It was an historic moment in Botswana as the four presidential candidates took the debate stage on Wednesday night at the Mass Media Auditorium for the country’s first ever-presidential debate. The whole country came to a stand still as everyone was glued to their television screens to witness history unfold. The debate probably attracted a record listenership and viewership for Btv. Mmegi Correspondence GOITSEMODIMO KAELO reports
The debate pitted Umbrella for Democratic Change’s (UDC) Duma Boko, Alliance for Progressives’ (AP) Ndaba Gaolathe and Botswana Patriotic Front’s (BPF) Biggie Butale, all looking to unseat Mokgweetsi Masisi of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).
From the onset going into this debate, the odds were strongly against the sitting president Masisi. He was expected to thwart attack after attack from the other debaters, and probably crumple under pressure.
He conceded immediately when he was asked about the deal between De Beers and the government that some of the questions, would put him under pressure because of the on going negotiations between the parties.
The debate kicked off with questions on the economy. However, Masisi was smart about his approach to this debate, and he did well under pressure especially in his response to the provocative question on his infamous ‘bolope’ remarks.
Although not his field, Masisi did well and was articulate in his response to questions relating to economy. He was bold and honest enough to admit where his party has failed especially when he conceded that indeed the country’s economy is not in the hands of the indigenous Batswana.
Like all the candidates who agreed that the Botswana’s economy is in the hands of foreigners, Masisi said his government is working on amending the Economic Diversification Drive (EDD) and coming up with Citizen Economic Empowerment (CEC) laws to give the indigenousness people a chance to compete with their foreign counterparts.
“We have made a decision that Batswana participate in the economy, particularly the tourism sector. We want to give it back to Batswana,” he said.
Masisi chose not to share many details on the Botswana government/De Beers partnership deal, saying he is happy that his government has managed to win over De Beers on the relocation of the international sorting center from London to Gaborone.
Naturally, Gaolathe is likeable because of his humble and calm approach to things. He used that charming character very well to his advantage.
The Herdboy as his followers call him, seemed to grab the attention of the listeners with his calm and articulate approach. Unlike Boko and Butale, Gaolathe stayed away from the aggressive, provocative political rally politicking kind of debate and was on point in his responses.
He stated that the AP’s view is that De Beers deal is too secretive even to Parliament and it is difficult to suggest how it could be improved. He said under his government, Debswana would export its mining expertise to do businesses in other countries.
“The biggest problem with the De Beers deal is the secrecy around it. Moreover, I don’t know why Debswana is only mining in Botswana. It should be exported and do businesses in other countries,” he said.
Gaolathe offered more hope and solutions as such seemed to win more hearts than others. It remains to be seen whether his party will manage to win government from the 41 constituencies they are contesting on.
As for the UDC leader Boko, he had brought his oratory element to the debate. His approach was coupled with explosive moments thrown along the way, and mostly in the direction of the BDP.
While he seemed unsettled, he was combative, aggressive and provocative. He also assisted his delivery by bringing in research and numbers. Above all, he called a spade a spade.
He explained what his party’s priority areas would in the first 12 months of attaining power. He reiterated the 100, 000 jobs promise, P3,000 living wage, P2,500 as students allowance and P1,500 for pensioners.
Although he has since attracted a lot of flack on social media for his borrowed use of the late Ratsie Setlhako’s lyrics when he sang “Re buswa ke bo nkoborwane, ditlhodi bo magogajase ke raa bo Rankurate” in reference to the current administration, Boko was bold.
However, he was not very clear in his response to the question asked by moderators on what his promises to the nation are in the event the recession forecasted for the first quarter of 2020 occurs.
BPF’s Butale, whose party has fielded only 19 MP candidates, was a mix of smackdown and backslapping while he also attempted to explain his party’s policies.
When asked about the Bogosi institution, Butale said Bogosi is still relevant in the current democracy. He said, he has observed that Batswana respect their Dikgosi more than the politicians.
He said government should take care of Dikgosi to uphold its integrity and relevance in the modern day democracy.
Like others, he agreed that indeed the economy of this country is not in the hands of the indigenous citizens.
The rivals battled for more than two hours on a number of issues including governance and economy and corruption.