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The Umbrella for Democratic Change and the Botswana Patriotic Front have rejected President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s informal proposal for a pre-election peace accord.
Addressing a kgotla meeting in Selebi Phikwe late last month, Masisi mooted the idea of peace accord that would involve all political parties. According to the August 26, 2019 edition of the Botswana Daily News, “Dr. Masisi said the signing of a peace accord would be a commitment that peace shall prevail during and post the election. The President said peace was fundamental and that he would not tire from calling for it.”
Oddly though, UDC spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa, says that his party is not aware of any plans for such accord. By his account, not only has Masisi not approached the opposition coalition (which is made up of the Botswana National Front, Botswana Congress Party and the Botswana People’s Party) with this idea, he is also not a man of his word.
“How can we trust Masisi?” poses Moeti.
The reason why he can’t trust the president is because while he had promised to revive the All-Party Conference (APC), he never made good on his promises. Apparently the APC, which went into a very long coma during the previous presidency of Ian Khama, met thrice after Masisi took over the reins of power. Moeti contends that while such meetings recommended the carrying out “specific tasks”, there was never any follow-up action. This would mean that the only inter-party platform that Masisi can use to effect the peace accord is all but dead.
As president, Masisi gets the most current and most credible intelligence and so, his proposal for a peace accord would have been informed by very concrete, if not earth-shattering intelligence. Such privileged access to intelligence notwithstanding, today’s Botswana has assumed a disturbing character. In the past, Sunday Standard has reported about dark forces that are hellbent on either assassinating or toppling Masisi by force. What is mystifying though is why the idea of a peace accord that would theoretically avert looming danger will not reach the most relevant parties – being political parties that will be contesting and participating in this year’s general election.
To the question of whether the UDC adjudges national security to have been imperilled to such extent that it would be necessary to take pre-emptive steps in the form of a peace accord, Mohwasa makes the point that he doesn’t even understand the context of such accord.
“I don’t know what he [Masisi] is talking about and I don’t know what prompted him to say that,” he says. “It is very difficult to comment on something that you don’t understand.”
UDC has something of a paramour relationship with the newly-formed BPF which also views the issue in like manner. The party’s spokesperson, Justice Motlhabani, describes Masisi’s idea as “alarmist” and “absurd” and sees no need for the accord in a country that has never experienced any kind of civil strife.
“The ballot is the only solution,” says Motlhabani. “In fact, such accords may be illegal as there is already a constitution in this country that governs us all. We bear our allegiance to the constitution. … For any ruling political party to induce us to sign anything, it is undemocratic and it casts a menacingly dark shadow on the intent and willingness of the powers that be to oversee the processes of credible, free and fair election.”
Once before, UDC president, Duma Boko, dismissed talk and public reportage about Masisi’s life being in any kind of danger. Likewise, Motlhabani’s argues that “there is nothing he can point to suggest that there is instability in this country to warrant such agreements.” He sees the call for the peace accord as a ruse by those who “could be harbouring some motive to use their monopoly of violence to disrupt our peace and harmony.”
While unknown in Botswana, a peace accord like the one Masisi proposed is actually not an anomaly in politics. Ahead of the 2013 presidential elections in Ghana, candidates signed a peace accord through which they committed themselves and their supporters to peaceful elections; undertook to accept results; committed themselves to judicial resolution of election disputes; took a stand against electoral violence, impunity, injustice; undertook to forcefully and publicly speak out against all acts of electoral violence, impunity, injustice and collaborate with law enforcement officials; pledged to conduct political campaigns in such manner that the ability of law enforcement officials to perform their roles would not be hindered; undertook to intensify and expand scope of civic and elections education activities; and pledged to hold themselves mutually accountable as peers in promoting effective political leadership. All seven candidates signed what came to be known as the Accra Declaration which was witnessed by the Chief Justice, Chairman of the National Peace Council and the President of the National House of Chiefs.
This year, presidential candidates in Nigeria also signed a peace accord, committing themselves to a peaceful poll. Far away in Afghanistan, it has become tradition that a general election has to be preceded by the signing of such accord.
Whatever misgivings UDC and BPF may have about the current administration, peace accords are on the whole a good thing and have averted chaos across the world. Supposing that Botswana’s national security is indeed imperilled, some parties or individuals within them, would already be planning to cause chaos and render the country ungovernable. A peace accord helps mitigate against such intent because it closes all the loopholes they want to exploit.
However, if it is any consolation, the former United States Ambassador to Botswana, Michelle Gavin, doesn’t see the blood-soaked national flag that that a gang of “Fire!” church pastors claims to have seen.
“While it is undoubtedly true that Botswana is experiencing more public political turbulence than anyone is accustomed to, moving real political debates out of exclusive meetings of the long ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and into the public sphere need not be a sign of terrible trouble,” she writes on the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) website in an article headlined “Personal Rivalries Overshadow Botswana's Democracy.”
Back home in the US, Gavin is now Senior Fellow for Africa Studies at CFR.