When she was running for a vacant seat in the Gaborone City Council in March this year, Nunu Lekau had no reason to suspect that three members of her campaign team were actually spies from a rival party. When she made that discovery, it was too late.
On the day of the election, Lekau, a Botswana Democratic Party candidate, arrived at a polling station to find that the people who were privy to her campaign’s deepest secrets were acting as polling agents for an opposition party.
“I nearly fainted,” she says, wincing at the memory.
However, her emotions would only take her as far as sobbing bitterly. “I could not believe the betrayal. One of them had grown up with my children and I treated him like my own child.”
Unaware of what was going on behind her back, Lekau would drive the spies around town as they carried out campaign errands. All the time she thought this was for her benefit.
However, with the formidable BDP machinery powering her campaign, Lekau managed to win, but only just. She attributes the slim margin of her victory to the sabotage of the spies.
Like making false promises, spying is one of the basic features of the ethically-challenged vocation of party politics. United States president Richard Nixon had to resign his job after discovery that he was involved in a plot to spy on Democrats during a general-election season.
Lekau was unfortunate to have her campaign infiltrated the way it was but opposition parties have also been infiltrated in similar manner by BDP operatives. A story is told of how one of the BDP’s smooth operators infiltrated a top secret Botswana National Front meeting over a decade ago.
Earlier this year, the latter party announced plans to form an intelligence unit in an attempt to quell the instability within the party which purportedly bears the fingerprints of enemy operatives.
The BNF’s secretary general, Mohammad Khan, says that the rudimentary structures of the unit have been set up and foot soldiers already on the ground are bringing useful intelligence.
“With today’s technology, we have also been able to pick up a lot of things,” says Khan, adding though that on account of expense, they are not able to take full advantage of such technology as some of the spy gadgetry is prohibitively expensive.
The Internet and advances in e-shopping have made it very easy for those with the means to join the world of spies. By flipping the lid of an innocent-looking wireless cigarette pack camera and pressing the transmit button, an amateur spy would be able to send crystal clear video to the included receiver from a tiny pinhole camera hidden inside the barcode of the box.
The other marvel advertised online is the Audio Deception Detector, a portable lie detector that can fit in the palm of the hand, can be used in person and on the phone and works in any language. The gadget is mounted on an IC chip and its voice recognition technology monitors the level of nervousness and stress in a person’s voice and tells emotion, stress and true and false statements all from a person’s voice. It can also be used over the phone and has a built-in 2.5 mm jack that allows the user to connect it to a cellular phone and use it from a distance. Numerous websites offer many more covert surveillance gadgetry disguised as pens, wall clocks, radios, smoke detectors, teddy bears, cigarette lighters and baseball caps.
One would expect political spying to be intensifying at this stage of the countdown to next year’s general election. However, Khan says that there is never any point where the spying slows down, especially for the ruling party.
“For them the spying is continuous because they have a lot to lose. The advantage they have over opposition parties is that they have the state machinery at their disposal and use it to keep tabs on the opposition,” he says.
He adds that sabotage by spies in his party has also manifested itself in the form of systematic whispering campaigns that have had the effect of setting comrade against comrade.
The spying that goes on in political parties is not the sort that would attract the attention of the directorate on intelligence services and security. Even when exposed, a party spy cannot be reported to the police and that is why Lekau could not report the people who spied on her campaign to the Gaborone West police station.
Says Khan: “The only thing you can do as a party is expel a member who has been exposed as a spy. That way you would also be sending a warning to others.”
From what Dr. Kenneth Koma, the former leader of the BNF, claimed during 1998, political spying also occurs at intra-party level.
When the party held its disastrous national congress in that year in Palapye, the rivalry between members that had been simmering beneath the surface boiled over. In the series of rallies that he addressed afterwards, Koma claimed that while in Palapye, one of his close aides who changed sides sneaked into the bedroom he shared with some of his supporters in the dead of night. His mission was to eavesdrop on conversation among the group. The moment of discovery, Koma said, was when he stretched his legs and felt a clammy object next to him.