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BY Richard Moleofe
Soldiers are not known to often be key players in deciding the way elections go. Botswana Defence Force is one such military organization that has often clearly asserted its position in as far as who goes to parliament. This is how soldiers have chosen to become players in our thriving democracy.
Five years ago, soldiers from around the city of Gaborone and further afield actively chose to register for elections in the Gabane/Mmankgodi constituency. This came after the announcement that Major General (Retired) Pius Mokgware was to run for the position of Member of Parliament for the area.
Mokgware was the darling of all soldiers, both commissioned and non-commissioned. He actually left too soon for their liking. His sacking by the then president sparked a ferocious stream of sympathy from the soldiers many of who had personal loyalty to him. When this general was forced to retire without notice, most soldiers were still hopeful in the many things he had initiated and pursued. Mokgware was very much concerned about their welfare.
Because of his history of excellence at BDF, soldiers were willing to traffic themselves for the sake of sending one of their own to parliament. In Gaborone North constituency, it is most likely that the candidate who will win will depend on how they best trafficked voters.
There has been reports of high levels of trafficking by both the ruling party and the opposition. And a lot of money is at play here. Some people have been transported from as far afield as Boteti. The most unfortunate thing about these people has been the fatal accidents they got involved in. Further to this unfortunate circumstances, the deceased are already forgotten. Their children will remain wallowing in abject poverty.
Soldiers are a difficult lot to traffic. Traffickers normally target poverty stricken communities advancing promises of all sorts to them. Poverty makes people vulnerable to trafficking. This is why the ruling party has maintained a certain sector of society poor because that breeds dependence, and it works for the party. Across the world, poverty has become big business as it is easy to manipulate the poor.
Soldiers generally have a stable income as they remain in the government payroll. They cannot be lured with blankets, soup and diphaphatha (Setswana muffins). Blankets are already given for free at BDF and the package comes with a sleeping bag. Furthermore, soldiers get free rations and therefore free food will not help to get them to vote in a certain way. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party is notorious for pursuing this tactic.
Soldiers are a very difficult demographic set of society when taking their living conditions into account. They don’t need any municipality setup to collect their rubbish bins. They don’t need a local councillor to get their roads into good shape. That is all provided for by the military. What most communities are fighting to achieve has become so basic and a part of the daily living for soldiers.
Soldiers and their families only tasted the pain of lacking basic utility services in 2014 when southern Botswana experienced a severe shortage of water. The BDF leadership quickly hatched a plan to supply water with mobile reservoirs street by street.
The military personnel continues to enjoy free health care and free transportation for school going children residing in the camps. So what is it that will bring soldiers and their families to vote for candidate A and not B? This demographic group is looking for change of government. They are looking for strong legislators who can truly speak and advocate changes in laws. Remuneration improvement as well as welfare is always upper most in the mind of an average soldier.
It is interesting that the highest number of registered voters in this year’s exercise in all of Gaborone constituencies lies in Gaborone North. And the epicentre of this registration explosion lies at a council ward known as Phakalane. Glenn Valley Barracks hosts a significantly large population here. Interesting enough, a significant number of soldiers has registered at the Glenn Valley polling station.
Soldiers have a long history of voting for the opposition. And the opposition is generally stronger in urban and peri-urban locations because of their voting patterns. For a very long time this has been a cause for concern for the ruling party.
I will always remember this story by Colonel (Retired) Mogorosi Baatweng of BDF regarding the 1989 elections. They were addressed by their superior officer warning them against voting for the opposition Botswana National Front. They were warned that if the opposition won the Gaborone seat, a forensic audit of the ballot papers would be conducted to determine how soldiers voted. All the papers would be scanned for finger prints and if they discovered your finger prints on a ballot paper that is ticked BNF, you would be in trouble.
The ruling party can be that desperate when it comes to elections. According to sources in the IEC, Phakalane has so far registered the highest number of voters in the current exercise. The entrance of their beloved former commander has even emboldened soldiers further.
Social media and the mainstream media have become tools that politicians use to reach this unreachable demographic sector of the voting population. Facebook being in the forefront, soldiers have so much access to this medium and that is where they are able to pick their political candidates.
The reason why the ruling party made a law that abolishes the supplementary voter registration is for the reason of the voting soldiers. Most soldiers are technically barred from participating in the ritual of our democracy because of the way they do their trips to the border and the anti-poaching operations. They are usually there for a period of three months and this means that a lot of them who are out there will automatically miss this registration exercise. For this they must approach the courts.
And what does that translate to, those who are on base now and have registered would be on trip this time next year. Soldiers need to register in droves for next year’s elections in order to make their voices heard.
*Richard Moleofe is a security analyst. He is a retired army officer