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In July last year, a usually nondescript parcel of land in Tonota was transformed into one of the most beautiful, temporarily built-up areas in Botswana as Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi prepared to duel with the Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Development, Nonofo Molefhi, for the position of Botswana Democratic Party Chairperson. Received wisdom is that Masisi won the contest but there were other winners – the businesspeople whose money built the luxury-tent city that came to be known as Camp Dubai. Businesspeople don’t spend money – they invest it and as Masisi moves into the State House on April 1, those who invested on Camp Dubai would be looking forward to getting returns on their investment.
“He should deliver policies that are going to favour those who invested in his campaign,” says Professor Agreement Jotia, a democracy and education specialist at the University of Botswana. “They will be watching his governance tactics with a hawk’s eye.”
He adds that this is par for the course because in the political sphere the world over, businesspeople and companies fund political parties. In some instances, an entity can fund multiple parties depending on the ideological orientation of those parties. The latter observation is interesting for what the streets are saying: that with the outcome of next year’s general election largely uncertain, some businesspeople are hedging their bets by funding both the BDP and the Umbrella for Democratic Change. Bakang Seretse, the former Managing Director of Kgori Capital, an asset management company, is said to have been hedging his bets in the said manner and the source of the information was none other than the Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security, Sadique Kebonang. Seretse may have had the misfortune to be outed because of his current legal woes but in private conversations with the well-informed, many more names of prominent businesspeople are being mentioned in the stated bed-hedging context.
Jotia says that while some businesspeople disguise their “patron-clientelism” as corporate social responsibility, the fact of the matter is that they essentially want to protect their business interests.
“The funders want to fund a party or an individual who is going to pursue or pronounce on policy formulation and development which favour their businesses,” says the UB lecturer, adding that “this could ultimately lead to the emergence of corruption as patron-clientelism begins to trickle down in the government to payback favour to the businesses of corporations through the award of lucrative tenders and contracts.”
The next point Jotia makes is that taking unethical advantage of what are largely weak institutions, African leaders have been known to use their offices for private enrichment and that in some cases, that could be legitimized by the general operational nature of the state. He adds that “the patronage networks in Africa are the wheels driving corruption more so that the state would deliberately stifle any scrutiny over the manner in which public resources are allocated.” Eventually, this “will trigger multiple economic irrationalities and political manipulation by those who funded political parties or state.”
Masisi’s benefactors are a separate story themselves and introduce to the discussion an issue that supposedly non-racial Botswana tends to shy away from. However, as Dr. James Kirby, an Australian academic who takes great research interest in Botswana has pointed out, non-racialism is a fallacy because at independence in 1966, the country was economically created along racial lines. By one too many accounts, Camp Dubai was the financial handiwork of Asian businesspeople. When Forbes magazine published the names of Botswana’s wealthiest last year, it would not have been lost on anyone that all were Asian. Online, where people feel freer to express their views, that detail was bitterly emphasized by most commentators. For too long now and going as far back as independence, Botswana’s political marketplace has always been a fiefdom of whites. As the South African situation clearly shows, the entry and displacement effect of Asian businesspeople in such marketplace will definitely cause some turbulence. President Jacob Zuma’s Guptas are no angels but some have attributed the bad publicity the latter suffered to the machinations of white monopoly capital feeling threatened by competition in a field it has long dominated.
To the question of what the rising political influence of Asians in Botswana politics means for entrenched white economic interests, Jotia gives a broader context.
“The fall of the United States-led unipolar world and the emergence of the multipolar one - the so-called China and Russia threat - means that Asian finance is increasingly gaining more political and economic leverage. The rising political influence of Asians means white interests are under siege. This marks the beginning of new conditions and models of political and economic partnership between political leadership or elites and Asian financiers,” he says, adding that in order for white financial interest to remain relevant, it has to re-think its modus operandi and move away from treating African countries as helpless client states.
And as this brand of commercial politics plays itself out, where are the indigenous people, especially the businesspeople? Jotia says that now is a good time for Africa in general and Botswana in particular to wake up in terms of the socio-economic and political manifestations of a far from ideal situation.
“The painful question is: what is wrong with us as Africans and Batswana to have galore resources which we can neither control nor utilise to develop ourselves?” he poses. “All we are doing is wait for foreign forces to come and tell us how to manage and develop ourselves. This is shameful! For how long are we going to promote the second wave of post-independence colonization and legitimized colonialism?”
From where he stands, time has come to indigenize Africa in both socio-economic and political development a process that will take robust governance. Otherwise, he points out, the continent will continue to regress.
“In a sense, it doesn’t really matter whether the white colonial settlers are displaced by Asians or not. The key issue is when we as Africans are going to achieve our socio-economic and political autonomy? We continue to be beggars in our own land which has so many precious, God-given resources. Truly, ours is just so-called political independence without economic liberation. This is absolutely pathetic,” Jotia laments.