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.
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.
Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.
This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.
He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.
Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”
He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.
Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.
“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”
In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.
He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.” Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.
Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.
He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”
Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.
“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.
“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said. Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.
Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.