Yes the, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has won but the numbers are appalling! The low voter turnout in the Moshupa/Manyana constituency by-election should be a wakeup call on the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), experts say.
The fact that President Mokgweetsi Masisi is the immediate former Member of Parliament for the constituency of Moshupa/Manyana and that the BDP candidate, Karabo Gare is his supposed blue eyed boy, the general expectation was that multitudes will throng the polling stations. Instead the bye-election went on to record one of the lowest voter apathy rates ever recorded in the country. This comes on the backdrop of IEC planned voter registration that starts September 3rd to November 11th this year. The IEC is targeting 1.5 million eligible voters to register.
According to IEC official documents turned out by WeekendPost, the constituency has so far registered the lowest voter turnout in successive bye-elections since 2014 General Elections. Out of a whooping 14 849 constituents who registered to vote in the 2014 General Elections in the area, only a handful of 5 662 cast their vote at last weekend’s bye-election.
While it is common cause that a lesser number of electorates are always recorded in bye-elections, the number was unexpectedly lower in Moshupa/Manyana, particularly because it is the president’s former constituency and he had made a call for constituents to come in numbers to vote in his chosen successor.
Only 38.1% of eligible electorates cast their votes in last weekend’s bye-election. The bye-election was necessitated by the elevation of the area legislator, Masisi to the highest office in the land. While the low turnout in numbers was apparent in the election, the results indicate that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) continues to dominate, having garnered 4 039 votes against a paltry 1 530 of the opposition conglomerate, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).
The UDC numbers are inclusive of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) which contended and, Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and Botswana Peoples Party (BPP). The results suggest that voter apathy continues to be a thorn in the flesh with Moshupa/Manyana standing at a worst recorded level for the country since 2014 despite the sitting president being the area ex immediate MP. Some observers therefore believe it may be attributed as a vote of no confidence on the president as he campaigned vigorously, together with his party, and implored all the residents to vote in large numbers.
While only 5 662 voted in the by election at the said Masisi backyard, the previous 2014 General Elections indicate that 12 619 voted. Masisi, in the elections beat Ngaka Monageng who was representing UDC by 6 831 to 3 231 while BCP’s Benny Stegling managed 2557 votes. Prior, in the 2009 General Elections, also only 9 244 electorates cast their vote with the ruling BDP being voted by 6 374, BCP 1 519 and 1 219 of the BNF. Two independent candidates got 60 and 72 respectively.
When zooming into the intra party affairs, especially the BDP which has won Moshupa/Manyana constituency since independence; in the 2007 party primary elections, Masisi defeated Bobby Tlhabiwe by 2 141 votes to 923 out of the 3 064 party faithful who took part in the election. Following Masisi, Gare also won the primaries earlier this year by 2 841 against Lentswe Mosanako’s 767, Stephen Kganela’s 514, John Boikhutso Disele’s 182 and Benjamin Mogodi’s 50. A total of 4 354 democrats cast their votes.
There are seven wards in the constituency being; Lotlhakane West, Manyana/Mogonye, Moshupa-East, Moshupa-South, Moshupa-North, Pitseng and Ralekgetho. Meanwhile, IEC documents also indicate that Moshupa/Manyana which registered the lowest voter turnout at the bye-elections since 2014 is followed by Mochudi East at 38.57%. In the area, 20 460 registered but only 7 892 did actually vote.
UDC’s Moagi Molebatsi emerged triumphant at the constituency by election by 4 402 while Mpho Moruakgomo of BDP got 3 284 and 130 for independent candidate Japhta Radibe. The constituency fell vacant following the murder of Isaac Davids early this year. The third lowest voter apathy in the by elections was in Tlokweng with 49.39%. A total of 6 875 voted out of the 13 919 registered electorates. The area has seen Masego Segokgo of the UDC garner 4 634 against BDP’s Elijah Katse with 2 157 while Shirley Segokgo trailed behind with 57.
Masego succeeded Same Bathobakae who died in 2016. The last area which recorded a better voter turnout is Goodhope-Mabule standing at 69.04% compared to 85.86% for the 2014 General Elections. In Goodhope-Mabule, out of the 15 991 that registered to vote in 2014, 11 040 cast their vote with Lotlaamoreng Montshiwa winning the area. He attained 6 152 as opposed to Eric Molale’s 4 372 and 385 by Comfort Maruping of the BCP after the area was ditched by James Mathokgwane for a lucrative post at Selibe Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU).
When speaking to WeekendPost this week, Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Spokesperson, Osupile Maroba expressed his unease with regard to voter apathy in the country. “Voter apathy remains a serious concern to us, we are not happy at all especially in the recent by election lowest record at Moshupa/Manyana,” Maroba pointed out. Maroba said all, as custodians of democracy should be equally discontented as democracy is mostly defined by participation and the more the participation the merrier.
“We, as IEC also often ask ourselves why people are not voting. Is it the IEC? Is it political parties? Or just that the electorates are not interested?” he asked rhetorically. Apart from low turnout in Moshupa/Manyana, and while conceding that it’s the nature of by elections, he said other areas are really worrisome like the recent Mochudi-East bye-election where UDC emerged triumphant.
The IEC mouth piece on the other hand justified that voter apathy sometimes may be as a result of transfers where other workers are moved to other places, and that young people are naturally mobile and/or they move willy-nilly. However he told this publication that since they are concerned by voter apathy, they even plan on carrying out a new study for voter apathy to see if there are new challenges and new factors to address the complicated issue.
According to Maroba, currently there are so many aspects of voter apathy. He stated that they have social media platforms to reach out to everyone especially the youth, including through radio and TV programmes as well as adverts. On his part, UDC Publicity Secretary Moeti Mohwasa told this publication briefly that, naturally bye-elections attract low number of electorates but in providing an adequate answer they await a full report from the elections team in Moshupa/Manyana and therefore will not comment further.
On the other hand, BDP Secretary General Mpho Balopi said they are equally worried about the low turnout in Moshupa/Manyana bye-election. He said that there are many dimensions to the issue including the short span of time, other electorates could not locate their registration cards, and that some other electorates’ omang cards were expired. He added that more voter education should be instilled.
Meanwhile, a Political Analyst and lecturer at the University of Botswana (UB) Leonard Sesa said in light of what transpired at Moshupa/Manyana, the IEC must go back to the drawing board and look at the recommendations after 2014 with regard to curbing voter apathy and apply them. He partly attributed the low turn out to the winter season saying that electorates might have felt lazy to join long queues and cast their votes.
The Political Analyst added that IEC should have the power to come up with a writ of elections as opposed to a writ by the president, but within a stipulated bye-election period. He said parties should also look at the calibre of aspiring candidates and vet them thoroughly before being presented to the electorates. Another professor of Political Science at University of Botswana, Zibani Maundeni in his research paper “Voter education and some electoral issues in Botswana: 2004 and 2014 compared” says voter apathy is entrenched in our elections.
He stated in the paper that “in 2004, the nation united behind the IEC in tackling voter apathy and the results were encouraging. In contrast, voter education has hugely slowed down, nobody seems to be leading, and voter apathy is mostly likely to entrench itself again in the coming elections. Joint efforts are hardly visible, there is no leading institution spearheading voter education, and civil society movement is almost dead. There is neither a woman’s manifesto nor youth’s manifesto, and political development is hardly visible.”
The newly elected Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) Executive Committee led by Pastor Reverend Thuso Tiego has declared their disapproval of homosexuality saying it is anti-Christianity and Botswana culture.
Speaking at a Media Briefing this past week, BMD President Tiego said Botswana has been a country that respects culture hence endorsing homosexuality will be catastrophic.
“Our young generation grew up being taught about types of families, if homosexuality is passed, at what age will our children be introduced to homosexuality?” he rhetorically asked.
He continued: “If we are going to allow homosexuality then the next day, another person will come and say he wants to practice bestiality. What are we going to do because we have already allowed for this one (homosexuality) and at the end it will be a total mess.” Bestiality is sexual relations between a human being and an animal
This according to Tiego will give those people an opportunity thus disrupting known Botswana beliefs. He however dismissed any notion that the decision to condemn homosexuality should not be linked to the top two of the committee who are men of cloth. “This is a decision by the whole committee which respects the culture of Botswana and it should not be perceived that because we are clergymen we are influencing them, but even if we do, politics and religion are inter-related.”
Of late the church and the human rights organization have been up in arms because of the high court decision to allow for same sex marriages. Ministries ganged up, petitioned parliament and threatened to vote out any legislator who will support the idea. The ruling party, BDP which was to table the amendment in the constitution, ended up deferring it.
BMD President further revealed that he is aware of what really led to the split of the party and he is on course to transform as they approach 2024 elections.
“There are so many factors that led to split of party amongst others being leadership disputes, personal egos and ambitions, toxic factionalism and ideological difference just to mention a few, but we are transforming the party and I am confident that we will do well in the coming elections.
In addition, Tiego is hopeful that they will take the government as they feel it is time to rebrand Botswana politics and bring in fresh blood of leaders.
He further hinted that they are coming with positive transformation as they eye to better the lives of Batswana.
“When we assume government, we promise to be transparent, free and fair electoral processes and encourage pluralism as way of getting back to our roots of being a democratic country as it seems like the current government has forgotten about that important aspect,” Tiego explained.
Reeling under the increasing barrage of stinging international sanctions, the isolated North Korean regime is reportedly up to its old trickery, this time in a more complicated web of murky operations that have got the authorities of five southern African countries at sixes and sevens as they desperately try to tighten their dragnet around Pyongyang’s spectral network of illicit ivory and rhino horn trade.
It is an intricate network of poaching for elephant tusks and rhino horns that spans Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, with the main sources of the contraband being Botswana and South Africa.
The syndicate running the illegal trafficking of the poached contraband is suspected to be controlled by two shadowy North Korean government operatives with close links to one Han Tae-song, a disgraced North Korean career diplomat who, while serving as the second secretary at his country’s embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe, was expelled in 1992 after he was fingered as the mastermind behind a similar illegal ring that was busted by the country’s authorities.
This disturbing tale of malfeasance by North Korean state actors is as real as it gets.
Recent reports indicate that authorities in the source countries are jointly battling to plug holes created by the shadowy syndicate which allegedly has on its payroll, park rangers, border officials and cross-border truck drivers.
Even more disturbing are allegations that some wildlife officials are conniving in misrepresenting numbers of retrieved rhino horns and ivory from poachers and getting kickbacks for their involvement in the pilfering of ivory and rhino horns from government stockpiles especially in South Africa.
In a shocking and well-orchestrated movie-style heist in South Africa, thieves in June this year made off with 51 rhino horns after breaking into a very secure government stockpile facility of the North West Parks Board (NWPB).
While some suspects from South Africa and Malawi were nabbed in a government sting operation, none of the rhino horns – 14 of which were very large specimens that can fetch serious money on the black market – were recovered.
A report of the heist said the police were lethargic by eight hours in responding to an emergency alert of the robbery which was described by North West police spokesperson Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone as “… a case of business robbery…”
Thabang Moko, a security analyst in Pretoria says the military precision in the burglary, delays in police response, and failure to recover the stolen rhino horns is dubious. “This development lends credence to suspicions that some government officials could be part of a shadowy syndicate run by foreign buyers of rhino horns and ivory,” Moko says.
It is understood that in light of the rhino horns heist in North West, South Africa’s Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy on 1 August, shared her concerns to her counterparts in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique calling for greater regional cooperation to combat the illegal wildlife trafficking which she believes is being masterminded by the Far East’s buyers of the ill-gotten horns and ivory.
It is believed that foreign kingpins involved in perpetuating the illegal trade are mainly North Koreans vying against Vietnamese and Cambodian buyers in the quest for dominance of the illicit trade in rhino horns and ivory sourced from southern Africa.
Creecy’s concerns, which she also shared to South Africa’s state-run broadcaster SABC, echoed Moko’s worries that the North West heist may have been an inside job.
According to Creecy, there was a need for the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol)’s greater involvement in joint investigations by affected countries as there were indications of ‘local knowledge’ of the North West job and that syndicates, “Higher up the value chain actually recruit park rangers to the illegal ivory trade network.”
Botswana’s Environment and Tourism Minister Philda Kereng is on national record admitting that poaching was a source of headaches to her government, especially considering that the daring poachers were making successful incursions into secure areas protected by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF).
This came after poachers gunned down two white rhinos at the BDF-protected Khama Rhino Sanctuary in August 2022 despite Kereng putting the time frame of the killings between October and November 2022.
Kereng hinted at the existence of Asian controlled syndicates and acknowledged that the surge in poaching in Botswana is driven by the “increased demand for rhino horn on the international market” where in Asia rhino horns are believed to be potent in traditional medicines and for their imagined therapeutic properties.
Botswana has in the past recorded an incident of a group of an all-Asian reconnaissance advance team teams being nabbed by the country’s intelligence service in the Khama Rhino Sanctuary.
Masquerading as tourists, the group, with suspected links to North Korea and China, was discovered to be collecting crucial data for poachers.
Also according to reliable information at hand, an undisclosed number of wildlife parks rangers were arrested between September 2022 and January this year, after information surfaced that they connived in the smuggling of rhino horns and ivory from Botswana.
One of the rangers reportedly admitted getting paid to falsify information on recovered horns and ivory which were smuggled out of the country through its vast and porous eastern border with South Africa, and making their way to their final destination in Mozambique via back roads and farmlands in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
“We are aware that in the past year, some rhino horns and ivory illegally obtained from Botswana through poaching activities and shady deals by some elements within our wildlife and national parks department, have found their way out of the country and end up in Mozambique’s coastal ports for shipment to the Far East,” a Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) source says.
Independent investigations reveal that two North Korean buyers, one of them only identified as Yi Kang-dae [confirmed to be an intelligence official in the country’s state security apparatus], acting on behalf of the disgraced Han Tae-song, financed the entire operation on two occasions between 2022 and 2023, to move at least 18 rhino horns and 19 elephant tusks from Botswana, including pay-offs – mostly to border patrol and customs officials for safe passage – along the knotty conduit across South Africa’s north western lands, then across south-eastern Zimbabwe into Mozambique.
According to a trusted cross-border transport operator in Zimbabwe, the rhino horns and elephant tusks were illegally handed over to smugglers in Mozambique at an obscure illegal crossing point 15km north of Zimbabwe’s Forbes Border Post in November 2022 and February this year.
The end buyers in Mozambique? “It is quite an embarrassment for us, but we have solid evidence that two North Korean buyers, one of them who is linked to a former notorious diplomat from that country who has been in the past involved in such illegal activities in Zimbabwe, oversaw the loading of rhino horns and ivory onto a China-bound ship from one of our ports,” a top government source in Maputo said before declining to divulge more information citing ongoing investigations.
Yi Kang-dae and his accomplice’s whereabouts are presently unclear to Mozambican authorities whose dragnet reportedly recently netted some key actors of the network. Han Tae-song currently serves as North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations in Switzerland.
North Korean diplomats have in the past used Mozambique as a final transit point for the shipment of rhino horns to the Far East.
In May 2015, Mozambican authorities nabbed two North Koreans, one of them a Pretoria-based diplomat and political counsellor identified as Pak Chol-jun after they were caught in possession of 4.5kg of rhino horn pieces and US$100,000 cash.
Pak’s accomplice, Kim Jong-su, a Taekwondo instructor also based in South Africa, was fingered as a North Korean spy and returned to North Korea under suspicious circumstances on the heels of Pak’s expulsion from South Africa in November 2016.
A security source in Zimbabwe closely following current developments says there is a big chance that Han Tae-song may have revived the old smuggling network he ran while posted in Zimbabwe in the 90s.
“The biting international sanctions against North Korea in the past decade may have prompted Han to reawaken his network which has been dormant for some time,” the source says. “There is no telling if the shady network is dead now given that Han’s two front men have not been nabbed in Mozambique. More joint vigilance is needed to destroy the operation at the source and at the end of the line.”
North Korean diplomats have, as early as October 1976, been fingered for engaging in illegal activities ranging from possession of and trade in ivory pieces, trade in diamonds and gold, the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit currencies, pharmaceuticals, and the sale on the black market, of a paraphernalia of drugs, cigarettes, alcohol and other trinkets on the back of protracted and biting international sanctions against the reclusive state for its gross human rights abuses against its own people and flagrant nuclear tests.
These illegal activities, according to a US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, have raked in at least US$500m annually for the Pyongyang regime. Other global studies estimate that North Korea’s illegal earnings from the black market are around $1bn annually, and are being channelled towards the country’s nuclear weapons programme, while ordinary North Koreans continue to die of mass starvation.
In February 2014, Botswana, citing systematic human rights violations, severed ties with North Korea with the former’s president Mokgweetsi Masisi (then vice president) calling North Korea an ‘evil nation’ on 23 September 2016, at a United Nations General Assembly forum in Washington, USA.
Botswana has close to 132,000 elephants, more than any of its four neighbouring countries, namely Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, according to a 2022 Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) Elephant Survey.
The rhino population in Botswana has significantly dwindled, with poaching a leading cause of the decimation of the country’s rhinos. Despite dehorning and relocating its diminishing rhino population from the extensive Okavango Delta to undisclosed sanctuaries, Botswana has since 2018, lost 138 rhinos to poachers.
The sharp spike in rhino poaching in Botswana came after the country’s government made a controversial decision to disarm park rangers in early 2018.
In a statement delivered in November 2022 to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) CoP-19 in Panama, the Botswana government instead blamed the surge in poaching to a shift of foreign-sponsored organised poaching organisations from South Africa to Botswana.
“This increase in rhino poaching in Botswana coincided with a decline of rhino poaching in South Africa from 2018 to 2020, suggesting a displacement of the poaching syndicates from South Africa to Botswana,” the statement reads. “The recent decline in rhino poaching in Botswana (2021 and 2022, relative to 2020) coincides with the increase in rhino poaching in Namibia and South Africa, further suggesting displacement of the poaching syndicates across the sub-region.”
According to the Botswana government, as of 13 November 2022 the country has secreted its shrinking rhinos (only 285 white rhinos and 23 black rhinos) in undisclosed locations within the country’s borders.
South Africa has close to 15,000 rhinos. Between January and June 2022 alone, poachers killed 260 rhinos in South Africa for their horns. The country is home to the majority of Africa’s white rhinos, a species whose existence remains under threat of extinction due to poaching.
The major threat posed by foreign state actors including those from North Korea, to southern Africa’s rhino and elephant population remains grim as the bulk of the rhino horns and elephant tusks reportedly continue finding their way to the Far East, where China is being used as the major distribution centre.