Whatever the Election Outcome, Botswana’s ‘Democracy’ has Come of Age

By Prince Kurupati

Botswana is heralded as a beacon of stability in a continent that is full of upheaval. However, according to former Botswana President, Botswana’ stability is soon to become a thing of the past if the current president Mokgweetsi Masisi is reelected for a full term in office come October 23. Ian Khama who put Masisi in the top job believes his successor is an autocrat who will reverse all the democratic gains that the country has enjoyed for decades.

The October 23 General Election in Botswana is going to be one of the most significant elections that Botswana has ever had. This is because for the first time, the election is not going to be a walk in the park for the incumbent like past elections but it’s going to be fiercely contested by three candidates who all have a huge chance of winning. This is going to present Botswana with a dilemma that it has never experienced before and one that has torn several African countries to shreds.

Hotly contested elections in neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique and other African nations such as Kenya, Ivory Coast, Egypt and Nigeria among others have always led to clashes often violent and in some instances, they have ignited civil wars as is the case with Ivory Coast. For Botswana, the upcoming elections, therefore, will put to the test, the country’s democracy.

Mokgweetsi Masisi will be running under the ruling party, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) which has ruled the country uninterrupted for the past 53 years. BDP will come up against a coalition of opposition parties under the banner ‘Umbrella for Democratic Change’ (UDC) and the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) a brainchild of the former president Ian Khama.

Strongly believing that the man he chose as his successor, Mokgweetsi Masisi has become an autocrat, “The person who I nominated to be my successor, as soon as he took office became very autocratic, very intolerant and it has led to a decline in the democratic credentials that we have a reputation for,” Ian Khama is hoping that a win for the BPF will help Botswana return back to its former glorious past.

While both the UDC and the BPF pose a major threat to Masisi’s attempt to win his first full term in office, Khama’s main fear is the loose electoral alliance that it has with the UDC. The BPF which is a relatively new party sought to establish a close alliance with the UDC. However, by the time that the BPF sought to strike a deal with the UDC, the UDC had already nominated its candidates. So in many seats, the UDC and BPF candidates are standing against each other, which could split the opposition vote enough to give the BDP victory. And the BDP and many analysts believe that associating with Khama and the BPF will conversely dent the UDC’s chances in the urban areas, which are its stronghold, and where Khama isn’t widely popular.

Even more worrisome for Khama and the BPF is that not all elements inside the UDC are in favour of an alliance. Speaking to the Institute of Security Studies in Gaborone, deputy leader of the Botswana National Front which is the main party in the UDC, Prince Dibeela said it had been a ‘blunder’ to ally with Khama’s BPF.

The main question now as asked by Peter Fabricius of the Institute of Security Studies is, “For over half a century, Botswana has been an island of peace and stability in a stormy regional sea. But was that stability founded purely on the fact that one party has ruled since independence? If the BDP is defeated next week, will that change? Will it refuse to accept defeat and provoke an opposition backlash? And if the BDP wins again, will the UDC/BPF cry foul and take to the streets? Most Batswana say no, and they’re probably right. But then again they haven’t really been here before.”

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