Why and How Foreign Party Funding is a Matter of National

11 Aug 2019

By Richard Moleofe

Botswana is by far the oldest continuous democracy in Africa as the country will be celebrating fifty three years of independence in September. Before the dust of independence celebrations is over, the country will go to the polls to elect their members of parliament and councillors. In the first-past-the-post system, any party that will score twenty nine or more MPs will ultimately have its presidential candidate confirmed.

Parties are doing their best to catch the attention of voters and to do that in a vast country like Botswana with a scarcely distributed population of around two and half million people requires a lot of resources. And this is where party funding by the state is required.

During the Masire administration, there was an arrangement known as All Party Conference. This is where the various political parties would meet and discuss issues of common understanding. But the misunderstanding was around the issue of party funding by the state.

Botswana has become a shining example of democracy because individuals have sacrificed their personal resources to fund our system of governance. Families have been reduced to poverty because their loved ones have misdirected their finances to fund politics.

While certain things have been gradually achieved through the All Party Congress, the issue of party funding remained a sticking point. Progress was slow but sure in this political caucus until Ian Khama arrived on our political scene. He had total disregard for all democratic avenues that the ruling party and the opposition had in place for debating issues. He literally closed down the All Party Conference and yet he claimed to be a man who had come to nurture our democracy.

This year the political landscape is totally different from what we have always seen in this country. We are seeing the main opposition leader going around this vast country having a fixed wing jet powered plane and a helicopter at his disposal. It is reported that he is funded by a cabal that has ulterior motives about this country rather than just strengthening democracy.

But it is the ruling party’s refusal to fund political parties that has led us to this messy situation. Duma Boko says; “If they can have it, why can’t we have it.” This is in reference to foreign party funding. It seems he has totally disregarded the fact that his own party has always pointed out that receiving foreign funding is wrong because it compromises democracy in our country.

When foreigners fund our politics, it is no longer rule by the people for the people. All future decisions will become skewed toward satisfying your underwriters and this is also true for the ruling party. Foreign funders don’t just wake up and decide to pour in money into a political project that will not benefit them. Especially when they do it at the level we are seeing in Botswana right now. Surely something is in there for them.

Do you know the reason why a foreign national cannot join the ranks of Botswana Defence Force? It is for the reason that we do not want to compromise the security of our country. And that is equally the reason why a presidential candidate must have been born in this country. But what foreign party funding will ultimately do is to determine the security of our country.

Take for instance the effects of foreign aid on any country. Donor countries will always put certain prerequisites on the receiving country before aid is disbursed. In Africa the common aspect that they want to be certain about is that they want to make sure that aid reaches the intended target population and does not end in the pockets of politicians.

Even in instances of borrowing. It is usually the Brent-Wood institutions of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund that we look to for funding. That starting point is always to require the trimming of the military and sometimes even the wider public service.

The lack of political party funding by the state erodes transparency. At the moment we cannot tell who is funding our politics and for what purpose. Certainly the funders have been given promissory notes and are hoping to cash on them after the elections. But our political leaders might have mortgaged our country to foreign interests.

South Africa is a young democracy and it is making steady progress in certain areas. They have legislation governing political party funding and that has helped in nourishing their democracy. But this legislation only goes as far as permitting the government to fund the parties but does not go out to prohibit foreign funding or the full disclosure thereof.

The Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (IDASA) has led a campaign in South Africa for greater transparency in regard to party funding. In that country it is the African National Congress that has benefited the most in getting more lucrative funds from local and foreign business interests. The Democratic Alliance has as well benefited from foreign funding albeit in a small way.

Reading the book titled “After the Party” authored by Andrew Feinstein, one gets to understand how foreign party funding becomes a security threat to any nation. South Africa was held at ransom by the arms deal that was made because certain powers overseas had sponsored the ANC to victory in the 1994 and successive elections. Some of these arms corporations saw a great potential in the new South Africa and they were eying it as a new frontier for their weapon’s sale.

Feinstein who was an ANC MP wrote his book to reveal the depth of corruption within his political organization and he was sacrificed for telling the truth. Going towards the 2019 elections in South Africa, IDASA had pushed for legislation in this regard and by the time of elections the Political Party Funding Bill had been tabled for public reading and would go a long way in bringing transparency into the South African political scene.   

*Richard Moleofe is a Security Analyst