The office of the President and Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) went into an overdrive this week, dismissing claims that President Ian Khama intended to run for a third term, possibly under a direct election mode. OP released a terse statement while BDP Secretary General Botsalo Ntuane was a guest at a local radio morning show, all rubbishing claims and insinuations that Khama or his party might be hatching a plot to extend his rule.
What has recently heightened observers’ curiosity and pushed this line of argument was the executive’s intervention in the judiciary, with some insisting that the President might be attempting to pick a bench that will favour him going forward. The other issue is the BDP’s recent announcement of intended electoral reforms, having set up a task force to look into this. Some are adamant that among proposals to come from this will be one for direct election of President, giving the incumbent a chance to run again.
Ntuane said where political leaders desired another term they tended to keep quiet when moves are made to change laws. “President Khama has been consistent on this,” he said, pointing to early times in his presidency when publicly pronounced his disinterest in extending his rule. He insisted on Botswana’s unwavering commitment to advancing her democratic credentials and her peace and stability, saying term extension will be regressive and create instability as seen in countries, where that was attempted. Ntuane maintained that the BDP was an institution that was constantly developing leaders and hence there should not be any claims that there was a lack of depth and quality to succeed President Khama.
But opposition parties are not taking the issue lightly and have vowed to oppose any attempt to increase Khama's term of office. Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) spokesperson Moeti Mohwasa said his party-the Botswana National Front were the originators of the proposal to put a limit to the presidential term of office and fought until it was introduced. He said, therefore, they will oppose any attempts by the ruling party to push for a constitutional amendment to extend Khama's term in the office. He said they will fight vehemently any such extension whether it is brought by a constitutional amendment or by any other forms. "We believe the president should serve a limited term only and vacate office," he said.
For his part, Botswana Congress Party (BCP) spokesperson Dithapelo Keorapetse puts it more bluntly that his party is highly suspicious that the debate over the third term could be rekindled from within the ruling party for a reason. He said the debate is not new as it was once suggested by former Nata/Gweta MP Olifhant Mfa that Khama's term of office should be extended. He said there is delusional believe within the BDP that the party's survival rests with Khama; hence suggestions that they could introduce reforms or cause an amendment of the constitution are not far-fetched. In fact Keorapetse claims that some democrats who are also suspicious of their leader are leaking information on the subject to the opposition. Such is the desperation as the BDP continues to loose support to the opposition, he said.
Keorapetse observed that leaders who do not want to vacate office preside over regressing democracies, limit civil liberties, and preside over corrupt regimes. "Khama's leadership fits such a description. The worst corruption scandals happened under his watch. He has failed to grow the economy. We do not trust him. He made so many promises when he came into office, which he has failed to fulfill. Ntuane is of an honest but mistaken believe that Khama is committed to democracy. He is not," said Keorapetse.
To illustrate Khama's failures Keorapetse said the BDP's electoral fortunes dwindled under his presidency. He said after only managing to increase their popular vote by 1.7% in 2004 at the height of "his magic" the BDP later experienced its first ever split and the results plummeted to below 47% in 2014. The economy has stagnated and democracy has regressed under Khama's leadership, said Keorapetse.
Some argue that the BDP should stop denying that they are considering amending the constitution to work in Khama's favour. They cite the example that former President Ketumile Masire amended the constitution to ensure automatic succession to the vice-president. In 2008, General Ian Khama, son of Seretse and Ruth Khama, and paramount chief of Bangwato, assumed presidency over the heads of parliament and people.
In statement released midweek the Office of the President reiterated that "this Office wishes to state for the record that President Khama has on numerous occasions indicated that he is on his last term of office. He has even gone on to express his views about such fundamentals of democracy, especially in light of developments in this regard in the continent and elsewhere, the last such vivid announcement being during the 35th Ordinary Session of the SADC Heads of State meeting Press Briefing".
OP dismissed media reports on the third term issue as rumours, and a mischievous attempt to taint the good name of His Excellency the President. "We find it disturbing that such insinuations and attacks on the Presidency come at a time when there was an announcement that Mauritius, Botswana and Namibia are number one in the African continent in terms of Citizens positive assessment on their democracies and issues of Good Governance by the Afro Barometer," read the statement.
Africa’s power mongers
Botswana’s second president Sir Ketumile Masire would most certainly still be in power had he not chosen to amend the constitution and give away power. Those that he ruled with are still hold hard to the levers of power. From Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Sudan’s Al Bashir to Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso the indication is that the more Africa attempts to democratize the more other regions and countries want to stay the same or regress.
This informs the reason why in his first address of the African Union in July this year, USA President Barack Obama talked against the curse of extending terms by African leaders. President Obama reflected on the end of his own tenure in 2016, saying “I’m looking forward to life after being president.” He urged long serving African leaders to step down. “I actually think I’m a pretty good president…I think if I ran, I could win… There’s a lot that I’d like to do to keep America moving,” he added. “But the law is the law, and no person is above the law, not even the president,” he said.
Obama’s address came on the wake of a coup de tat in Burkina Faso where a leader Blaise Compaore was attempting to extend his term and in Burundi where a President was in a stand-off with protestors who did not want to see him extending his rule. This did not stop President Pierre Nkurunziza from pushing ahead with elections that extended his rule, ignoring protests and violence that flared up.
Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Rwanda are some of the countries where leaders are seeking to extend their terms. In Congo Brazzaville a referendum is on the cards that will allow Sassou Nguesso (72), who has ruled for 30 of the past 35 years, to extend his rule. Under their Congo’s law only candidates under the age of 70 can run for presidency and there is a two-term limit. He first came to power in 1979 before losing in 1992 and resumed in 1997 to date.
DRC’s Joseph Kabila is also pushing his agenda to extend his term after initially agreeing to respect the constitution. Meanwhile Rwandan lawmakers voted 99% to hold a referendum on proposed changes to the constitution that would allow President Paul Kagame to extend his 15 years in power. At least 3.7 million Rwandans reportedly petitioned the legislature to amend the charter.
Writing in African Files under the headline ‘Presidential term limits in Africa’ Daniel Vencousky maintained: “In fledgling democracies, the main importance of term limits stems from its positive impact on power alternation which, in turn, contributes to democratic consolidation. In Africa, elections are heavily burdened by advantages that incumbents have at their disposal, and these make electoral change more difficult than in established democracies. “If the incumbent has a tight grip on the electoral system (perhaps including the appointments of the electoral commission) ; has access to slush funds for the party campaign; can determine the date of the election; can have opponents disqualified or harassed by the legal system; controls much of the media and has the advantage of exposure and familiarity before the general public, all can be turned to personal advantage.”