On Friday 16th October 2009, Batswana will go to the polls to vote for men and women who will represent them in councils and parliament for the next five years.
In an election year, particularly as the day of reckoning approaches, all political parties in Botswana usually up their game and organize rallies characterized by an electrifying atmosphere. Motorcades are common. The colours of the different political parties are usually visible in all the towns and villages across the country.
Different choirs belonging to different parties usually compose songs, not only meant to convey messages to the electorates but also to ridicule and embarrass their opponents.
Politicians, who are usually in their element at rallies, use every opportunity they get to tear their opponents apart without forgetting to convince the electorates that they are the best candidates to lead the country.
Contrary to what I have witnessed and experienced during the past election years, the mood of the citizens this year can simply be described as somber. There is no excitement, no fanfare. Why?
This can be attributed to two reasons: the internal fights bedeviling the BDP and BNF as well as the fear and suspense gripping the nation.
Since the election of Otsweletse Moupo as the BNF President, the party has been characterized by intolerance, antagonisms and instability thus resulting in the resignation and expulsion of the so-called dissidents.
Some of those expelled have formed what is called the Temporary Platform.
Numerous lawsuits have been brought against the BNF by members challenging their expulsion or the decision barring them from contesting the elections.
The lawsuits have not only created animosity between the leaders and some members but have also forced the BNF to get the eye off the ball. Hence, their rallies are not as appealing as one would expect in an election year.
Regarding the BDP, one can argue that the ascendancy of Lt. Gen. Khama to the highest office in the land in April 2008; unpopular decisions that he has made so far such as imposing a 30% levy on alcoholic beverages and reducing the number of operation hours for bars and night clubs; the relentless public attacks on the party Chairman by the party President and the former Secretary General in the build-up to the Kanye congress which was happening for the first time in the history of the party; failure on the part of Khama to accept the outcome of the congress; his decision to paralyze a democratically elected central committee and the legal tussle between him and Gomolemo Motswaledi can be presented as reasons why the party is in such a sorry state on the eve of the elections.
The interpretation of section 41 of the country’s constitution by the High Court and Court of Appeal has also saddened and dampened the spirits of all democrats and other citizens who have always believed that they can seek redress from the courts if the President takes any decision which is injurious to their fundamental human rights and freedoms.
Khama, who is supposed to be above factions by virtue of being the party President, seems to be determined to neutralize and purge members of the Barati Phathi faction.
His decision to drop some women from cabinet and then start campaigning on the women empowerment ticket before the Kanye congress, the appointment of cabinet ministers to the party central committee despite having made it clear that he wants people to choose between cabinet and party positions and his decision to appoint members of the sub-committees without consulting the central committee have raised more questions than answers among members of the BDP.
It would be an understatement to say that all the democrats who have always held Khama in high esteem and revered him as a messiah of the party and the entire nation, have been disappointed and frustrated by the turn of events. BDP members are simply not happy with the manner in which things are done within their party.
Theirs is a world of surprises and suspense where the leader wants things to be done his way. Those who differ with him, as it normally happens in a democratic dispensation, are said to be indisciplined and undermining his authority.
The other factor that has contributed to the dull campaigns as stated at the beginning of this paper is that there is fear, mistrust and suspense gripping the nation. It is becoming increasingly difficult for people to openly discuss issues affecting the nation without watching over their shoulders. People no longer trust each other and no longer feel safe at their workplaces, homes and social gatherings because big brother is always watching and listening. If senior citizens who have served this country diligently in different capacities can be bundled out of their offices, what more can one say about ordinary citizens?
Private newspapers have reported the deaths of citizens and immigrants at the hands of security agents. So far, no explanation regarding the shootings and the demise of suspects in police custody has been given to the nation by the powers that be except that at one point, Vice President Merafhe casually stated that one or two killings cannot tarnish the image of the country in the international arena. This unfortunate statement gives one the impression that life is cheap in Botswana.
Our country is definitely at crossroads. It faces many challenges and the onus is on Batswana to vote for robust men and women who can discuss issues affecting our nation without fear or favour. We need a vibrant parliament that can perform its responsibilities without fail. If we, as citizens of this country who have known democracy, dignity, consultation and open discussions for the past 43 years, fail to vote for people who can articulate and protect our interests, then history will judge us harshly.
The future of this country is in our hands. Hence, it is imperative that we vote with our heads and not our feet as the Americans will often say.
*Dr. Mothusi is Lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Botswana.