It is difficult to piece together, in the moment, which of the events we live through will be remembered over time.
As the queues to cast ballots form, questions arise about what will determine the outcome of this election. Will it be one isolated event, or an out of sight chain of events more significant than anything that grabbed headlines at the time?
This past Sunday, Kenyan runner Eluid Kipchoge penned himself into history. Before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969, a thought existed in someone’s mind.
The highest mountain in the world remained unconquered by man, and the mile had continued to resist all effort to traverse it on foot in less than four minutes.
Sir Edmund Hillary’s epiphany saw him summit Mount Everest. In 1954, Sir Roger Banister ran a sub-4 minute mile. The streets of Vienna, Austria paid homage to yet another moment of history. Kipchoge clocked 1:59.40.2 becoming the first man to run a sub-2 hour marathon.
Life comprises delightful moments, world changing milestones. Much of sub-Saharan Africa lies in ruin, dating back to mid-20th century and pre-independence days.
Botswana was far more the destination of routine elections and stability. Could 2019 be that epic moment in history when Duma Boko finally unseats the BDP from the 54 year long perch?
As embers of liberation struggles glowed in the region, apartheid menaced communities to the west and south. Batswana lived off the fat of their land. Whether a blessing or a curse, those were interesting times.
Election after election, the incumbent BDP was returned to power albeit with a declining popularity. BDP’s 2014 win was a famous victory, one for the record books.
A win is a win even if the winner had the support of a minority of voters. BDP slugged out the 2014 elections against the UDC and BCP with independent candidates mere spectators. As the BDP’s popularity shrank, and so did its stake in Botswana’s electoral cake of FPTP. It is not too much of a stretch to argue that Botswana is a five to six plus party system.
The UDC contains three parties. BMD, its offshoot AP and BPF have their origins in the BDP. On the defining issue of the day, the BDP has failed to articulate a position capable of marshalling the support of the majority, guilt-tripping electorates to save President Mokgweetsi Masisi.
No explanation for the BDP fragmentation can fail to mention Ian Khama. But Khama did not do this all by himself. Rather, he has been the accelerant of a fire that was already consuming the BDP’s traditional political structures and for the second time, pushes the BDP to the brink of losing state power.
There has been a decades-long decline in support. In 1965 the BDP was at its strongest. A remorseless decay – a decline only temporarily masked by deceptive upward blips of 1974 and 2009 – should have been warning enough that from time immemorial, no party however long it has been around, has the divine right to rule – or even exist.
Sheer complacency and arrogance blinded the BDP from seeing the threat of extinction should they lose power. Zambia’s UNIP collapsed from a governing party and in near obliteration were nothing like the Malawi Congress Party of Hastings Kamuzu Banda which managed to survive outside power.
Ghana serves the best example of a vibrant democracy, a robust political environment where key players stand a chance to rule in their lifetime. Elections in Ghana are vigorously contested. Since 1992 the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) have not been able to rule continuously and uninterrupted for at most more than two terms of four years each. Both parties define themselves by ideology. The NPP are liberal democrats with NDC claiming to be social democrats.
The Ashanti in the south make up the NPP’s stronghold whilst the northern regions vote the NDC. Greater Accra, the Central and Western regions are the typical swing voters.
Unlike here in Botswana, where a party can get away with storming into an election without any value proposition, Ghanaian parties tout ‘competence, incorruptibility and past record within ideological propositions.
On 07 December 2008, Ghanaians went to elect a new parliament and president. The largely responsible media predicted neither candidate would obtain a majority, necessitating a run-off. NPP’s Nana Akufo-Addo won 49.13% of the vote, ahead of John Atta Mills of NDC who received 47.92%.
The run-off result saw NDC’s Mills with 50.13% leading Akufo-Addo receiving 49.87%. Despite the close outcome, President John Kufour and his NPP gave way to his elected successor Mills.
Kufour had been president since 2000, and going into the 2008 elections, the NPP presidential candidate was Akufo-Addo. Kufour unlike his predecessor John Rawlings of the NPP did not seek to amend the Constitution to extend his term of office.
The first democratic change of government in Ghana’s Fourth Republic and the 2008 elections of Mills consolidated Ghana’s democratic credentials. Preceding elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe were marred by violence and undemocratic compromises. Subsequent elections saw victories of NDC in 2012 and the NPP in 2016.
Remarkably, neither the NPP nor the NDC draws its support from any identifiable socio-economic group. Neither party is associated with policies to favour a particular socio-economic group or economic activity. The nature of Ghana’s political landscape is particularly important in shaping the country’s policy decisions. Different administrations are keen to showcase their economic achievements.
In the absence of political party funding, election campaigns in Ghana are financed by individuals. Smaller parties are marginal. In a 230 seat parliament they account for no more than three MPs, including Kwame Nkurumah’s Convention People’s Party (CPP). This highly money-driven politics makes women participation in politics difficult. In the 2008 election only 20 women were elected, five fewer than in 2004.
Isolated violent encounters between followers occur occasionally between elections. However, both the NDC and the NPP are aware that most Ghanaians reject the use of violence to achieve political ends. The milestones in Ghana offer a chance to reflect on the gains and losses in Botswana.
Discussion of other African elections, such as those in Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, foster a strong awareness of the risks involved in resorting to violence.
In Botswana, there has never been a need to invoke the peace architecture of the country’s electoral system. It has never been needed. Outcomes predictably pointed to a BDP victory.
Four glaring outcomes face the country in 2019. Preponderant amongst these is an outright victory for the UDC; slim victories for the either UDC or BDP; neither party gaining an outright majority.
Despite this pensive mood, SADC has assigned ‘coup-ist’ General Sibusiso Moyo as head of the elections observer mission.
If this doesn’t pass as seeing us in the water, then past successes in exemplary democracy has made SADC unmindful. Elections are a conflict resolution mechanism – and a source of conflict themselves.
Unintended consequences should not recede deeper into the fog of memories. Ghana is a compelling case of succesful change in similar electoral circumstances.
Kipchoge says after his feat, dubbed No Human Is Limited, man will run a marathon proper in under 2 hours. Many have since pinnacled Mount Everest. Is this it? Will this be the year that Botswana etches itself in history of transitioning an electoral change of government?
Here is to wishing for the best outcome for this country!