Amid eight consecutive losses in bye-elections since the 2014 general elections by the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP); water and electricity challenges, an Afrobarometer study on Viability of Opposition Parties in Africa: Popular views – has established Botswana as one of the countries with only a semi-viable opposition.
The study indicates that while these cases exceed the Afrobarometer mean (with 42% to 50%), they lack a majority of citizens who perceive opposition viability. The ruling BDP has experienced a decline in popular vote, dropping to just below 50 percent in 2014. For the first time in history the opposition has 20 Members of Parliament. However according to the study, Batswana still have trust issues with opposition institutions.
“In other words, opposition parties enjoy a measure of popular credibility but have yet to cross critical thresholds that would enable electoral victory or alternation of government. The five countries in this category are: Tanzania, Togo, Mali, Botswana, and Zambia. Of these, only Mali and Zambia have undergone alternations in the past decade,” reads the study finding.
Botswana opposition parties, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) are working towards a united onslaught on the ruling BDP, a move that is expected to raise the level of their viability. The study results were released on 26th August 2015.
While the study does not demonstrate the sampling of those interviewed in Botswana, observers assume the sampling could have left out the majority of those who voted in 2014. Botswana has a population of just over 2 million and less than 700 000 voted in the last election.
According to the latest Afrobarometer results (2014-2015), four countries that currently fall into the category of countries with a viable opposition are: Malawi, Madagascar, Namibia, and Ghana. Three of these four have experienced alternations (Ghana, Madagascar, and Malawi).
The fourth, Namibia, resembles Tanzania in that both ruling and opposition parties seem to enjoy relatively high standing. In these places, a majority of citizens (51% or more) think that the opposition has a vision and plan for the country and, by implication, is therefore qualified to form a government.
Countries with non-viable oppositions: In all remaining countries, citizens see the opposition as falling short (often well short) of being an electoral threat to incumbents or a realistic government-in-waiting. This group of 11 countries constitutes more than half of the country sample and may therefore be most representative of the continent as a whole.
The Afrobarometer survey on 20 African countries, that included Botswana, established that African citizens consistently grant the lowest levels of trust to opposition parties. According to the study Afrobarometer rankings of trusted institutions – led by religious leaders, the army, and government broadcasters – consistently place opposition parties dead last.
Indeed, trust in the ruling party exceeds trust in the opposition in 16 out of 20
Afrobarometer countries in 2015, though the gap is very small in Benin, and in Madagascar no party attracts much trust.
By contrast, citizens trust opposition parties more than ruling parties in just four countries: barely so in Nigeria (where again, trust levels are very low for both parties) and Cape Verde (the trust gap is within the surveys’ margin of sampling error for both countries), but by meaningful gaps in Ghana and Malawi (where citizens favour the opposition by 9 and 13 percentage points, respectively).
The Afrobarometer study indicates that more than half (53%) of Africans interviewed in 2005 said that they trusted ruling parties “somewhat” or “a lot,” but just over one-third (36%) said the same about opposition parties. While this trust gap has closed significantly over time, dropping from 17 percentage points to 9, the change is due more to declining popular trust in ruling parties (down an average 5 percentage points between 2005 and 2015, to 48%) than rising popular trust in opposition parties (up an average of 3 percentage points, to 39%).
“Average continental patterns again conceal important country differences. Among the countries with the largest gaps in favour of incumbent rulers, there are several –including Namibia (25 -percentage-point gap), Botswana (23-point gap), and Tanzania (17-point gap) – that possess one – party dominant systems. We also find Burundi (29-point-gap) and Zimbabwe (20 points), both of which are ruled by strongmen who have manipulated rules to undermine opposition parties and maintain their hold on power. Others, such as Mali (16 points), Lesotho (16 points), and Kenya (15 points), are generally more competitive, but the ruling party nonetheless has a strong trust advantage,” observes the study findings.
Role of the opposition
“Majorities of citizens in most countries agree that opposition parties should exist, contest elections, and offer voters electoral choices. But what do people think opposition parties should do for the rest of the time, that is, in the long intervals between elections? The classic view of the opposition’s role in a democracy is that it should be a watchdog – and inevitably a critic – of government, checking the activities of public officials and holding them politically accountable.”
But Afrobarometer results reveal that Africans generally do not subscribe to this vision. On average across 20 countries, only one-fourth (27%) of survey respondents consider that “opposition parties should monitor and criticize government in order to hold it accountable”.
Rather, strong majorities in almost every country –ranging from 61% in Ghana to 82% in Botswana and Senegal –instead want opposition parties to “cooperate with the government and help it develop the country.”
The study demonstrates that 16 percent of Batswana want the opposition to criticise and monitor government while an overwhelming 82 percent want opposition to cooperate with government and develop the country.
“Moreover, across countries, the range of support for multiparty politics is wide, from a high of 82% in Côted’Ivoire (which approaches a critical contest in October 2015) to a low of 42% in Senegal. In one of the few questions that could be asked about multiparty competition in Swaziland, support is even lower, at just 31%. In this context, where it is unclear whether political parties are legal, 64% of Swazis believe that parties are too divisive for the country,” reads the study.
The average level of popular support for a multiparty system has held steady over time. In the 15 countries for which Afrobarometer currently has trend data, multiparty competition is favoured by about the same proportion in 2015 (65%) as in 2005 (64%).
Explaining opposition viability
According to the study, people’s hopes that the opposition will effectively fight corruption have a greater effect on perceptions of opposition viability than does its expected role in controlling prices. Indeed, among the four policy issues considered, the opposition’s expected performance at combatting corruption (relative to that of the incumbent party) has the biggest impact on whether people come to see the political opposition as viable. The study further points out that on a related point, citizens who perceive an absence of policy difference between ruling and opposition parties are significantly less likely to regard the opposition as politically viable.
“This suggests that, even if many Africans want opposition parties to work in concert with the incumbent government (rather than against it), they would still like to see a wider range of available policy options. That being said, we confirm an emerging impression that electoral alternation is unrelated to popular perceptions of opposition viability. This unexpected result implies that former ruling parties that are now in opposition are no longer imagined by the general public as a viable alternative government. It may also be the case that a country’s experience of electoral alternation is no guarantee that future turnovers of government will take place. Further research is required on this important subject.”
The researchers write that although African citizens claim to base their judgments about political parties primarily on policy considerations, they are, in fact, driven by the stronger sentiment of institutional trust. In other words, citizens judge the viability of political opposition in Africa in the first instance on whether they think they can trust these institutions.
“We therefore think that public judgments of policy differences between parties are likely to be a product of underlying relationships of trust, rather than vice versa. And since trust is likely to be shaped in good part by what citizens feel about the patrons who lead Africa’s political parties, we remain on the side of those who argue that patronage continues to trump policy in the formation of public attitudes toward parties in Africa,” reads the study.
According to the study most analysts agree that political parties in Africa are built around the distribution of patronage resources rather than the promotion of policy platforms.
“A somewhat different picture emerges when the opinions of citizens are sought on this subject. Asked about the “most important difference between ruling and opposition parties,” a plurality of citizens (23%) claim to distinguish them based on their “economic and development policies”; fully 40% of Malawians claim to perceive policy differences, compared to just 11% in Mali.”
“The extent to which this unexpected response reflects social desirability or policy sophistication is unclear. In fact, the second-most-common response is that there is “no difference” between the parties (18%), which ranked as the top response in six of the 20 countries. Citizens otherwise mention personal characteristics of party leaders –such as their perceived “honesty” (17%), “experience” (15%), or “personality” (7%) –that seem to describe the attributes of political patrons (and that together amount to 39% of all responses). Finally, even if Africans ultimately vote in blocs, they claim that considerations of social identity –whether ethnic, regional, or religious (together 9%) –play little role in the way they distinguish among political parties.”
The Spokesperson for the country’s main opposition party, UDC, Moeti Mohwasa is not pleased with the results of the study as he is of the view that they are a mismatch of what is happening on the ground.
“I don’t know what to say any more about Afrobarometer. It has been proven in the past that their measures are far from correct. If the opposition got 53% of popular vote in the last general elections (2014) you cannot say they are less vibrant than the ruling party. Why would the people vote for the opposition if only 36% of them trust it! It does not make any sense,” Mohwasa pointed out.
In fact he says he is disappointed by the results which he says have a huge margin of error.
“If the ruling party commanded such large amount of trust, then we should have seen people voting for it in overwhelmingly large numbers and it was not the case when the country went for elections last year. In fact I believe the opposition is going to upset the BDP’s gains even some more in the coming elections because the UDC is hoping to have talks with the BCP very soon,” Mohwasa further stated.
While there is no hard-and-fast rule in politics, former Molepolole North Member of Parliament, Mohamed Khan says populism acts in the body politic have forced him to quit active partisan politics. He brands this ancient ascription of politics as fake and says it lowers the moral compass of the society.
Khan who finally tasted political victory in the 2014 elections after numerous failed attempts, has decided to leave the ‘dirty game’, and on his way out he characteristically lashed at the current political leaders; including his own party president, Advocate Duma Boko. “I arrived at this decision because I have noticed that there are no genuine politics and politicians. The current leaders, Boko and President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi are fake politicians who are just practicing populist politics to feed their egos,” he said.
Former Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) parliamentary hopeful, Lawrence Ookeditse has rejected the idea of taking up a crucial role in the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) Central Committee following his arrival in the party this week. According to sources close to development, BPF power brokers are coaxing Ookeditse to take up the secretary general position, left vacant by death of Roseline Panzirah-Matshome in November 2020.
Ookeditse’s arrival at BPF is projected to cause conflicts, as some believe they are being overlooked, in favour of a new arrival. The former ruling party strategist has however ruled out the possibility of serving in the party central committee as secretary general, and committed that he will turn down the overture if availed to him by party leadership.
Ookeditse, nevertheless, has indicated that if offered another opportunity to serve in a different capacity, he will gladly accept. “I still need to learn the party, how it functions and all its structures; I must be guided, but given any responsibility I will serve the party as long as it is not the SG position.”
“I joined the BPF with a clear conscious, to further advance my voice and the interests of the constituents of Nata/Gweta which I believe the BDP is no longer capable to execute.” Ookeditse speaks of abject poverty in his constituency and prevalent unemployment among the youth, issues he hopes his new home will prioritise.
He dismissed further allegations that he resigned from the BDP because he was not rewarded for his efforts towards the 2019 general elections. After losing in the BDP primaries in 2018, Ookeditse said, he was offered a job in government but declined to take the post due to his political ambitions. Ookeditse stated that he rejected the offer because, working for government clashed with his political journey.
He insists there are many activists who are more deserving than him; he could have chosen to take up the opportunity that was before him but his conscious for the entire populace’s wellbeing held him back. Ookeditse said there many people in the party who also contributed towards party success, asserting that he only left the BDP because he was concerned about the greater good of the majority not individualism purposes.
According to observers, Ookeditse has been enticed by the prospects of contesting Nata/Gweta constituency in the 2024 general election, following the party’s impressive performance in the last general elections. Nata/Gweta which is a traditional BDP stronghold saw its numbers shrinking to a margin of 1568. BDP represented by Polson Majaga garnered 4754, while BPF which had fielded Joe Linga received 3186 with UDC coming a distant with 1442 votes.
There are reports that Linga will pave way for Ookeditse to contest the constituency in 2024 and the latter is upbeat about the prospects of being elected to parliament. Despite Ookeditse dismissing reports that he is eying the secretary general position, insiders argue that the position will be availed to him nevertheless.
Alternative favourite for the position is Vuyo Notha who is the party Deputy Secretary General. Notha has since assumed duties of the secretariat office on the interim basis. BPF politburo is expected to meet on 25th of January 2020, where the vacancy will be filled.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) big wigs have decided to cancel a retreat with the party legislators this weekend owing to increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases. The meeting was billed for this weekend at a place that was to be confirmed, however a communique from the party this past Tuesday reversed the highly anticipated meeting.
“We received a communication this week that the meeting will not go as planned because of rapid spread of Covid-19,” one member of the party Central Committee confirmed to this publication. The gathering was to follow the first of its kind held late last year at party Treasurer Satar Dada’s place.