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.
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”