On 13 November 2009, The Philadelphia Inquirer carried a headline that read ‘Palestinian vote is postponed’. The paper quoted an Associated Press report that the Palestinian Election Commission (PLC) ruled that the scheduled 24th January 2010 elections should be postponed because of opposition from Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip part of Palestine.
On 15 November 2009, the Christian Science Monitor carried an interview with a Canadian elections and political expert who stated that the PLC had always maintained neutrality and an arm’s length from politics, and that their position was ‘if we can’t have elections everywhere, then we cannot do our job’ if Hamas is not going to participate.
On 21 January 2008,Mmegi, one of Botswana’s independent newspapers, carried a headline that read ‘IEC awaits by-election dates’. In an interview with the newspaper, the Secretary of the IEC was quoted as saying that his office was yet to receive dates for upcoming bi-elections from the Minister of Local Government.
In the same interview, the IEC Secretary also noted that his office was also waiting for the President to announce the dates for bi-elections for two constituencies whose parliamentary seats were recently left vacant by the resignations of parliamentarians.
These are very contrasting reactions concerning the date of elections from two EMBs from two different jurisdictions: the first from Botswana, a country often referred to as an exemplar of democracy in Africa, and the second from occupied Palestine.
Whilst Botswana’s EMB has to wait to hear from the Executive before it can make preparations for a pending election, the Palestinian’s EMB, of its own volition, decides to postpone the elections in order to accommodate the opposition!
In Botswana, the choice of date for the Election Day is one of the contentious issues that confronts Botswana’s electoral management system. This problem arises from Botswana’s amended Electoral Act.
According to Section 34 of the Act, for the purpose of general elections to the National Assembly, or a bi-election, it is the President who shall issue a Writ of Elections addressed to the returning officer of each constituency, fixing the place, day, and hours between which the returning officer will receive nominations of candidates, and the day for taking any poll which may become necessary.
In the case of the elections of representatives to local government, the Act states that it is the Minister of Local Government who shall issue an Election Instrument fixing the place, day, and hours between which the returning officer will receive nominations of candidates and the day for taking any poll which may become necessary. It is contended here that if the IEC is to fulfil its mandate to ensure free and fair elections, then it should be the IEC, and not the State President or a minister, who should issue writ of elections.
According to Tshosa (2007) this is another instance of the unfairness, rather than the unfreeness, of the elections process in Botswana. As Tshosa posits, the issue at stake concerns the fairness of the election rather than the freeness of election because the freeness of elections in Botswana has never really been a problem: every eligible voter can freely participate in the elections, provided he/she has registered as a voter. The Electoral Act, as it currently stands, clearly advantages the ruling party by giving the prerogative to issue elections writ to interested parties.
This can be demonstrated by examining, for example, a bi-election in 2013. The facts of the matter are as follows: following a dispute between the ruling party candidates about the outcome of the primary elections, one candidate went to the High Court to seek an injunction to stop the other candidate from being registered as the ruling party candidate. The High Court agreed with the applicant and issued a Court order barring the other candidate from registering as a candidate.
Pursuant to the Court Order, the Returning Officer refused the nomination of the ruling party candidate. The ruling party again returned to the High Court to contest the IEC refusal to accept the registration of its candidate, but lost with costs.
When the IEC announced that it would go ahead with the elections, even without the ruling party candidate, the ruling party Electoral Board Chairman was quoted as saying that his party still had hopes of contesting the bi-election because President Khama has the powers to withdraw the bi-election writ and issue a new one. In an urgent application to the Court of Appeal, the ruling BDP asked the Court to review and set aside the IEC’s decision to refuse to accept the nomination papers of its candidate.
Then, on 22 November 2013, a petition signed by about 1600 people from the constituency was handed to the District Commissioner, calling for the nullification of the existing writ and for a fresh writ for the bi-election to allow the ruling party to participate.
A day before the bi-elections, the President invoked section 46 of the Electoral Act, and postponed the bi-election from 23 November 2013 to 25 January 2014, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so. The relevant section states that if the President is satisfied that it is in the public interest, he may by proclamation adjourn the poll to some other day.
On 11 December 2013 the Court of Appeal dismissed the BDP case with costs, meaning that the election would go ahead without the BDP candidate. When the bye-election eventually took place on the 25 January 2014, it was won by the opposition.
Botswana Congress Party candidate, much to the chagrin of the ruling BDP. What is interesting is that, throughout this saga, the IEC was completely marginalised. But a forensic report by a South African-based Forensic Document Consultant exposed the petition as fraudulent as some ruling BDP political activists had forged signatures of ‘petitioners’, hoping that the postponement would somehow assist the party to field a candidate.
The foregoing analysis of Botswana’s post-independence elections history is a departure from the traditional focus on the freeness of elections that has, over the years, been given considerable attention by several commentators and observers.
The analysis seeks to draw attention to factors critical to the fairness of elections. It is argued that, whilst elections have always been free to the extent that every eligible voter could vote, Botswana’s EMB is powerless to level the electoral playing field to ensure that elections are also fair.
The legal and political framework within which Botswana’s EMB operates is such that it would not have the ability or leverage to create a level playing field by ensuring that elections are also fair.
The most critical issues offairness raised in the analysis include the following: (1) Botswana’s EMB reliance on public officers who are bound by the Public Service Act to be loyal to the government of the day, (2) lack of equal access to public media and the abuse of public officers working for the state/public media as propagandists for the ruling party and (3) the choice of election date which is the prerogative of the President or his minister and therefore advantages the ruling party.
With regard to access to public media, which dominates the country’s media landscape, it has been pointed out that the state/public media are located in the Office of the President, and are part of the Executive arm of government.
Because of this arrangement, the ruling party is given extensive coverage, and the state/public media effectively ‘merchandises’ the ruling party, whilst the EMB remains impotent and unable to ensure equitable access of all political parties to these state resources.
The growing consensus is that the fairness of an election will require, inter alia, equal opportunity for all political parties (not just the ruling party) to publicly owned resources, including the media, to effectively sell or merchandise their products in the form of party manifestoes.
With regard to the elections dates, it has been pointed out that the election dates for both the general elections and bye-elections of members of parliament and local government are not set by the EMB, but by the Executive, who would obviously have a vested interest in the outcome of such elections.
The choice of the election date by the Executive gives the ruling party undue advantage, as this amount to using inside information. It can be argued that in establishing the EMB Botswana has not really made a clean break with the past.
The transition from government supervised elections to an independent electoral management model has not been fully completed. In this regard it can be argued that elections in Botswana will probably continue to be free, as has been the case for the last 11 general elections, but the elections will not necessarily be fair.
Simply put, the Botswana EMB can only ensure that elections in Botswana are conducted efficiently, properly and freely, but cannot deliver on the fourth component of its mandate, namely, that elections are also conducted fairly.
In this regard it is important to observe that neither the Botswana Constitution nor the Electoral Act expressly guarantees the independence of the IEC, something that is regarded by many as an unfortunate oversight, but which, on the basis of the foregoing assessment, may very well have been by design.
Article extracted from Monageng Mogalakwe (2015) An assessment of Botswana's electoral management body to deliver fair elections, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 33:1,105-120, DOI: 10.1080/02589001.2015.1021210
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.