In the aftermath of the American presidential election on 2 November 2004, electronic voting machines were again in the news – computerised machines had lost votes, subtracted votes, and doubled some votes too. And because many of these machines had no paper audit trails, a large number of votes were lost for good and could not be counted.
Fast forward, and closer to home, Namibia, a neighbour with the same population as Botswana, same geographical spread, same literacy rate, and a similar political system dominated by one party, has in the recent past introduced electronic voting machines. So far there have been no qualms with this reform in Namibia.
The most technologically advanced democracy in the world is arguably America, and India is probably the biggest democracy because it has a large voting population. These two massive nations use the electronic voting machines, and America has been the benchmark of democracy to many young democracies. Namibia officials had globe trotted to have an understanding of the electronic voting machines and they are confident in their system.
Botswana has been using the ballot paper since 1965 when Sir Seretse Khama won the first election and became the Republican President. Other tweaks and manoeuvres have been occasioned over time on a piece meal approach, with the opposition preferring an overhaul of the country’s constitution. The biggest argument in Botswana has always been that policy and law is only influenced by the executive.
Today Botswana is pursuing the American dream and P150 million is on the table to actualise it.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Secretary, Gabriel Seeletso told the media this week that the changes to the Electoral Law were instigated by the Executive and they are ready to implement the law. He says the blame should not be directed at the IEC but rather Parliament which was given an opportunity to debate and pass the law.
With Namibia having set the trend within SADC, Botswana is following suit after an Electoral Act amendment was hastily passed by the last sitting of Parliament. President Lt Gen Ian Khama has quickly signed it into law, which means in 2019, Botswana will use electronic voting machines for the first time after 53 years of democracy.
The opposition is not amused; the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) want to throw the spanner into the works by challenging President Khama’s decision in court over the Electoral Act amendment. Through various statements, the opposition politicians have made it abundantly clear that they are not in support of the electronic voting machines and other sweeping changes in the Electoral Act amendment law.
Most seriously, they are threatening to boycott the national elections in 2019, with the Umbrella partner, Botswana National Front (BNF) being the most vociferous when it comes to this pronouncement. But in his usual defiance mode, President Khama signed the amendments into law at the peak of opposition voices against the law, “it is an ‘I do not care what you think’ attitude,” quips Dithapelo Keorapetse, BCP spokesperson.
He says even the most sophisticated democracies have had problems with the voting machines. There is need for proper consultation and benchmarking, “we are worried as to why the rush,” he says pointing out the problems encountered by America in 2004 and before. “We are serious about litigation.”
MISTRUST AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES
A sharp emphasis by the opposition is also on the scrapping off of the supplementary registration exercise which was designed to address voter apathy by encouraging more people to register to vote. This time around, it will just be one round of registration. Interestingly this change was first mooted at a ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) gathering by President Khama. The opposition is concerned that this move will disenfranchise many voters come 2019. They are of the view that there was no consultation when these far reaching changes were made, and they are probably self-serving to the BDP. Moeti Mohwasa of the UDC is of the view that the BDP’s authoritarian approach to this issue has the potential to destabilise the peace of the country, “when you disenfranchise people, you are inviting trouble,” he said.
The Opposition says in the rush to improve speed and scalability, accuracy could be sacrificed. Dithapelo emphasises that accuracy is not how well the ballots are counted by, say, a punch-card reader but it is how well the process translates voter intent into appropriately counted votes. As expected, the opposition says another issue is that the software for the electronic voting machine can be ‘hacked’. That is, someone can deliberately introduce an error that modifies the result in favour of his preferred candidate. The UDC and the BCP have never trusted the country’s intelligence agency, the Directorate in Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), especially its Director General, Isaac Kgosi, because of his close association with President Khama. To advance their antagonism to the debate they roped in the DIS into the Electoral reforms debate.
Experts in this EVM technology continue to argue in favour of EVMs. “This doesn’t mean that these machines should be abandoned, but they need to be designed to increase both their accuracy, and peoples’ trust in their accuracy.” Some Members of Parliament were recently sent out on a benchmarking tour to learn more about EVMs, these included Ngaka Ngaka of the BDP, Dithapelo Keorapetse of the BCP and Ndaba Gaolathe of the UDC. It remains to be seen where this debate is heading but the writing is on the wall, Khama will not retract his signature and seems determined to go ahead with the amendments.
The IEC at the press conference on Wednesday promised a thorough voter education exercise to sell the story of how the machine they intend to procure will allow for a process that is auditable, transparent and secure. Seeletso and his team take a leaf from other countries, particularly large ones like Brazil, India and the Philippines, where electronic voting and electronic counting means that people can get official election results within hours, instead of weeks. They are of the view that this builds trust.
But the IEC has always struggled to reach a 75 percent target of registered voters. It remains to be seen if the EVMs would invite more voters, or turn them away. The general view is that electronic voting is very good at making voting more accessible, meaning it’s easier for people with disability to vote independently.
THE BDP HYPOTHESIS: The BOFEPUSU factor
Meanwhile a soul searching probe by this publication has revealed that the ruling BDP has a theory that the opposition is afraid of losing control over the voting process. The BDP hypothesis is that the opposition was confident that with the civil servants at the heart of the electoral process at voter registration, counting centres and other streams, they had an advantage over the ruling party which has agitated the working class in the recent. “They fear that the voting machines are taking the power away from the hands of the civil servants who could be party to some potentially manipulative antics when it comes to ballot voting especially when it comes to ballot bundling at counting period.” It is clear that there are counter accusations and those in the driving seat will push their agenda anyway. The law is such that when an electoral officer declares a winner at the counting centre a court of law can reverse it, and it is not an overnight exercise, it takes months. And surely the likelihood of events overtaking the court process is very high.
The IEC has a theory that the Electronic voting machines should be built to order and they have specifications for their choice of machine which they intend to sell to political parties and the public. They believe that every country has different needs. That’s why every electronic voting solution is designed different. IEC says the system should be designed to meet your country’s laws and requirements, we can guarantee one thing – that it will lead to fast, legitimate results.
While it takes a lot to penetrate and thrive in the male dominated political space in Botswana, Block 3 Ward councillor Motamma Horatius, is one of the few females defying the odds.
Driven by passion, Horatius has always worn many hats and today she has become one of the few women who are thriving in the political space in Botswana. Prior to pursuing politics, she was an active participated in the creative space.
Horatius, a beauty queen, notably famous for her reign as Miss World Tourism Botswana represented Botswana in a television show famously known as Big Brother Africa. During her stay in the house, she got termed darling of the continent for an outstanding performance that promoted unity, humility and culture.
After serving for some time in public space, and making a name for herself as well as serving as a brand ambassador she decided to step in a career that will forever challenge her. This was after she had travelled the world and demonstrated her unique leadership skills and brilliance.
“I stopped and asked myself why am I not incorporating this brilliance back home. And wherever you go worldwide Botswana with all her faults is a beacon of hope in everything. And even successful countries came here to benchmark and implemented our policies and are flourishing such as Rwanda. So I decided to join active politics and go straight to the ruling party to add a youthful feel to an already existing force and help modernise it to serve better not from afar but from within,” she clarified.
“So my ample experience in civic leadership across countries around the world catapulted me to join active politics because I wondered, if I can do as much as an individual even across nations, how much can I do whilst in office, locally. And I chose to start from the ground up, in order to avoid leaving the locals behind.”
The stern and tenacious young leader, currently sit as the Chairperson of Finance Committee at Gaborone City Council, and also chairs Performance Monitoring Committee.
While a typical girl would dream of becoming either a nurse or choose a ‘girl’ orientated deemed career, she had a heart for politics from a very young age. By the time she left the creative space, she had already made a name for herself, that she needed no introduction.
“I had to acknowledge first that I am a woman, and being a woman means you have to work 200 percent more than your male counterparts. So it took sleeplessness nights, and a massive amount of working smart to win legitimately,” she said.
She acknowledges that she faced a lot of challenges during the 2019 elections which she had to overcome through the assistance of her loved ones and family.
“Politics is expensive but I managed by God’s grace, family, friends, acquaintances and good Samaritans but my mind helped. I am a very good planner when it comes to execution,” she said.
“Another hurdle is, being a young woman, I had conceived during the time of primary elections; so campaigning whilst expectant, managing your emotions through betrayals, insults, stress, house-to-house then giving birth and having to hit the ground in less than two weeks having given birth via C-section, was a hurdle I overcame by God’s mercy and I am thankful to my family for helping me with the kids because politics means a lot of time away from home.”
“Another hurdle was to portray an all rounded culturally grounded Motswana woman soft but yet stern, respectful but can articulate issues well. Because even though we are civilized our society still upholds unwritten yet practiced values of what a woman is and what a man is, and if you defy societal expectations, it judges you harshly. But thankfully I remained focused on who I was and didn’t try alternate anything When I lost some of the original members of my campaign team. The pain was deep. But I wiped my tears. Soldiered on, and God increased twice the initial number.”
At some point she had to face demeaning words from other male contestants, but the best to do at the time was to shun negativity and stay focused. Male intimidation never tugged her down.
“My experience with 2019 elections was rather inclined to learning as it was my first time running for office as a politician, so I wanted to see if really hard work has results because I always hear stories of how people are bought,” she said.
“So since I was not buying anyone, I was on a learning curve to test my hard work style of delivery against what is believed out there. So it was exciting and again I say it was a learning curve as most NGOs fighting to increase women participation in politics were continuously training us.’
Despite everything she feels women political participation in Botswana is still low. She has pleaded with the media to cover them more often as she believes maybe it will help more women to run for office.
Botswana has few women in parliament, giving men dominance in policy decisions. In a 63-seat parliament, Botswana has only seven female MPs, four of them being specially elected lawmakers.
According to the 2019 edition of the biennial Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Map of Women in Politics. Among the top African countries with a high percentage of women in ministerial positions are Rwanda (51.9%), South Africa (48.6%), Ethiopia (47.6%), Seychelles (45.5%), Uganda (36.7%) and Mali (34.4%).
The lowest percentage in Africa was in Morocco (5.6%), which has only one female minister in a cabinet of 18.
Other countries with fewer than 10% women ministers include Nigeria (8%), Mauritius (8.7%) and Sudan (9.5%).Other African countries with high percentages of women MPs include Namibia (46.2%), South Africa (42.7%) and Senegal (41.8%), according to the report.
Though a slight increase, Botswana is still lagging behind when it comes to women political participation.
According to a report made by IEC for the 2019 elections, there is 11.1% women representation in parliament. There has been a 1.6% slight increase from the 2019 election compared to the 2014 elections.
According to United Nations, there are two main obstacles that prevent women from participating fully in political life.
These are structural barriers, whereby discriminatory laws and institutions still limit women’s ability to run for office, and capacity gaps, which occur when women are less likely than men to have the education, contacts and resources needed to become effective leaders.
As it stands though, Botswana has continued to recognize gender equality as central to socio-economic, political and cultural development through its National Vision 2036.
Following the adoption of the National Policy on Gender and Development in 2015, the National Gender Commission was established in September 2016, to monitor implementation of the policy.
Government ministries and departments have moved to cut expenditure in the last quarter of financial year in order to survive the economic hardship occasioned by the covid-19 pandemic. Since the outbreak, Government and the private sector have been hard hit financially due to limited economic activity brought about by government response to fighting the pandemic.
In an urgent savingram by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Molefi Keaja addressed to all council secretaries and town clerks, the government informs that it is facing unprecedented budgetary challenges for Financial Year 2020/2021.
“This has necessitated measures to be put in place to conserve cash and ensure that government is able to honour its financial obligations in the remaining (3) months of the financial year,” said the savingram dated 24 December 2020.
The Government has cut all travel by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) including State owned entities (SOEs) and Local Authorities until the next financial year in April 2021. It has also taken a decision that all meetings, interviews, seminars, workshops, conferences, retreats, annual ceremonies and hospitality events should be conducted virtually, which save on the cost of securing venues, conference facilities and meals/refreshments.
“No replenishment of refreshments for the Executive Cadre (E2 salary scale and above) until the end of the financial year,” Keaja directed. Last year government also resolved that due to the financial effects of Covid-19 the government will no longer recruit for any jobs during the 2020/2021 financial year.
The Cabinet directed that the 2020/2021 provision for vacancies be withdrawn from Ministries, Departments and Agencies recurrent budgets to cater for supplementary estimates. According to the saving gram then by the Directorate on Public Service Management (DPSM) said the country faces fiscal challenges which have been accentuated by the emergence and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amongst key ministries and departments affected were the Botswana Defence Force, National Strategy Office, Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS), Commissioner of Police, Commissioner of Prisons, Clerk of National Assembly and the Directorate on Corruption & Economic Crime (DCEC).
It further deliberated that all various institutions that had begun recruitment for existing vacant positions be frozen for the remaining period of the 2020/2021 financial year. “Since funds for the vacancies will only be recruited in the next financial year 2020/20121, Ministries, Department and Agencies are advised to discontinue recruitment into such vacancies until 1st April 2021. Those who are already at an advanced stage of recruitment process are advised to withhold appointments until further notice.”
The Director of Directorate on Public Service Management (DPSM), Goitseone Mosalakatane, told the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in September that despite the high unemployment rate, they cannot hire for the posts because part of the funds have been withdrawn to fight the Coronavirus.
With just a few days into the New Year, Covid-19 seems to be taking its toll and its effects will be felt vastly in the long run. Countries worldwide, including Botswana are injecting in millions of money in the fight against the deadly virus therefore placing immense uncertainty on country’s economy.
When delivering his speech at last year’s State of Nation Address President Mokgweetsi Masisi said during 2020, the domestic economy was expected to contract by 8.9 percent indicating that this is attributed to an expected sharp decline in major sectors such as mining, (minus 24.5 percent); trade, hotels and restaurants (minus 27.4 percent); construction (minus 6 percent); manufacturing (minus 3.9 percent); and transport and communications (minus 2.5 percent).
However, he assured that the economy is expected to rebound during 2021, with overall growth projected at 7.7 percent. The anticipated recovery will be driven by a rebound in growth of some major sectors such as mining (14.4 percent), trade, hotels and restaurants (18.8 percent), and transport and communications (4.2 percent).
Furthermore, Masisi pointed out that the recovery will also be supported by the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan currently being implemented by Government. “It is critical to note that these projections are dependent on, among others, the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions.
These containment measures have the effect of reducing spending by firms and households and causing supply-chain disruptions. Beyond this, the recovery phase will be influenced by confidence effects on households and businesses; sectoral transformation and changes in work patterns; as well as prospects for the recovery of global financial markets and commodity prices.”
Emphasising this, he explained that despite the challenges of COVID-19 there still remains the delicate balance of opening the economy whilst containing the disease burden. “Inflation according to the latest data from Statistics Botswana, inflation fell significantly from 2.2 percent in September 2019 to 1.8 percent in September 2020, remaining below the lower bound of the Bank of Botswana’s medium-term objective range of 3 to 6 percent,” he said.
The significant decline in inflation mainly reflects the downward adjustment in fuel prices in June 2020. However, inflation may rise above the current forecasts if the international commodity prices increase beyond current projections and in the event of upward price pressures occasioned by supply constraints due to travel restrictions and lockdowns.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) last year had to cancel its elective congress due to the strict measures that had to be put in place due to Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.
Two other party events Women’s Wing Congress including the much anticipated victorious election celebration were also postponed due to the pandemic as gatherings were cancelled indefinitely. However the BDP is adamant that the party will be able to hold its National Congress and all other events that had been frozen this year.
Speaking to this publication chairman of BDP Communication & International Relations Sub-Committee Kagelelo Kentse said that the party was readying itself for the congress with the main objective being to review resolutions that were taken at their 38th National Congress in Mochudi in 2019. Emphasising this, Kentse said it was commendable that most of the resolutions taken in 2019 have by far been fulfilled.
Moreover, he said it would mean a lot for the party to be able to meet at the congress, this he said would give them the opportunity to introspect and reflect with regards to their manifesto. In 2019 the BDP made about eleven resolutions of which five of these were resolved and gazetted. The abridged resolutions were that the amendment of the law to allow agricultural land owners to use up to 50 percent of their land for non-core purposes, to amend the law to cancel transfer duty on property transferred between the spouses.
President Masisi also passed a law to allow married couples to be independently allocated land and increase threshold for non-payment of transfer on property acquired from P250k to P750k. On the resolution in the tourism sector, Kentse said efforts are very advanced to have local play a part. He said there is ongoing work with the Ministry of Lands on concessions that will be allocated to citizens.
According to the BDP communications chair the Ministry of Tourism has availed more opportunities in dams for tourism thus far, having already issued expression of interest for Letsibogo, Dikgatlhong, and Gaborone dams. Citizens are said to have applied for tenders which are currently under evaluation. There are about 45 campsites set aside for citizens in game reserves and forest reserves for tourism.
The resolution on the declaration of assets and liabilities law which was passed and amended this year, was supported by all legislators including those from opposition. Emphasising this he explained that contentions were on issues to do with valuations, and leaders have started declaring.
With the Congress comprising of the elective congress, the BDP is yet to embark on it an objective Kentse said is on their to do list this year even though the calendar of events has not yet been made. The elective congress has aroused interest, especially the Secretary General position which has attracted a number of participants of which observers believe will accord the incumbent, Mpho Balopi, the current secretary general, the opportunity to buy time if at all he will seek re-election in the position.