Once when he was still the Leader of the Opposition, the Umbrella for Democratic Change president, Duma Boko, warned that his party would “report” the Botswana government to the United States. Not only has the US anointed itself as the global gold standard for democracy, it is actually so recognised by most countries and leaders around the world. That was the context of Boko’s warning.
Beyond being the self-anointed standard-bearer for democracy, the US (government and institutions) also churns out diagnostic reports about democratic health globally. Generally, these reports are taken seriously by a part of the Third World that has subjected itself to US influence (Botswana is on that list) and wants to be portrayed positively. That was another aspect of Boko’s warning because when someone of his status and persuasive power makes such pronouncements, the US listens and incorporates his words into its reports. The man the warning was directed it (President Mokgweetsi Masisi) would have known that Boko was not making an idle threat.
At the time that Boko made that statement, he was seeking re-election for the Gaborone Bonnington North parliamentary seat and as UDC leader, was also a presidential candidate. Both endeavours failed but soon thereafter, he would claim that the election had been rigged. That was in November last year and more than a year later, not only is Boko is still standing by that allegation, he has been instrumental in a plan to hold what has been billed as the “People’s Court.”
While it would have certain legal aspects (like lawyers, sworn affidavits and evidence-taking) the latter is not really a court of law but a public forum that, as a mere academic exercise, will stress-test the 2019 general election for compliance with electoral law. The Botswana Patriotic Front and the Alliance for Progressives are also part of this political venture. The UDC has been very clear about the fact that it will share findings of the People’s Court with the international community. By that it is not referring to China, North Korea, Vietnam, The Maldives, Papua New Guinea or Burundi but the US, the European Union, Australia and other western democracies. However, there is a month-old problem with such intent – which problem manifests itself at two levels and is tied to the US general election on November 2 this year.
Firstly, the incumbent president and Republican presidential candidate in last month’s US election, Donald Trump, is still insisting that an election that was demonstrably free and fair was “rigged.” UDC has used the exact same language to describe Botswana’s own general election on October 23 last year. Owing to the peculiarities of the US political system, Trump has lost the election but will actually leave office at noon on January 20, 2021 when President-elect Joe Biden takes over. After the People’s Court and before January 20, UDC will plead its case with a government led by someone with a fantastical conception of rigging, someone who has no credibility on the subject of election rigging – or, as two examples shows, of something as basic as winning.
Each time Trump opens a new golf resort, he plays a “championship match” all by himself, declares himself the winner and thereafter, a plaque stating that he was the first champion at that golf course goes up on the wall of the resort’s lobby. During last month’s election, Trump wanted vote counting to continue unhindered in states where he was winning but stop immediately in states where he was losing because otherwise the results would be “fraudulent.” With the possible exception of George W. Bush, it has always made sense when opposition leaders from around the world complained to US presidents about elections in their respective countries being rigged because such presidents had demonstrated an acceptable standard of level-headedness on this issue. Trump hasn’t.
Secondly, there is a reason opposition leaders are not appealing election results to Rwanda and Zimbabwe and Syria and Russia and Uganda. To be clear, the US electoral system is largely free and fair – that is the reality but perception matters as well. Following his loss and with his mobilisation of otherwise credible organisations and individuals, Trump has managed to raise doubt about the credibility of the US electoral system. On the basis of this, some people (including those in Botswana) will begin to doubt the integrity of the US electoral system. So, it would seem tragically ironic when UDC reports a supposedly rigged Botswana election to the US whose own elections have been doubted for credibility.
UDC’s point of contact with the US government will be its embassy in Gaborone, which will forward whatever report is submitted to it to the State Department in Washington D.C. Not too long ago, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, told journalists that there will be a transition to a “second Trump term.” This man, who clearly has no credibility on what it means to win an election, is the one who will have the final say on the UDC report.
There is the option of waiting until Biden takes over on January 20 but any lull would be detrimental to the case that UDC is trying to make. “Lull” is itself a good word to introduce at this point in order to assess UDC’s time management around its grievances.
From a perspective of crisis communications, time is of the essence and waiting for more than a whole year to prove electoral fraud has been a colossal blunder on the part of the UDC. The rule of thumb in this strain of PR is that vital information must be communicated to the public within 24 hours. UDC did more than stretch that time limit because it has waited for more than 15 330 hours – that is how many hours there are in a year. Not only has UDC failed to release the “solid” evidence of rigging it claims to have, it has also postponed the convening of the People’s Court not once but twice.
Boko has himself undermined the credibility of the rigging case that UDC is now making by stating before a national audience on Btv that he wouldn’t accept results of the UDC lost. Guess who else said the exact same thing when asked before a national audience on TV if he would accept the results if he lost: Trump.