The BNF believes that the crisis that is gripping Kenya could happen anywhere in Africa, and Botswana is no exception.
In a recent statement, the BNF says poverty, sporadic ethnic clashes, first past the post electoral system and a not so independent electoral commission are identical features that Botswana shares with the once prosperous Kenya.
“There has always been a possibility that one day Kenya would have to face problems of the nature observed recently. The poverty and squalor has characterized the lives of ordinary Kenyans in slums. Excessive opulence has always indicated that the country could not go on forever without people asking hard questions as to whether the prosperity and peace, which the western countries claimed Kenya represented, actually existed. What many will not dispute today is that the polls presented an opportunity for other long simmering issues to surface.”
The statement says it is known that in Kenya, like in many African countries, religion and tribe coincide. The distribution of development and, therefore, access to resources are related to the same variables. Africans must all look at this development in Kenya as having potential lessons for their own countries.
The statement adds, “A democracy is supposed to provide an avenue for people to channel their issues and grievances through the system. Actually, the role of political parties is segregation. First of all President Kibaki and his administration were flattered by the fact that under his rule Kenya started registering positive growth. What they conveniently forgot was that positive growth rates do not mean that everybody is benefiting or better off. This is in a context in which people have been deprived first through decades of colonial policies and post independence black rule which further deepened the economic deprivation of the majority of the population. It is known that the Kenyan slums mostly house young people who stream into towns from rural areas in search of a better life.”
Instead of finding a better life, the statement reads, the youth are bombarded with the official rhetoric of growth and prosperity when the reality of the lives they lead points to the contrary.
Many of these young people saw the opposition party led by Odinga as bringing hope in a generally desperate situation.
“When this hope was ‘stolen’ from them, their patience ran out. Suddenly there was space to bring other issues which perhaps were just glossed over before this poll. Linked to the above issue is the irrelevance of winner takes all (first past the post) electoral system for a country such as Kenya. The six major ethnic groups in Kenya can be said to represent six nations in one. Ethnicity is not the major factor in Kenya elections but like many societies, disregarding its potential impact makes no sense at all.
Under a winner takes all scenario no effort is made to be accommodative and inclusive. As a result, this system is always characterized by simmering discontent which can easily trigger problems.
What happened in Kenya indicates, once again, that an electoral system that does not allow Africans to share power is irrelevant for many of our societies.
Another major problem, according to the statement, had to do with the inadequacies of the so called Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). It could not be disputed that on the basis of what was observed during the conduct of the disputed election, the IEC in Kenya was ineffective and generally lacked credibility.
The statement reveals that when the chair of IEC had to announce the results he created a lot of confusion and tensions by saying that he “was not sure that Kibaki was the winner.” The same commission is said to have entertained complaints as ballots were being counted, an act which contributed to the confusion and delays, which then contributed to the violence. This indecisiveness and confusion is also an indicator of lack of independence to do its work. Many governments in Africa, including our own in Botswana, are always defensive when opposition parties complain about the IEC.
Though the Botswana IEC is made of very credible people as commissioners, it has never allowed the commission to be entirely independent from the government. The statement cites the recent resignation of one commissioner who did not want to compromise his own his integrity.
Opposition parties here have long complained about the first past the post electoral system advocating for proportional representation. But the ruling BDP would not succumb. The same have also complained about the independence of the IEC but the complaints reached a deaf ear.
“The independence of the IEC is central to delivering a legitimate election result which all parties find acceptable. We hope other African governments will not see the Kenya issue as an unlikely scenario in their own countries. There are several lessons key among which is that democracy must work for the people as opposed to a select few. The masses are not stupid and to think or assume that they do not seriously evaluate their circumstances and weigh their options is an understatement of their ability to reason. An election is a competition whose management and conduct has to be entrusted to a credible, effective and competent entity. Mistakes and general sloppiness can be costly,” concludes the statement.