As Botswana heads to the polls in October, a coalition of opposition groups – the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) – are emerging as strong challengers after forging an alliance with former president Ian Khama.
For the first time, one of Africa’s oldest democracies may see power handed over to the opposition, replacing the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) that has run the southern African nation since independence.
Since the dawn of independence from the United Kingdom in 1966, mineral-rich Botswana has become a poster child for stability in Africa. It holds regular elections, while successive governments have avoided the resource curse by investing the proceeds of its lucrative diamond industry in education and infrastructure. Botswana’s GDP per capita has surged from around US$70 per year in the late 1960s to $8,259 in 2018.
The country now stands at a cross-roads. Ian Khama, the former president and son of Botswana’s founding father, has allied himself with the opposition coalition, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).
Khama quit the ruling Botswana Democratic Party that was co-founded by his father last year, when his anointed successor President Mokgweetsi Masisi sidelined the former president after taking power.
Masisi revoked Khama’s access to state aircraft and sacked his allies in positions of power, according to reports. Masisi also enraged his former mentor, an ardent conservationist, by lifting a ban Khama enacted on elephant hunting.
Khama as king-maker
After leaving the party in 2018, Khama formed the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF), who have since declared their allegiance to the UDC.
The country’s last election in 2014 was close. The opposition won 53.6% of the popular vote, but the BDP retained power because of the country’s first-past-the-post electoral system.
With Khama having exceeded the maximum of two five year-terms in office, leader of the opposition Duma Boko will be the coalition’s candidate.
In his election manifesto, Boko slams the government for lacking vision and a coherent policy programme, accusing President Masisi of “calculated ambiguity on key issues and artful procrastination on pressing decisions.”
“His government is at an impasse, transfixed and paralyzed into terminal passivity,” he declares.
Boko, a Harvard graduate and lawyer by trade, says his first priority after taking power would be bringing the government into the 21st century with reforms to modernise and digitise government institutions.
“E-government must be made to work but it won’t work when you lead a government in which it is acceptable to tell citizens and firms that there is “no network” or the “system is down”. Our people have a right to a reliable internet connectivity and systems that always work.”
Boko also promises to recast an economy heavily reliant on mineral revenues, particularly, diamonds.
“We have lived through this model’s success and we know its limitations. It has given us fast-paced but jobless growth. It has entrenched dependence on the state which carries with it significant risks to long-term sustainability.”
Botswana’s economic growth expected to rebound in 2018 on the back of higher diamond sales, a stable macroeconomic environment, and higher government spending, the IMF reported following a mission in 2018.
According to Boko the economy needs to focus more on the private sector and enact reforms that improve the business environment with fast internet and electricity in order to unleash the potential of entrepreneurs and SSMEs. A much-needed overhaul of the education system will also prepare students and school children for the jobs of future, he adds.
“We need first rate public schools and a first rate public health system to develop the human capital we need for the future.”