The Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI) 2022 has highlighted that the continued dispute between President Masisi and former President Ian Khama could destabilise the country and its institutions.
The BTI assesses the transformation towards democracy and a market economy as well as the quality of governance.
“The public dispute between President Masisi and Ian Khama, which emerged in 2018 soon after Masisi succeeded Khama, eventually led to Khama being pushed out of the ruling party in May 2019,” said the BTI country report, which added that, “The public dispute between Masisi and Khama could lead to instability.”
It notes that Khama accused Masisi of being intolerant of opposition. Other key members of the party, who had criticized or opposed Masisi, were also purged. State media decided not to provide airtime to former President Ian Khama, a decision that was criticized by the opposition.
The report says the public spat between President Masisi and former President Ian Khama did not develop into open conflict, but it led to concerns that the country would be divided between north and south.
“In all areas, the leadership qualities of Botswana’s fifth president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, who succeeded Ian Khama in April 2018, and those of other key actors will continue to be of the utmost importance,” the report says.
According to the report, it will be crucial for public and private development partners to further assist the country in its efforts to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and support Botswana’s efforts to diversify the economy and alleviate social risks.
The report says Khama’s administration failed to embrace reforms, disclose personal assets or provide access to government information.
“In turn, this fostered a public perception that the leadership was corrupt and condoned corruption. When President Mokgweetsi Masisi succeeded Ian Khama on April 1, 2018, there was a sense of optimism that the fear that had gripped the country under Khama was waning, as Khama had been considered an intolerant president,” the report says.
It also observes that, “ However, just like Khama, President Masisi has proven to be intolerant of his opponents,” adding that, “Although Masisi pledged to fight corruption, his dubious business dealings have played out in public, with some doubting his commitment to combating corruption and upholding the rule of law.”
The report says although there was a sense of optimism when President Masisi succeeded Ian Khama in April 2018, that optimism has waned as Masisi has proven to be equally intolerant of his opponents and the private media.
“Masisi’s intolerance first came to the fore when Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi declared her intent to challenge him for the position of party president, which was to be decided at a party congress in April 2019,” the report says. It says Venson Moitoi was immediately vilified and harassed, and was not allowed to campaign freely. The report states that President Masisi and Ian Khama were involved in a public dispute soon after Masisi succeeded Khama in April 2018, which eventually led to Khama being pushed out of the ruling party in May 2019.
“Khama accused Masisi of being intolerant of opposition. Other key members of the party, who either criticized or opposed Masisi, were also purged. The state media decided not to provide airtime to former President Ian Khama, a decision that was criticized by the opposition.” the report says. It says there were fears in some quarters that the public dispute between Masisi and Khama could lead to instability.
It says Botswana’s prospect of maintaining its trajectory of democratic transformation and economic performance remains moderate to high.
“However, dissatisfaction among the large number of unemployed young people, who constitute around 60% of the population, could lead to social disorder,” says the report.
According to the report, the unemployment situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to an unprecedented contraction of the economy by 8.9% in 2020, according to the government.
“As reported in the last BTI review period, Botswana’s future political and socioeconomic transformation will continue to be predicated on a number of critical facets,” says the report says.
First, the report says, an accommodating and tolerant leadership, which is able to balance the population’s competing pressures, has been an important pillar that has contributed enormously to Botswana’s political and economic accomplishments.
“However, several recent reports have led some to doubt the credibility of Botswana’s political leadership. Third, worrisome levels of social risks, especially inequality, poverty and unemployment, continue to present major constraints for Botswana’s future, which seem to have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report says.
It says given the country’s predominant culture of peace and political apathy, it appears unlikely that these social risks will necessarily translate into open social conflict, but the potential for moderate conflict still exists in the immediate future.
“In addition, these social challenges hinder transformation. In this context, it is crucial that the government accelerates economic diversification, which has so far largely eluded the country,” the report says.