TENSION is brewing in neighbouring Botswana as the ruling party’s five decade-long grip on power is under threat, resulting in a tetchiness which has seen the country’s opposition leader harassed and several laws bulldozed through the legislature ahead of the October poll.
Presidential contender Duma Boko, who leads the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), the official opposition party in Botswana, alleged that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) used state police to harass him several times and impounded on several occasions aircraft engaged by his party for campaigning.
The UDC is a coalition of opposition parties, including Boko’s party, the Botswana National Front (BNF), of which he is president. Boko said he intends asking the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to assist in ensuring the elections are free and fair.
“Over the past few months, I have been harassed by police and had tax authorities with an army of officers’ swoop on my home to look at papers related to my vehicle, which they already had in their possession. Opposition politicians have been criticised, and the vice-president (Slumber Tsogwane) said in parliament that I was a threat to the government,” he said.
On Wednesday, the UDC caucus walked out of parliament in protest against the BDP, led by President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s decision to push through a rushed late-night session to table into law 13 central pieces of legislation. “These bills, which ought to have been subjected to adequate parliamentary debate, were strongarmed through the parliamentary sitting without time for essential engagement. This is a flagrant abuse of parliament,” said Boko.
Boko claims the government was also using intelligence operatives in the electoral process to rig the elections and manipulate the outcome in favour of the BDP.
Speaking in Sandton, Joburg, on Thursday, Boko, who studied law at Harvard, said, like many in the country, he was concerned at the constant harassment by government and believes the reason for the spotlight on him is the current political dynamics which point to a change of guard for the first time since 1966 in Botswana. “We are confident and focused. When they ground our aircraft, we drive,” he said, adding that the goal was to show the 922 000 voters registered that they had a manifesto offering change and fresh leadership with a new vision aimed at making life better for all citizens.
Boko said the ruling party was concerned because, in the 2014 election, the combined opposition which contested under one umbrella, except for the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), received 54% of the vote against the ruling party’s 47%. The winning party requires victory in 29 constituencies in the elections to govern.
This time around, Boko said that the BCP has joined the umbrella opposition drive, while in another development that could hurt the ruling party, the former head of state, Ian Khama, has quit the ruling party amid growing unhappiness with his successor from the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF), which is expected to contest the elections with the UDC.
“Now that we have BCP in the fold, it highlights the threat to the ruling party, which means that for the first time in over 50 years, a change of government in Botswana is imminent. “I’ve been stopped by police three times in 24 hours three weeks ago while travelling to a rally without being charged. It reflects the intolerance, and is not the way a leader of the official opposition, indeed a presidential contender, should be treated,” said Boko.
Thusang Butale, the secretary general of the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions, said on Friday that in-fighting seems to have afflicted the ruling party and some opposition parties in the country. However, the federation was determined to address “regressive labour laws” than be detracted. The federation has also expressed concerns about corruption and economic crimes in the country, some involving politicians and some members of the executive that have been exposed in the media.
Butale said the Trade Dispute Act, which has been debated since 2016, was not ratified by the labour review advisory board, and this must be addressed by the ruling party, or else the government would have to answer again to the International Labour Organisation.
“As a federation, our priority is ensuring workers’ interests are met, and while we are cognisant of goings-on in the country, Botswana is a peaceful nation with the only fear relating to tribalism brought by the rivalry of the president and his predecessor.”
Following his resignation from the ruling party in May, Khama, the son of Botswana’s founding father, Sir Seretse Khama and Englishwoman Ruth Williams, was described in a newspaper report as being more Western than African, lacking in loyalty to his roots.
The BDP and parliament’s chief whip did not respond to requests for comment. The president is yet to announce the October election date.