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Officially, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and the Botswana Patriotic Front BPF) are not working together but the two parties have clearly established common ground on one very important electoral issue – the 2008-2018 corruption.
Historically, opposition parties across the globe are able to talk freely and vociferously about corruption. However, something ahistorical is happening in Botswana this election cycle. By the estimate of the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank, Botswana’s corruption shot up by a historic 5.8 points under President Ian Khama. His successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, has launched an anti-corruption crusade in order to sluice out the rot that congealed around the Government Enclave between 2008 and 2018. While it ritually criticised corruption during Khama’s administration, UDC leaders now find themselves unable to talk as vociferously about that administration’s corruption as they did in the past. Conversely and most oddly, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, is freer to talk about the corruption of Khama’s administration. This is unprecedented.
The UDC reluctance to talk about the corruption that occurred during Khama’s administration is a direct result of its leader, Duma Boko, warming up to Khama himself. At least by one public reporting account, Khama literally sponsored the motion of no-confidence in Masisi by Boko that failed to gain passage in parliament. Having recently quit the BDP (which will embolden the party to talk even more vociferously about his corruption) Khama is now the spiritual leader of the BPF and has expressed interest in working with the opposition. Indeed, at the May 25 meeting in Serowe where the formation of BPF was announced to a group of BDP dissidents (not Bangwato) congregated at the village showground, some elderly people said that they would join “Bokwe’s” party.
While there is no doubt that the BDP has stolen the thunder on corruption from UDC, there is no way that the latter can ignore an issue that is one of the main reasons why a good many Batswana live in abject poverty. Unable to talk in any substantive way about the period when Botswana’s corruption reached a historic high, the UDC has been forced to only talk tokenistically and generally about corruption. The party’s predicament is that while it has to talk about the 2008-2018 corruption, it is also sensitive to the feelings of the man most responsible for that corruption. So, rather than talk about that corruption at a granular level, UDC leaders instead state that Masisi is himself not clean. The leaders have yet to get to a point where they can talk about the corruption that happened under Khama separately and for longer than one minute.
BPF, which is in an even more precarious position on this issue, has adopted the same strategy. At the May 25 meeting in Serowe, the Tati West MP, Reverend Biggie Butale, also spoke about corruption in a UDC fashion. Butale, who used his podium time to lay on all the theatrical antics of the “Fire!” church pastor that he is, didn’t want to speak about the 2008-2018 corruption but was more than eager to allege corruption on Masisi’s part.
The oddity with comparing Masisi and Khama is the fraudulence that animates such comparison. Everybody who follows corruption reporting knows about Seleka Springs, the arms-dealing company owned by the Khama family that did lucrative business with the army when Khama was the Botswana Defence Force commander. After conducting investigations, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime recommended prosecution but the file has been gathering dust at the Directorate of Public Prosecutions offices for more than a decade. From reading the front pages of past editions of the private newspapers (notably Sunday Standard) one can also compile a very long list of corrupt deals that Khama is implicated in. All Butale could do at the Serowe meeting was use coded words to allege that Masisi was involved in some indeterminate corrupt dealings with Bank of Botswana.
The writing is on the wall: while UDC and BPF may not be officially working together, what has been described in the press as the Khama-Boko “bromance” has forced the two parties to talk reluctantly about the historic 2008-2018 corruption which Khama has to take responsibility for.