The Tlokweng bye-election results signal that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has not endeared itself to the voters ever since the 2014 general elections in which the party performance reached its lowest in history. With the same approach, same policies and refusal to adopt reforms since 2014, incoming president Mokgweetsi Masisi has a huge burden to bear— writes ALFRED MASOKOLA.
Not only is Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) faced with succession plan battles within its ranks but also, apparent signs indicate that the party has not introspected and geared to project itself better ahead of the crucial 2019 general elections. In less than 10 months from now, President Lt Gen Ian Khama will be leaving office marking end to 20 years era in the BDP.
A BDP stalwart recently confided to this publication that the results of the recent bye-election is a sign, though they may not publicly admit, that the party has lost touch with the masses. “It was an anti-BDP vote. We are unpopular and if we don’t stem the tide we will be out [of power] in 2019,” he said regarding the Tlokweng bye-election. Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) won the constituency with 4635 votes against BDP’s 2156- a margin of 2479 votes.
A few months ago, former party secretary general, Jacob Nkate conceded that the BDP needed to change its approach in the manner that it does business with the electorates. “I think the BDP needs to reconnect with the people; to have a message that resonates with the people. I do not think people are hearing us; we need to re-message and recalibrate. We need to understand what the biggest concern of the people is. We need to hear the people and people should hear us,” he told this publication then.
“Unemployment: huge problem, we must be able to say to people what we are doing. Health; in a lot of hospitals in Botswana, people are sleeping on the floor and in passages. I am not criticising my party. I am saying let us talk about these issues.” Nkate had said the entire government machinery is engulfed by problems which people are not happy about, something which he said BDP should swiftly move to address if it is to endear itself to the voters again
The former Minister of Education had also advised that, BDP should start having an honest and open discussion with the unions. “A government that sits and sulks for five years against the workers of the country is not going to succeed, because if the workers themselves sulk the same way, then the government is not going to go forward,” he contended. Nkate was part and parcel of the BDP that withered the storm in 1999 having arrived in parliament in 1994.
Botsalo Ntune, the incumbent secretary general had also proposed political and electoral reforms with the hope of revitalising the party but the suggested reforms have been received with cold reception and suspicion rather. This is despite the fact that the idea of introducing reforms was adopted by delegates at the 2015 Mmadinare congress.
Not only has Ntuane sensed danger in the party continuing with business as usually recently, he made efforts to appease two factions into adopting a compromise in order to preserve party unity ahead of 2019. The suggestion has also been rejected by both factions.
The rejection of appealing reforms has however been met with self-defeating laws and policies. Recently, the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) collapsed owing to the perceived government bad will toward the civil service. Government and Botswana Federation of Public Service Union (BOFEPUSU) continue to fight, with the latter recently declaring political support for the opposition, UDC. Between 2014 and now, BDP has fared dismally in bye-elections, winning only two council seats out of 11 contested so far.
In the interim, BDP has pursued the same policies and used the same approach which saw its popularity falling to its lowest since independence. Meanwhile opposition has gained ground and advantage of BDP’s failure to reform and reposition itself. Amid rising unemployment and jaded economy, BDP is failing to attract new voters to its ranks.
The political climate has been changing ever since 2009 general elections. BDP effortlessly won the 2009 general election winning more constituencies compared to the previous general election. The crisis which BNF was engulfed in saw BDP making inroads in the former’s territory. For the first time since 1979, BNF found itself without a constituency in Gaborone. That year, BDP’s popular vote increased by two percent from the previous elections.
The watershed moment for opposition parties was 2010, the in which BDP split, resulting in the formation of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD); in that particularly year, Human Rights lawyer Duma Boko assumed the leadership of BNF while Dumelang Saleshando succeeded his father as leader of Botswana Congress Party (BCP). However, with opposition evidently gaining popularity at the expense of the ruling party, the BDP has remained antagonistic to prospects of introducing countering reforms.
Khama’s rise to the presidency came in the back of political and electoral reforms initiated by BDP following the 1994 general election. The year had thrown the party into a vulnerable state and for the first time since independence the prospect of BDP losing power became real. Botswana National Front (BNF), the only opposition party then had risen from three seats to 13 seats in parliament, an unprecedented growth in opposition ranks back then. The result meant, BNF needed only eight seats in the next general elections (1999) to dethrone BDP.
BDP 1995 POLITICAL AND ELECTORAL REFORMS
With the BDP dismal performance in 1994, came the reforms. The party was going through gravest crisis in the party owing two factional wars tearing the party asunder. President Quett Masire was expected to leave office after the 1994 general elections but the internal bickering in the party compelled him to stay longer. The arrival of a new batch of independent intellects and Young Turks in the party offered a new dimension to the party.
Many believed, owing to the 1994 general elections performance, Masire could not lead the party to the next general elections, but the battle of succession made it impossible for BDP to retain power in 1999 under those circumstances. In 1992, Festus Mogae had ascended to the Vice Presidency following the resignation of Peter Mmusi owing to his implication in a land corruption scandal.
Mogae’s succession was however not viewed as permanent and none of the two factions saw him as the ultimate successor to the throne. However, the 1995 Sebele Special Congress put that debate to rest. When the delegates dispersed, the party had agreed to key reforms; that the Vice President will ascend to the presidency automatically when the sitting president leaves office; and that a presidential term will only be limited to 10 years. These two key reforms were necessary to reinvigorate the party and reposition it ahead of the 1999 general election.
Ahead of 1999 general elections, BDP engaged South African based political consultant Lawrence Schlemmer to offer prognosis on the party. The Schlemmer report found out that BDP factions were tearing the party apart and would make it impossible for BDP to stay in power if the status quo remained. The report then recommended that the party brings within its fold someone who was respected and untainted to help unite the party.
That description fit the then Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Commander and popular chief of Bangwato Ian Khama. His arrival in the BDP galvanised and restored BDP’s popularity. The famous “Khama Magic” was the aura and charisma which Khama used in appealing to the masses and rallying votes to the BDP banner.
Masisi will become the third beneficiary of automatic succession constitutional dispensation next year when Khama leaves office. But his succession will not be a breeze in the park. First he has to ward-off the challenge from Nonofho Molefhi who is vying for the chairmanship and eventually the party presidency in 2019. Neither Festus Mogae nor Khama were challenged for the throne when they ascended, something which puts Masisi in a dark corner.
Secondly he will inherit a worn out BDP than the one which Ian Khama inherited from President Mogae. If he wins the battle to lead BDP he will take it to face a strong and united opposition for the first time in history. Opposition enjoyed a combined 53 percent from the 2014 general elections.
Despite the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and his Namibian counterpart, Hage Geingob giving an impression that the borderline security disputes are a thing of the past and that diplomatic ties remain tight, fresh developments from Namibia suggest otherwise, following Geingod’s close confidante’s attack on Botswana and its army.
Giving a Zambezi region state of the affairs last week, a Geingob-appointed governor of Zambezi region, Colonel Lawrence Ampofu, a retired Colonel in the Namibian Defence Force, former plan combatant during the liberation struggle of Namibia, in a written speech, charged at the BDF and condemned their killings of the Namibians as unacceptable.
“The security situation within our borders remains calm. The incidence of the Botswana Defence Force shootings and wanton killings on the Nchindo Brothers on 05 November 2020 and other 37 Namibian lives lost since independence remain a serious challenge with our neighbor, Botswana.
Our residents living along the Chobe, Linyanti and Kwandu rivers are living under constant threats, harassment, fear, intimidation and killings and such activities are condemned and not acceptable,” he said under the safety and security title.
The attack suggests that Namibia has not bought Botswana’s story. Ampofu was part of the entourage that accompanied Geingob to the three Nchindo brothers and their cousin who were gunned down by the BDF, and is reported to be privy to the details of the unpublished Botswana-Namibia joint investigations report about the killings as a governor or political head of the region which has eight electoral constituencies.
The report contains the sensitive details of how the three Namibians referred as poachers by the BDF – and Fisherman by the Namibian government were gunned down on 5 November last year along the Chobe River. They were Tommy (48), Martin (40) and Wamunyima Nchindo (36), and their cousin Sinvula Muyeme (44).
His views are not really in contrast to his President’s views who also described the BDF as trigger happy in a scripted report to his cabinet.
The Zambezi region is located in the extreme north east part of Namibia and covers a total of 14,667.6 square kilometres. “We share borders with Angola, Zambia to the north, Zimbabwe to the east and Botswana to the South,” he said.
Sampofu was first appointed governor of the former Caprive Region in 2010 by the former Namibian president, Hifikepunye Pohamba and was reappointed as Zambezi governor by President Dr.Hage Geingob in 2015, a term running to 2025.
37 Namibia residents killed by Botswana army so far
Sampofu is a man who continues to insist that Botswana has killed 37 residents of his region. A video posted by the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) shows him alleging that at least 37 Namibians were killed by the BDF, after he met with the community at Impalila.
“It is true, the BDF started long ago. As we speak 37 lives have been lost here in Impalila along the Chobe river going to Linyanti and Kwado rivers up to Lizauli. All those families lost their loved ones,” Ampofu said in the video posted by NBC.
It is not known how the BDF, which has maintained their position that the Namibians were engaging in illegal activities of poaching, treats the constant attacks by the Namibian authorities, but they have repeatedly vowed to continue protecting the country’s sovereignty and natural resources.
Botswana’s premier brewer and leading distributor of beer, Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL), this month dragged the government of Botswana to court after President Mokgweetsi Masisi imposed an alcohol ban with immediate effect. KBL labelled the decision as unjustifiable, irrational and that it overrides the rights that are enshrined in the constitution.
This week, Masisi through attorneys representing the government disparaged the case in his written affidavit of KBL’s application, referring to it as frivolous and that it ought to be dismissed with costs on a punitive scale.
In his court papers, Masisi reminded KBL that Botswana is a Republic whose laws find validity from the constitution, and in terms of Section 17 of the constitution the President is empowered to declare a State of Emergency and that it is a common cause that Botswana is under such state.
“It is common course that there is in existence emergency powers (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 as amended from time to time which is solely designed to regulate the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Masisi pointed out that he denies that the application before Court is proper such as to challenge the lawfulness and validity of a regulation made and a notice published in the exercise of a legislative function in accordance with the Emergency Powers Act which empowers the President to make regulations as appear to him to be necessary and expedient for securing public safety.
Furthermore, the President revealed that the decision to ban alcohol sales was not arrived at willy-nilly, but rather that there had been careful considerations that the risks posed by Covid-19 had increased and therefore it was expedient and necessary to suspend all liquor licenses.
Moreover, Masisi denied that the decision to reinstate the ban should be made by the Director of Health Services as indicated by KBL in their nature of the application, “the Director is to cause the notice to be published in the Gazette after consultation with the President.”
Masisi indicated that the role of the Director of Health Services is to publish a regulation made by the President.
He further, reminded KBL that the power to make regulations in a State of Public Emergency in accordance with the EPA lies with the President, “such power includes the amendment of any enactment, suspending the operation of any enactment or modification of an enactment.”
According to Masisi, his decision to ban alcohol sales was based on evidence provided by the Director of Health Services who indicated to him that there was a sudden spike in the transmission of the Covid-19 virus following the reinstatement of liquor licenses.
Another piece of advice tendered by the Director of Health to Masisi was that bars and other liquor outlets were some of the major hotspots in the sense of such being high-risk areas at which the virus spread rapidly.
“Alcohol was one of the major causes of non-compliance with the health protocols that were put in place to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, there was an indication that more arrests were made on people failing to adhere to Covid-19 protocols more particularly at places where there were gatherings,” he contended.
He pointed out that therefore, it was expedient and or necessary to preserve lives and to reduce the risks of transmissions of the virus to reinstate the suspension of liquor licenses.
Moreover, the President says that it must be noted that he avers that the Director of Health Services is a credible source on matters of public health of which he also accordingly gave due weight to the Director’s advice on deciding to reinstate the ban through the impugned notice.
“I am aware and was always aware at the time of promulgating the regulation complained of that it shall negatively affect some sectors of the economy. However, after due consideration and receipt of advice, I decided to give priority to the safety and health of the nation,” Masisi said.
He presaged KBL that it would not be prudent and in the best interest of the nation to ignore a health emergency such as Covid-19 and gave preference to trading and making of profits by the applicant. “The results would only be catastrophic to the extent that when we emerge from the scourge we would be left with a depleted and ailing nation from Covid-19 and its side effects.”
Furthermore, his written affidavit further pointed out that the decision to reinstate the ban on alcohol was taken notwithstanding understanding and appreciation of the economic hardships that would befall the country.
However, he said he deliberately made the decision based on the evidence provided to him by the Director of Health, whose evidence he believes to be credible to give public/safety and health priority over economic considerations in some sectors.
In making the decision, Masisi states that he was and considered different options including allowing for sale of alcohol consumption off premises, however the evidence he had been provided with suggested that such other alternatives would not achieve the overall objective of securing public safety and health by reducing the risk of the spread of the virus.
“By the time I imposed the ban, alcohol was already being sold for consumption off-premises. This did not work. The information provided to me by the Director and the Presidential Task-Force team demonstrated that consumers purchased alcohol and then loitered and consumed it within the peripheries of bars and other liquor outlets,” he said.
Attached to the affidavit as emphasis, were photographs and videos of Gaborone West, Phase 4 in mid-June 2021, which he explains circulated on social media and was brought to his attention.
“I need not say much about the photos as they depict a crowd exceeding 50 gathered at the parking area of a bar. There is little or no regard to Covid-19 protocols. It was clear to me and my advisors, including the Director of Health Services and members of the Presidential Task-Force team that the total ban of alcohol was necessary to manage the risk of increase in infections, to understand what seems to have led to an increase in the risk of infection when alcohol is present I was advised by the Presidential Task-Force team that scientifically there has been evidence that alcohol narrows physical distance,” he argued.
Masisi says that allegations made by KBL are serious allegations of infringement of fundamental rights yet they fail to state how imposition and reinstatement of the suspension of liquor licenses out of necessity and expediency of the health of the nation infringes on the rights as alleged.
In an embarrassing turn of events that depicts disintegration in government communication on the fight against COVID-19, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Assistant Minister of Health & Wellness, Sethomo Lelatisitswe gave two conflicting statements on the same matter, same day, just minutes apart.
The Commander-in-Chef told health practitioners and residents in Ramotswa that the COVAX facility has scammed African countries after billions were paid in a crowd funding effort to procure COVID-19 vaccines in bulk.
“We have pumped money as developing countries of the African continent into the COVAX Facility but the returns were not satisfactory, they cheated us,” the President said in Ramotswa.
According to President Masisi, the COVAX facility Vaccine only came in bits and pieces, frustrating the continent ‘s head immunity targets amid rapidly spreading Delta Variant which is currently reversing all progress made by Africa in containing the contagious virus.
“What we are getting is very small portions of the vaccine, they keep telling us that there is shortage of supply, this is not fair, but we have paid in advance, however what can we do, we have no choice but to spend more money and look for other avenues of securing other available vaccines,” he said.
Meanwhile in Gaborone, Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness told Parliament that vaccine from COVAX facility is anchoring Botswana’s vaccination program.
“I am not aware of such information that COVAX facility is not delivering as expected, we are actually bolstered by COVAX facility in this country,” he said responding to a question from Mahalapye West Member of Parliament David Tshere who is also Chairman of Parliament Committee On Health and HIV/AIDS.
“We have received doses as ordered from the COVAX facility, and we are still receiving more, I have not seen that information which is purported to have been revealed by the President, unless its new information, we as the Ministry we are not aware of any frustrations by the COVAX facility,” he said.
COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside key delivery partner UNICEF.
Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.
The facility is a global coalition that works to ensure fair and equitable access of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. So far, 190 countries have joined the COVAX initiative, including all 22 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.
The COVAX Facility aims to have 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution across the globe by the end of 2021, targeting those most at risk (e.g. frontline health workers) and most vulnerable severe diseases and death (e.g. elderly and people with co-morbidities).
On other vaccination issues President Masisi revealed, still in Greater Gaborone vaccination centre visits, that Botswana has placed orders with Pfizer, a United States vaccine producer noting that they have promised to deliver next year.
Meanwhile, government kick-started phase two of the Covid-19 vaccination program this week, opening up for ages between 30 and 54.
President Masisi revealed that this was done because some elderly were reluctant to be inculcated.
“We can’t take forever trying to convince people to take vaccine, we moved to the next age segments because we cannot afford to have vaccines-which are already in shortage supply to just lie there,” he said.
On Friday, Ministry of Health revealed that it was receiving large numbers of people below the age of 55 lining up to be vaccinated.
In a statement the Ministry of Health said it, “acknowledges the huge turnout that marked the commencement of the Phase two COVID-19 vaccination program”.
Given this high turnout, especially in the Greater Gaborone region, the ministry announced an extension of operation hours in order to serve the huge crowds that had come for vaccination.
Of the nearly 85 000 doses that were being doled across the country as first doses, the majority of the Greater Gaborone vaccination sites were already getting depleted by 1800hrs on 22 July 2021.
As a result of this development, the ministry took a decision to discontinue the extended hours of operation announced yesterday for vaccination sites in Gaborone.
This means that vaccination sites in Gaborone and elsewhere in the country which still have some vaccines, will offer them in the normal working hours and days of the week.
The Ministry says it appreciates the great desire to be vaccinated shown by thousands of citizens and residents of this country and wishes to assure them that it will continue to expedite their vaccination every time vaccines become available. As has been communicated in various fora, more vaccines are expected in August 2021.
As at July 2021, Botswana has so far received 62, 400 doses of AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD bought through the Covax facility, 30,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine donated by the Republic of India, 19, 890 doses of the Pfizer vaccine bought through the COVAX facility, 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, donated by the Peoples Republic of China and another 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine bought through bilateral negotiations with Sinovac company in China.
“We encourage Batswana to remain hopeful that although it’s taking longer than anticipated, enough COVID-19 vaccines will eventually arrive in our country. We urge them to always strictly abide by all COVID-19 protocols so that they protect themselves and others from this deadly virus,” the ministry said.