils down to main parties – the BDP with a new leader but having suffered a setback due to long drawn out internal bickering and destructive Bulela Ditswe. The UDC has the benefit of a BCP on board and is better resourced than in past elections. The coalition has lost BMD and by extension AP, a factor which cannot be discounted as a spoiler in some constituencies where opposition victory was certain.
This election is still on a knife edge and every passing day might throw fresh possibilities and permutations. The recent visit by Steve Harvey will add to the swagger that President Masisi projects to party whose name, logo and brand is electioneering currency enough to retain power. The added advantage of incumbency provides access to platforms otherwise out of bounds for opposition candidates. The Kgotla will be remaining political colosseum for the BDP.
As Bugalo Chilume observed, ‘the cooperation between BNF & BCP together with the support from Khama stacks the odds against BDP. However, if BDP can beat the odds and win in October, it is set to rule uninterrupted for decades to come’.
Opportunity knocks for the opposition! But will anybody dare open the door?