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Are we prepared for the unexpected as we prepare for the expected?

SHARE   |   Tuesday, 15 October 2019   |   By Ricardo Kanono
IEC members Counting the votes IEC members Counting the votes

In the last general elections Botswana has held, it was a foregone conclusion that the outcomes would be the same as they were in 1966 and thereafter. There was no palpable anxiety on any stakeholder associated with elections be it the voters, political parties themselves or their leaders as it is the case with this general election. It is not an understatement that the stakes have never been as high as they are today due to new political developments leading to this election principally the Khama/Masisi standoff and other related factors. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has been in power since independence and given the argument by some people that it could lose this election, Botswana may very well be staring at the unexpected. The expected is the situation where the BDP would easily run over its opponents (as it has done in the past) without much resistance whereas the unexpected would be where the party gives some resistance but to no avail.

The latter situation is the subject of this conversation with particular reference to, but not limited to the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS). The DISS recently made very serious allegations that this election will be rigged upon which it tried to procure a surveillance equipment to be used on 23 October 2019. It is fair and reasonable to conclude that the DISS may be fore-seeing the possible loss of the BDP and therefore trying to discredit the credibility of the election in one respect or the other such that should it turn that way, that could be the rallying argument to sustain the credibility factor.  This matter is further dealt with later in the conversation.  

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Having been in power for over half a century is a feat that could be described as having sentimental attachment or value to the BDP and perhaps rightly so on account of having achieved such feat. If one listens and reads some BDP members’ arguments on different media platforms, you get a feeling that they suggest that it is only the BDP that can take Botswana and Batswana to greater heights. This could on one hand be an innocent political statement meant to sway voters to their side and on the other, a statement that depicts the fear of the unknown should the BDP lose power. By virtue of having been in power for so long means that the BDP footprints are all over the political and socio-economic trajectory of this country. To lose a grip on this trajectory naturally and predictably, becomes a monumental challenge of Biblical proportions to the BDP, its followers and sympathisers because it could remove the blanket that may have covered a lot of things an ordinary poor soul wouldn’t have known.

A narrative has been made to the effect that State institutions are in the back pocket of the BDP and by extension, its government. And this is borne out of the fact that these institutions are located under no other office than that of the President. One such institution is the DIIS itself which has been viewed, rightly or wrongly, as fully entrenched in political matters advancing the interests of the BDP. The DIIS through its Director General Brigadier Peter Magosi has recently suggested that this year’s general election is susceptible to some forms of rigging as already said above. A bit of context is desirable to drive the point home.

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The Botswana Gazette newspaper online edition dated October 2, 2019 ran with a headline ‘DIIS Accused of Plot To Rig Elections’. Under this headline, it is reported that ‘While the Director General of DIIS, Peter Magosi is ostensibly concerned that there is a high possibility that the elections will be rigged, the IEC says there is nothing of that sort. The sole facilitator and custodian of elections in  Botswana says the manual system it uses is so fool-proof that chances of rigging is nil. Investigations by the Botswana Gazette have established that DIIS was in the process of purchasing a ‘communications and intelligence surveillance machine’ from a company in Switzerland named Plath AG Group….’ The newspaper report further says that ‘According to Magosi, failure to secure the intelligence equipment could lead to unfair general elections which, if it happened, should be blamed on Boko and the UDC’. It has since emerged that the leader of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Advocate Duma Boko stopped the acquisition of the surveillance equipment through the assistance of the Geneva-based attorney Dragan Zeljic.

With regard to the above context which to the best of my knowledge has not been disputed by the DISS, it is interesting and frightening to note that the desired but dashed machinations by the DIIS to procure the equipment through the back door and without the necessary involvement and consent of the IEC as would be expected, speaks volumes.  Accepting that this could be an intelligence issue, how would the equipment be used when seemingly, IEC is kept out of the loop?  What other machinations by the DISS given the Botswana Gazette revelations may, or have been put in place now that the original plot has been exposed?  Would the DIIS have been concerned by election rigging allegations if they stood to benefit the BDP? It may be argued Magosi wouldn’t know which party could benefit from the alleged election rigging. Fair enough! I am nevertheless convinced that given the loyalty to the President as the appointing authority more than anything else, it should go without saying that he would not be overly concerned about any election process that could materially benefit his boss and his party.    

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But given the fluidity of the political temperature as we build up to the 23 October, we may very well be awaiting the unexpected with suggestions of elections rigging made by the intelligence agency. It must be stated without any fear of contradiction that the DIIS has not covered itself in glory for the longest time for anything it says to be taken seriously. It has created serious credibility doubts in the minds of some by displaying an attitude of running roughshod over other State institutions of equal standing. It will be remembered that just recently, it dismally failed to avail corruption evidence in the High Court with respect to a Chinese company that had won a tender to construct Moshupa hospital  but which tender was subsequently withdrawn seemingly on the ‘strength’ of such unsubstantiated corruption allegations. I accept that an intelligence agency plays an important part in ensuring for example that our elections are not compromised by neither external nor internal forces. But for all intents and purposes, it must be an honest and not a manufactured role.  The point I am making is that if the unexpected were to occur, wouldn’t there be suggestions that the election was rigged which consequently, could result in an unpleasant post elections atmosphere? Just saying.

Like I have alluded to above, the BDP has been in power since independence in which it has become synonymous with political power. It has been a dominant political party in Botswana and rightly so because it duly earned it through a legitimate electoral process. But with the DISS at the centre of election rigging allegations which have been dismissed with contempt by the IEC, it inevitably brings in the question: are we prepared for the unexpected should the BDP lose this election given these election rigging allegations.  I am again not becoming alarmist as I would possibly be portrayed by some but simply talking to an eventuality that has never happened in the political history of this country but that which is possible. One cannot choose to be oblivious to history with respect to what has occurred in other countries particularly in Africa. The involvement of intelligence agencies in African politics is well documented. One doesn’t have to look any further than Zimbabwe where the intelligence agency has been central to that country’s political arena offering unparalleled support to the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union.  I don’t wish for all its worth that the Zimbabwe example visits our shores.

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But the moment an intelligence agency enters the electoral arena without the involvement of the IEC as it has emerged from the Botswana Gazette and other private publications, it begs the question: Are we prepared for the unexpected as we prepare for the expected? Only time will tell. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!

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