Thursday, July 9, 2020

Botswana politics can still be rescued from the unwieldly shackles of China/India money 

Late last year, following their victory at the polls the Botswana Democratic Party organized what the party said was an event to thank the financiers that had backed the party. What we saw on state television was nothing short of an all-Asia affair. Well-known Chinese and Indian business people were in full display for all to see.

They were all smiles, rubbing shoulders with power. Their money had delivered the goods. And it was now time to reap the rewards. If there were any black Batswana business people at the occasion, then they were too few, and certainly not captured by Botswana Television.The event left many dumbfounded, others angry, and yet many more relieved at what they saw as vindication of what they had always said that the BDP was not sincere, that indigenous Batswana will never break through the vicious cycle of political paternalism and achieve true economic empowerment. The event was rich in irony. It depicted the extent to which our politicians had been captured, while also demonstrating that they were actually willing victims.

The BDP event could easily have been mistaken for a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Mumbai.A staunch BDP member called me the following morning and said the meeting had for him reflected a mirror image of Asia. He was both embarrassed and ashamed at his party, he said.“I hope we are not selling Botswana over a plate of curry,” he concluded.Not to be outdone, Beijing too was well represented; over represented by the way.The BDP Chairman proudly introduced this galaxy of wealthy Asian business people as “our financiers.”

For a government claiming to empower indigenous citizens, that was unashamedly brazen.There was no humility and certainly no sensitivity to the plight of many Batswana who say they are economically marginalized in their own country as everything is tilted towards Chinese and Indians.The Chairman challenged the opposition to also parade and showcase their own financiers, effectively inviting a beauty contest over who has more or finer Indian and Chinese financial backers.At that level, I almost threw myself under the table. Campaign finance in Botswana remains a hot potato.This because it is totally unregulated.The absence of political party funding by the state spells danger not only for the country’s political discourse but the independence of our political leaders.

There’s a real danger that our elected leaders might become monkeys while the Asian business people are the real organ grinders.Unwillingness to finance political parties creates a vacuum that too many dubious characters are always too happy to fill as it brings them a step closer to literally seizing Botswana.Early last year there were a few rounds of All-Party Conference meetings where political party funding was one of the promises made.As in many other things, nothing subsequently happened as everything run aground. The euphoria that had surrounded the much-vaunted return of All-Party Conference turned out to be much ado about nothing.

And the nation entered the electoral season with the old arrangement of every man for himself.The elections of last year turned out to be a national calamity as Botswana became a battleground for the world’s moneyed rapacious interest who looked at the country as a pristine destination for their various ventures. The easy route for them was to bet on financing politicians.This is nothing short of national self-harm.It soils and contaminates our politics.As we saw it play out in plain sight, the absence of political party funding opens the whole electoral process to abuse, infiltration and even manipulation.

As a matter of fact, given the extent to which those ills have already caught up, turning back the tide will not be an easy thing.Nobody, much less the business people ever gives their money to a political party as a goodwill gesture of altruism. A little over 20 years ago a political scandal broke out that showed how both De Beers and Anglo American were bankrolling the Botswana Democratic Party.The two global corporations, together with their local appendage, Debswana formed a powerful corporate triumvirate cartel that through various subsidiaries controlled Botswana’s economy.The corporate culture was footloose and gangster-like.

The money came in through FNBB which was as is still the case today closely linked to Satar Dada, the BDP long serving national Treasurer and chief financier.Dumelang Saleshando who today is president of Botswana Congress Party and also Leader of Opposition in Parliament was working for FNBB as a young graduate trainee.His friend from the university days, then working in the FNBB’s treasury passed the information to Saleshando. The friend obviously knew what he was doing, that a political animal that he was, Saleshando would find the information immensely beneficial. And so it was!

The information turned out to be more than a treasure trove. It was a bomb.It broke and confirmed the long unresolved jinx. Many of us had always suspected but could not prove that De Beers and Anglo American were involved knee-deep in Botswana’s politics.Saleshando was sacked from what held out to be a promising banking career.Many years later when he had become a star national politician and a ranking opposition parliamentarian, FNBB called him and proposed a settlement.

He walked away with a hefty handshake in undisclosed amount in cash as compensation – a confidential arrangement.We use this to illustrate that while Zunaid Moti and his ilk went far overboard in capturing Duma Boko and his UDC last year, nobody is really clean when it comes to political party funding. And that the evils from therein have been with us from the beginning.It is hard to see how these ills of capture will on their own go away without a firmly regulated terrain of campaign finance where the state also has a role on funding of political parties.

No people in the world feel comfortable with internal political contests of their country being settled with foreign input of any kind.Yet that is the situation in Botswana as demonstrated by the BDP event late last year.The makeup of that BDP meeting which was also attended by president Mokgweetsi Masisi should be an enduring reminder of just how tenuous our democracy remains.

It is not like these Indians and Chinese are not aware or conscious of the enormous power and influence they wield simply by financing a winning BDP.

There is something very crude about the Asians that that our politicians take for granted.

Asians, especially the Indians are highly predisposed to bragging and also gossip – especially about their money and wealth.If they give you a donation or money for any purpose they will immediately start telegramming to the world, behind your back that you are in their pocket.

That is what they are already saying about our political leaders.There is growing evidence of the extent to which our politicians across the spectrum in both ruling party and opposition are now beholden to the local China/India interests.History is asking if Botswana is indeed a sovereign state. Batswana you are on your own.The aphorism “he who pays the piper calls the tune” has never rangtruer.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper

Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.