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Botswana Elections - A Sign of Things to Come?

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on October 20, 2019 06:48

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The elections are over, and Botswana settles in for the next few years under the same management. Despite expectations for dramatic change, the party that had been ruling since independence was returned to power. Now the government has to plot a path through a rapidly changing environment.

They came from the vast, dusty desert, the fertile floodplains of the big rivers, from the modern, bustling buildings of Gaborone, to vote for an election that was supposed to bring dramatic change.

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), the Party that fought for independence from Britain in the early 1960’s under Sir Seretse Khama, asked voters to vote for its track record and for continuity. The main opposition, the Umbrella for Democratic Change, called for change, to change the ossified, faction-ridden ruling party for new, dynamic leadership. The big question was: what about Ian Khama?

Son of the "father of independence," retired Chief of the Botswana Defence Force, President of the country, and leader of the BDP until early this year, Khama broke in public with his successor. Hereditary Chief of the important Bamangwato tribe, the popular Khama played the spoiler with the new Botswana Popular Front. He sought support from the Umbrella for Democratic Change but was rebuffed by people who had been his political opposition.

Masisi addressing a rally. Photo Jerome Delay/AP



All contenders used accusations of corruption with some modernists accusing traditionalists of accepting gifts, an immemorial practice in the Botswana culture. Khama was accused of misusing his family’s vested interests accumulated over a century, while others accused the new rulers of being bought out by foreign interests.

Key changes in policy elicited lively debate. Khama’s environmental policy banning commercial hunting was overturned. His distance from China and friendship with the Dalai Lama was history - the incoming President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, allowed hunting, especially of elephants, and visited Beijing to welcome in Chinese industrial and transport development.

Khama in 2014. Photo Gettyimages



The youth factor was important. The BDP represented the traditional, intricate, and delicately-balanced structure of traditional leadership and modern parliamentary representation developed and maintained under the two Khama’s. The target was the traditional, often not well-educated, older population who remembered the struggle for independence and who respected their traditional leaders.

On the other hand, the youth, composed of well-educated, worldly-wise city-dwellers, were targeted by the UDC and other parties. Botswana has one of the best education systems in the region, sending many students overseas on scholarships every year. But most of them, unemployed, were not interested in registering and considered voting a waste of time.

Another concern was a modern, relatively untested electronic voting system and the use of state resources by the ruling party.

And so, on October 23rd, they went to the polls. All went as well as could be expected from citizens of one of the most successful democracies in Africa. The results are in. Preliminary results gave the BDP a clear majority of 29 early on October 25th, with the UDC winning 17 and the BPF 3 out of 57 Parliamentary seats. The Chief Justice declared Masisi President. Final positions depend on votes from outlying polling stations, but it is clear: the Batswana voted for continuity.

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on October 20, 2019 06:48

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Source: WashPost

Botswana, calm for decades, faces surprising election fight after ex-leader turns on successor

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