Thursday, November 6, 2014

Election 2014. No, not that one.

Last month Botswana held its eleventh election since independence in 1966 and the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) chalked up its eleventh victory.  Botswana has the reputation – correctly in my opinion – of being one of the most stable democracies in Africa and one with a strong respect for the rule of law.  The eleventh election produced some good news, but also some bad news.  Ruling parties in new democracies often are sold on the system for as long as they have big majorities; concerns about the system start to arise once that is no longer the case.

Waiting to vote.  Umbrellas for democratic change?
In 2010, part of the BDP broke off and started a new party, lifting the number of opposition parties to four.  Of course, ruling parties love that sort of development; the more parties out there the more they will split the opposition vote.  Botswana has a first-past-the-post system so doing that inevitably helps the government.  This time the opposition made a real effort to align itself as a single voice and rallied to the theme of the authoritarian nature of the government in general and of President Khama, its leader, in particular. Three of the parties combined to form the UDC – Umbrella for Democratic Change – and not only challenged the government as a united voice, but also essentially wiped out the remaining opposition party which chose to go it alone. Of the 57 elected seats the governing BDP obtained 37, the UDC 17 and the Botswana Congress Party only 3.  Most significantly, this was the first election where the BDP received less than 50% of the popular vote. From initial support of 65% in 1966, the BDP is now down to 46.5%.  Furthermore, the BDP might have lost 14 more seats if the opposition vote had not been split.  President Khama fought the election promising change and a more inclusive approach.  But the government was accused of all sorts of dirty tricks in the campaign ranging from bribing opposition supporters to assassinating an opposition leader in a peculiar car accident.  None of these accusations has been substantiated.

But after the election, President Khama returned to exactly the style that had caused the dissatisfaction in the first place. Post election, parliament is able to elect a further four members of the national assembly.  In the spirit of inclusiveness, the opposition asked that two of these four people should be nominated by them.  Khama ignored this and pushed through his own slate of nominees.   The national assembly then elects the president and Khama was duly re-elected for a further term.  So far so good.  But the next job is to elect the vice president and here there was a twist.  In the past this had been done by secret ballot.  Khama asked that it be done by a show of hands, and appealed to the constitutional court to rule that the secret ballot was not consistent with the openness guaranteed by the constitution.  What’s behind this is rather curious.  Khama is now in his second, and so final, term, and the president’s term will expire before the end of the life of the new national assembly.  Thus the current election of vice president essentially is the election of the next president.  Rumor has it that Ian Khama intends to propose Tshekedi Khama – his younger brother.  (Khama’s father was the first president.  This is beginning to look as though the Khamas are copying a certain family from Texas and Florida.)

Transparent and inclusive?  Maybe not.

Unity Dow for Mochudi West

But all this does have a silver lining.  Unity Dow is now a member of the national assembly.  Novelist, jurist, and activist, she is exactly the sort of person the BDP needs to turn their reputation around.  It’s worth mentioning that she is one of only five women out of a total of 63 members. (The president and attorney general are there ex officio making up the total of 63.)  Botswana remains a very male oriented society.  Less than ten percent women in the legislature puts it among the worst countries in the world for gender equality in this sphere.  (I was amazed to see that the US legislature has only about 20% women, but Botswana is far worse.)  Even in Unity’s case, she was not elected by her constituency.  She campaigned for the government in Mochudi West, but lost to the UDC candidate.  Maybe her gender was a factor.  But she was one of President Khama’s slate of four extra members.  It seems she is on a fast track within the party.  Could we be heading for Botswana’s first female president in the not too distant future?  I wouldn’t bet against it.

Michael - Thursday.


  1. Fascinating, thank you, Michael. As for Unity Dow, I emerged from her The Screaming of the Innocent with a good deal of respect for her intellect. (And for her writing skills.) If she's anything like Amantle, the main character of that book, she should be a splendid addition to the national assembly. Hope you'll report back from time to time on how things unfold. The news and analysis (both news and cultural) posts you and the other MIEers offer us are what keep me coming back here every day; thank you all.--Mario R.

  2. Thanks, Mario. I think Unity is one of the smartest people I know. Apart from her historic work on the Bushman issue as presiding judge on the high court and her work on the Kenyan constitution, she also fought the government on the Constitution. She is married to a Dutch citizen and the government ruled that her children were not Botswanan citizens as a result. (The FATHER had to be Botswanan!) Yet the constitution guarantees equality. Single-handed, she forced the law to be changed. So joining the government ranks was a new take on the old saw. Having beat them, she joined them!

  3. Unity Dow sounds like an amazing person, Michael! My best wishes to her, and my hope that the system doesn't eat her alive... politics has a habit of doing that.

  4. Michael, We could use Unity over here (that being the US). Though from the way the Dow is behaving, you'd think we already do.

    Okay, I promise no more like least until Bouchercon. See you sooooon.