Mogae’s biggest regrets

Mogae
Mogae

Former president, Festus Mogae has said that given a second chance to govern he would do things a little differently. Mogae made this revelation recently in an interview with Mmegi in New York.

The outspoken statesman said if he had the opportunity to do things all over again he would introduce a quota system to improve women’s political representation in Botswana and to effect electoral reforms. He conceded that there are areas where he failed the nation.

Botswana is one of the countries in the world with the highest gender inequality and still fares low even in sub Saharan Africa.

In the 2009 general elections, the ruling party, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and the opposition Botswana National Front (BNF), each fielded just three female candidates in the 57 constituencies. The third largest party, the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), was slightly more progressive, putting up four female candidates. All the seven female opposition candidates lost, while two of the ruling party’s women candidates won. After the 2014 general elections, only six women made it to a male dominated Parliament.


In a tell-all interview, Mogae did not shy away from discussing his greatest regrets since leaving political office in 2008. Unlike his counterpart and predecessor, Sir Ketumile Masire, Mogae has been the most vocal and open, perhaps owing to his character as a straight–talker. He has always been a rabble–rouser even in his days as a president while Masire has chosen to be diplomatic and careful in his speech.

The two presidents have run their race but at the end of every journey when one looks back, there are things that they feel they could have done better or differently. Does Mogae have any regrets?

“Of course yes, my failure to introduce a quota system for women to improve their political representation and my failure to scrap off our current electoral system to replace it with either proportional representation or anything along those lines to accommodate the marginalised groups,” Mogae responds.

Since independence, Botswana has always used the first-past-the-post, a winner-takes-all system that has disadvantaged women and other marginalised groups.  In a conservative country like Botswana it will always be difficult for a woman to win both the party primary and later the general election.

Mogae advocates for the introduction of a proportional representation (PR) system, which means that the number of seats won by a party or group of candidates is proportionate to the number of votes received – and those seats are filled from a party list, which would include a larger number of women.

Despite this change of heart, Mogae vehemently rejected these reforms when he was still in power. His opposition was captured succinctly in his address to the BDP National Council in 2007.

Mogae continues with his story. “In the last three years of my presidency, University of Botswana was graduating more women than men for three years in succession. And knowing the challenges that accompany Batswana women, I was convinced that what we needed to do was to create opportunities for them and remove all obstacles.”

The former president says he had also observed that even at political party meetings, women attendance was greater than men and thought they would support each other but he was wrong.

“I am now convinced that politics is one of those areas in which women do not excel, in any country, including the best countries in the Scandinavia [region] and Germany. They have more women because of proportional representation and parties therefore have to select women for representation,” he says.

Mogae says this has taught him something over the years, “So it does appear that women have never won many seats simply on a one for one basis, including even in the countries with the best models.

“It is for this reason that I have been converted to the idea of quotas,” he said. “My view is that the only way we can get gender equity is through quotas and that’s what I would do if I was to get a second chance.”

Mogae says he is convinced that “women can’t win political power and that’s the reality we have to live with”.

But why?

“I do not know why but they just can’t. You know that as well,” he says.

Challenges are said to be ranging from patriarchal and religious beliefs in politics, women incapacity, poor media coverage of women in politics, violence often associated with politics and limited campaign strategies and resources amongst many others.

But how has Rwanda and Zimbabwe managed?  Mogae says in the case of Rwanda and Zimbabwe, women progressed as a result of being appointed.

“In Zimbabwe you know a group of the ruling party members met without President Robert Mugabe’s knowledge and he, in retaliation decreed that those men would not be contesting in the coming elections and selected women. So since then women have politically progressed in Zimbabwe owing to Mugabe’s anger,” Mogae responds.

The former president says in Rwanda, it was the result of the 1994 genocide, “… after that the leader decided to engage the entire nation and appointed women because he wanted to make use of all the available human resource”.

“So I will, if I had a second chance, come up with a statutory minimum number for women representation and advocate for proportional representation,” he says as he stares into space deep in thought.

Mogae has received criticism for being ‘wiser’ after his presidency. He continues giving an example of Lesotho, a small country he praises;

“You see Basotho have copied the New Zealand system, it is worth looking at. Of course it has its own complications because of the peculiar history of Lesotho but through that system, losing parties are reflected in parliament and parties are able to increase the number of women.”

Lesotho has worked to improve the representativeness of its electoral system and adopted a mixed-member proportional system in 1998. However, recent controversy arising out of the Kingdom’s 2007 elections has demonstrated that its system may need further reforms before it can deliver on its promise of better politics.

Gender should be under the OP

The issue of women hurts Mogae that he now feels that gender issues should be housed and directed at the Office of the President just like other problematic issues like HIV/AIDS and poverty.

Although this may raise other questions like whether issues can only be thoroughly dealt with while in the office of the president, Mogae says it has become a culture in the government enclave that the Office of the President is the monster that gets things done.

“At some point during the National Aids Council, a certain woman remarked that gender affairs and goals could only be achieved when they are housed in the Office of the President. It gave me a thought and I couldn’t agree more with her. We have wrestled poverty and Aids there and because there was political will we improved the situation,” he said.

The attainment of gender equality and the full participation of women in decision making are key indicators of democracy. The involvement of women in all aspects of political life, according to analysts, produces more equitable societies and delivers a stronger and more representative democracy.”

Women have traditionally been excluded from the structures of the state that determine political and legislative priorities. Participation of women in decision-making has more and more been placed at the heart of the global agenda.

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