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An International IDEA-SADC Conference: "Towards Sustainable Democratic Institutions in Southern Africa"


Research Papers
Analysis of recent elections
in the SADC region

Analysis of the Working of Political Parties in the SADC region

Sustainable Electoral
Democracy in Botswana

Dr. Mpho G. Molomo &
Dr. Gloria Somolekae

Executive summary

The purpose of this paper is to outline the major developments in Botswana's democratic and electoral systems. The paper argues that there have been a number of positive developments that include the establishment of an independent electoral commission, lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 years and the introduction of an absentee ballot system.

The paper also highlights some of the major weaknesses that Botswana's democracy has had for a number of years. These include a weak and fragmented opposition, a weak civil society entirely dependent on donor funding, a small private press, distortions due to the winner-takes-all electoral system, and the lack of an effective and well-coordinated national civic and voter education.

Botswana's democratic system has also become much more participatory and inclusive as evidenced by the increase of women in parliament and in senior government positions. For the first time in the history of Botswana's elections six women stood for parliamentary seats and they all won. The President used his powers and nominated an additional two. While this still falls short of the 30 percent quota required under the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol and the Beijing Platform, it is nevertheless a notable development.

Despite widening of the franchise to include youth of the ages of 18 years, youth participation in the 1999 elections was far from satisfactory. Not only did a negligible number register for the elections, but their turn out was also poor. Equally important is the fact that political parties in general did not field any significant number of youth candidates. Youth Wings of political parties face a great challenge ahead of them.

With the increasing clout of the private media, government has found itself more under the spotlight, and constantly held accountable for a number of its actions. Prior to the 1994 elections a number of corruption scandals allegedly implicating senior government officials were uncovered by the private press.

There have also been setbacks to the democratic system of the country, particularly the breakup of the major opposition, the BNF. The opposition has so far failed to present itself as a coherent and united front that can provide an alternative government. This is primarily due to the problems of factionalism and internal splits within opposition parties, the lack of institutionalization, lack of financial and other resources, and the winner-take-all electoral system which tends to favour the incumbent BDP as it distort electoral outcomes.

Notwithstanding the limitations outlined, there is evidence that democracy in Botswana has increasingly become institutionalized. The free and fair elections held every five years, unwavering respect for the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and respect for human rights all serve to indicate the extent to which democracy in Botswana has taken root.

However, more can still be done to improve the system. For example, the fairness of the electoral process can be enhanced through the establishment of an Independent Broadcasting Authority, and the provision of state funding for political parties. A change of the electoral system can also go a long way to strengthen democracy. Occasionally the media and some international bodies carry disturbing reports about human rights violations in Botswana. The most outstanding cases come from the Prisons Department. In order to further consolidate Botswana's democracy, these reports need to be closely followed up, scrutinized and publicly discussed and appropriate remedies taken.

1.0 Introduction

The 1990s will always be remembered as a period during which Southern Africa underwent significant political transformation. The end of one party rule in countries like Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and the end of minority rule in South Africa and Namibia have all marked the ushering in of a new era, an era of hope and renewal. Although the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the continuing civil strive in Angola have begun to cause a lot of anxiety in the region, there is still a mood of hope for a better political future.

This paper looks at the way electoral and democratic systems in Botswana have been sustained over the years. It focuses on five major issues, namely electoral management, the role of election observers in enhancing democracy, civic and voter education, political party competition, gender and politics and concludes by mapping a way forward in consolidating democratic practices.

2.0 The political context of Botswana's democratic development

Throughout the period referred to above, Botswana remained unique in Sub-Saharan Africa. When many countries abolished the west-minister model of democracy, either opting for one-party regimes (such as Tanzania and Zambia), Botswana maintained her multi-party democratic system. Since independence the country has held elections every five years as the constitution demands, the country has never had political prisoners, and the human rights record has remained relatively clean.

However, this democracy has had a number of weaknesses worth mentioning. These are as follows:

(a) A Weak and Fragmented Opposition

First, one political party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has dominated parliament.

Table 1 : PARTY SUPPORT 1965 - 1999

Party

1965

1969

1974

1979

1984

1989

1994

1999

BDP

28

24

27

29

28

31

31

33

BNF

-

3

2

2

5

3

13

6

BPP

3

3

2

1

1

0

0

-

BIP/IFP

0

1

1

0

0

0

0

-

BCP

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

1

BAM

-

-

-

-

-

-

0

0

Total no. of Seats

31

31

32

32

34

34

40

 40

% of Popular Vote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BDP

80

68

77

75

68

65

55

54

BNF

-

14

12

13

20

27

37

25

BPP

14

12

6

8

7

4

4

-

BIP/IFP

5

6

4

4

3

2

4

-

BCP

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

11

BAM

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

5

Other

1

0

1

0

2

2

0

0

Rejected

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

5

Total

100

100

100

100

100

100

100

100

% of Seats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BDP

90

77

84

91

82

91

67

83

BNF

-

10

7

6

15

9

33

15

BPP

10

10

7

3

3

0

0

-

BIP/IFP

0

3

2

0

0

0

0

-

BCP

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

2

BAM

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

0

Total

100

100

100

100

100

100

100

100

Table 1 shows that until 1994, only one political party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has dominated parliament. The opposition's representation in parliament has been nominal. This is in part because opposition parties in Botswana have had a history of splits and internal fights. To further compound their weaknesses, they have failed to present clear alternative policies to those of the ruling party.

The major opposition, Botswana National Front (BNF) split in 1998 due to this infighting. The majority of its parliamentarians (i.e. 11 out of 13) together with 68 councillors formed the new Botswana Congress Party (BCP) in 1998. Partly as a result of this split, the BNF obtained half of the seats it had won in 1994. Its political troubles have continued even after the 1999 elections.

We wish to add though, that internal fights are not exclusive to opposition parties. The ruling BDP has had problems of factionalism for years now. The major difference between the ruling party and the opposition however, is the capacity to contain factional fights and to ensure that at the end of the day there is internal party cohesion.

(b) A Weak Civil Society

Besides a weak opposition, another significant feature of Botswana's democracy has been a weak civil society. According to Holm, Molutsi and Somolekae (1994:14) civil society in Botswana is weak in relation to the state. Civil society is primarily concerned with "promoting interests of members and not so much with their relationship with the state." Compounding this problem has been the state's tendency to initiate the formation of civil society organizations. As a result of this corporate strategy, Molutsi (1995) has rightly concluded that "through the corporate strategy, the state has appropriately defined the role and functions of each organization and circumscribed these such that it becomes easy to label and isolate others as political … the effect of this strategy was that the state systematically denied itself a chance to hear the voice of the people."

In addition to the corporate strategy and the tendency to isolate those civil society groups seeking to influence policy, the state has also had the tendency to emasculate some sections of civil society labeling them "agents of foreign interests."

(c) Emerging Private Media

Until the mid-1980s, government media, both radio and the daily newspaper, Daily News was the only media of disseminating information. Both Radio Botswana and the Daily News are state controlled. It was only with the emergence of the private press, e.g., The Botswana Guardian, the now defunct Examiner, Mmegi (The Reporter), The Botswana Gazette and The Midweek Sun that alternative views to those of government started to be heard. The impact of this small private press has occasionally been felt even in government. Examples include the Botswana Housing Corporation scandal, The Mogoditshane land issue, the National Development Bank loans scandals involving senior ministers, etc. All these issues and others were covered much more extensively by the private press and not the government controlled media. Thus, increasingly, the private press is enhancing transparency and accountability.

(d) The Electoral Process

Admirable as Botswana's democracy may be, it has limitations that are embedded in its electoral system. Reynolds and Reilly (1997:7) authoritatively argue that electoral systems are perhaps the most manipulative instrument of determining the outcomes of elections. Botswana operates the 'first-past-the-post' electoral system sometimes known as the 'winner-take-all' based on the single member constituency system. Under this system only one candidate makes it to the National Assembly. Over the years, opposition parties have tried to find advantage in this electoral system but end up marginalised after every election.

The winner-take-all electoral system benefits established parties that enjoy the advantage of incumbency and the fact of being politically tested. Therefore, instead of deepening democracy it leads to the political marginalisation of significant proportions of the population. The fact of the matter is that it reduces politics to a zero-sum game in which democracy is nothing more than to the ordering of numbers. Marking a real travesty of democracy, this electoral system returns members of parliament based on a simple majority thus producing a predominant system whose result is that smaller parties loose out in the race for political power.

Needless to say that this system has served the country since independence, and, in a large measure, accounts for the country's political stability, it is far from democratic. In an attempt to project an alternative electoral system, this paper argues that for electoral democracy to be meaningful, it has to be based on a broad consensus of the electorate whose votes count equally. The outcomes of elections must be based on a national consensus that is reflected in the composition of the national legislators.

(e) Limited Civic and Voter Education

Despite being one of the oldest democracies in Sub-Saharan Africa, voters in Botswana are yet to be educated about their civic rights and responsibilities as well as their political rights. In numerous studies undertaken by the Democracy Research Project (DRP), for example, voters displayed alarming levels of political ignorance. In the March 1999 DRP poll only 14 percent of voters knew about the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and what its responsibilities are. Worst still, only 30 percent of the voters surveyed on polling day knew something about the recently declared state of emergency.

Until recently, voter education initiatives have been limited and sporadic. Only Emang Basadi and the recently established IEC have undertaken sustained voter education campaigns. While Emang Basadi is entirely dependent on donor funding, the IEC is yet to establish a voter education unit that will design, implement, coordinate and monitor its voter education programmes.

Electoral management issues

For many years, the administration of elections in Botswana was the responsibility of the Office of the President. The returning officer was the Permanent Secretary to the President. Following numerous complaints from opposition parties about the unfairness of such a set up, and subsequent consultations between government and opposition parties, some modest changes were introduced. An office of the Supervisor of Elections was created and located outside the Office of the President but the lines of authority and reporting remained the same.

Opposition parties complaints reached a pick in 1989 when they threatened to boycott the elections. What seemed to compound matters was that the then Supervisor of Elections Mr. Nathaniel Mmono, was a known card carrying BDP member who had even contested primary elections for the Lobatse-Barolong constituency in 1984. The same complaints and threats continued even in the 1994 elections. As a result of continued complaints from the opposition, the then President Sir Ketumile Masire announced some major electoral reforms in 1995. These included the establishment of an independent electoral commission, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 years, and the introduction of an absentee ballot system.

This presidential announcement was followed by a National Referendum in 1997 on electoral reforms. To mark its independence, members of the commission were selected after a lengthy and transparent process. First, there was an advertisement in the media for any interested members of the public to apply for positions in the Commission. Then an all-party forum did the selection.

The mandate for the IEC is to conduct free and fair elections. Its first test was the 1999 elections. As preparations for the 1999 elections gathered momentum, public concerns about the effectiveness of the IEC and its readiness to conduct them were raised. The private press discussed a number of issues indicative of a lack of effectiveness by the IEC (e.g., The Botswana Guardian - July 2 1999) and questioned the accuracy of the voters' roll citing the case of a BCP candidate whose particulars had been mixed up.

Compounding this problem was the declaration of the state of emergency by the President Mr. Festus Mogae in order to restore the franchise to 67 000 voters who had registered during the July 1999 Supplementary Registration exercise. Although the press later reported that the Chairman of the IEC had distanced the Commission from the blunder that necessitated the state of emergency (see the Midweek Sun, October 6, 1999), the IEC had found itself under the spotlight due to that situation.

Questions are still being asked about its autonomy because of the following:

  • it reports to the Office of the President instead of Parliament directly;

  • it has virtually inherited all staff of the former Supervisor of Elections and for quite a long time after its formation, the only additional member of staff was the Secretary to the Commission. Just before the elections, the IEC advertised some 20 positions for officers who will be responsible for registration of voters in all the 40 constituencies. However, current suggestions that such officers will be located in the District Commissioner's Officer's office have further cast doubt on the independence of the IEC from government; and

  • The IEC does not have complete independence over the administration of its funds. It has to follow the same procedures as government departments. The same applies to the procurement of transport.

The role of observers in enhancing democracy

Although Botswana's democracy is one of the oldest in the African continent, it has not been of interest to international observer groups. This is not to be surprising, because as Otlhogile (1994:294) has observed, "not all elections are observed. The international community is committed to circumstances; for instance, where there has been an absence of power sharing, or where there have been autocratic or despotic rulers, or the country has gone through turbulent periods in its history, or perhaps accompanied by human rights violations." None of these has been applicable to Botswana.

Until discovery of the unopened ballot box of the Tshiamo Primary School polling station alleged irregularities in Botswana elections were always dismissed as unfounded. The opposition claimed that the discovery of this unopened ballot box was testimony to the cheating that they have always complained about. Although not much was made of this incident internationally, it had at least registered a point that the opposition had made for years.

Following this incident, in 1989, the DRP observed the elections in Botswana. Even then, the observation was limited in that; it was restricted to the southern part of the country. The Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice (CCPJ) and the DRP of the University of Botswana observed the 1989, 1994 and 1999 elections.

The following groups: the CCPJ, DRP, Botswana Centre for Human Rights and the Southern African Electoral Commissioners Forum observed the latest election. All these groups declared the 1999 election free and fair. However, the DRP provided a number of suggestions that it felt could help enhance the effectiveness of the electoral process (Somolekae: 1999).

The critical question that this section sought to answer was whether and how election observation had enhanced Botswana's electoral process. Here we wish to reiterate our earlier point that due to the peace and tranquil that has existed in the country for a number of years and the fact that elections have always been successful, Botswana elections have not attracted a lot of attention, even from the international press. However, the fact that authorities have maintained their commitment to transparency, and welcomed both domestic and international observers has no doubt further strengthened the governments' position that it has nothing to hide.

We are of the view however, that Botswana's democracy can still benefit from election observation. Currently, only one organization, the DRP does propose and publicly articulates from time to time, an agenda of how Botswana's democracy can be strengthened. International observers can also help by providing their own perspectives on what they believe can be done to strengthen the democratic process.

5.0 Political parties as formal vehicles of political competition

A defining characteristic of Botswana's political system is that of a predominant party system. Nevertheless, political parties in Botswana are committed to open political competition and a change of government through the ballot box. However, the institutionalization of Botswana's political competition has not been tested because no turn over of government has taken place.

There are a number of factors that hamper the effectiveness of political parties as agents of change and political mobilization. These are:

(a) Factionalism and Party Splits

Factionalism has been a factor in Botswana politics since the nationalist struggle. The first major split was that of the Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) in 1964. Amidst controversy surrounding that split, there are two major views explaining it. As discussed in Mokopakgosi and Molomo (forthcoming, 2000), on the one hand, it was due to the alleged ideological differences between Motsamai Mpho and Philip Matante, and the other hand, due the alleged misappropriation of funds from foreign donors.

The BNF, which was formed in 1965 to try and reconcile the factions in BPP, was itself a subject of faction fights starting in the mid-1980s. Instead of building a profile as leader of the opposition, it was beset by factional fights and splits. Following the 1989 BNF Congress in Francistown, where delegates were told that the BNF was not a party but a front, the southern region led by Leach Tlhomelang broke away from the party citing its loss of political direction, and formed the Freedom Party. That split cost the BNF the Kanye and Ngwaketse South constituencies during the 1989 election. Factionalism was to occupy the BNF leadership for the entire duration of the 1990s.

Perhaps the most dramatic of all these splits was the one of 1998 that led to the formation of the BCP. This split was a result of ideological differences as well as struggles for political succession. During the 1997 Congress held at Ledumang in Gaborone, the BNF was split into two factions; the old guard who believed in the socialist policies entailed in Pamphlet No. 1 and the parliamentary caucus group that believed in the social democratic programme. At that congress, with the exception of Koma who retained the presidency of the party, all the members of the old guard lost the elections for positions in the Central Committee. Then a group of the old guard drawing support and sympathy of the party leader, which called itself the 'concerned group' threatened to take legal action and challenged the conduct of the elections. After several unsuccessful attempts to mediate the conflict, things went from bad to worse. At a Special Congress held in April 1998 in Palapye, amidst tensions of factional debates an open fight between the groups broke out leaving several people injured and property damaged. Instead of rising above squabbles and projecting a spirit of reconciliation, Koma who openly identified with the concerned group, told members of the party's Central Committee to form their own party if they did not want him as leader.

In further display of hardened positions, despite attempts to mediate on the conflict by religious groups, the party remained clearly paralyzed between the Parliamentary Caucus Group and the Concerned Group. Arising from these hardened positions, in July 1998 11 Members of Parliament and 68 councilors resigned from the BNF to form the BCP. As a result, the BNF's membership in parliament was reduced from 13 to 2, and they, therefore, lost their position as the official opposition to the BCP.

However, Koma regained his status as leader of the opposition after the BNF scored higher than other opposition parties after the 1999 elections. More than any other split, this one cost the BNF dearly. After the 1994 election, the BNF, which had won 13 of the 40 parliamentary seats representing 38 percent of the popular vote, had emerged as a clear alternative to the BDP. In the wake of factionalism and splits, the BNF, and indeed all opposition parties remained weak and paralyzed.

The rest of the opposition parties have remained regionally based, small and inconsequential. The BPP is a party for the North East and Francistown, the BIP/IFP has remained localized in Kanye and Maun, while the Botswana Progressive Union (BPU) has only existed in Nkange. The small parties such as Bosele, which was formed in 1997, have not made their presence felt anywhere.

Despite the opposition's failure to form a united front, there is overwhelming evidence that this situation disadvantages opposition parties. According to Table 2 below, the opposition stood a good chance to win five more constituencies in both the 1994 and 1999 elections. The Table shows that the combined poll of the opposition in some of the constituencies it lost was greater than that of the BDP.

The BDP has had its fair share of factionalism. Factional fights as far back as 1992 polarized it. These factions expressed themselves into two camps, popularly known as the Kwelagobe and Merafhe factions. Unlike in the BNF, the factions in the BDP were not motivated by ideological factors, but mainly by struggles for political succession, and, a desire by each faction to maintain a hegemonic position in the party.

The height of BDP factionalism came in 1992 following the publication of the Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Land Problems in Mogoditshane and Other Peri-Urban Villages, which implicated Peter Mmusi and Daniel Kwelagobe in wrong doing. Mmusi and Kwelagobe held high positions in both government and party; as Vice President and Minister of Local Government and lands and party chairman, and Minister of Agriculture and Secretary General of the party, respectively. The report reflected Mmusi and Kwelagobe as having entered into illicit land deals in Mogoditshane. Notwithstanding the fact that the report was eventually nullified because its submissions were made in camera rather than in public, the image of the two men, who had to resign their positions in cabinet and party, was badly tainted. There was nevertheless a strong feeling among the Kwelagobe Camp that factionalism was the reason why the two were badly reflected in the report. The BDP entered the 1994 elections deeply polarized by factional fights. They are said to have suffered a severe backlash due to these factions in those elections.

In further testimony of factionalism, during the 1997 Congress in Gaborone the BDP failed to democratically elect a Central Committee due to hardened political positions. The Merafhe faction threatened to boycott the elections because Ponatshego Kedikilwe of the Kwelagobe faction had allegedly reneged on an earlier agreement that he would not challenge Festus Mogae to the position of chairman of the party. In what will remain a serious indictment to the party, the former President Sir Ketumile Masire, working behind the scenes brokered an agreement that fixed the elections of the Central Committee in order to avert a major split of the party.

TABLE 2: SELECT CONSTITUENCIES WHERE COMBINED POLL OF OPPOSITION WAS GREATER THAN THAT OF BDP

 

Constituencies

PARTY PERFORMANCE IN 1994

BDP

BNF

BPP

IFP

BPU

UDF

Total Opp. Vote

Maun-Chobe

4804

2912

175

3142

  

6229

North East

4901

296

4638

   

4935

Sebina Gweta

3488

1149

1392

   

3541

Ngwaketse West

4024

3622

 

91

 

427

4140

Francistown East

2873

2568

2010

   

4578

Nkange

3694

465

  

3016

 

3481

 

 

 

Constituencies

PARTY PERFORMANCE IN 1999

BDP

BNF

BCP

BAM

MELS

Total Opp. Vote

Kgatleng West

4569

3616

1676

  

5292

Kgatleng East

2968

2138

2333

  

4471

Ngwaketse West

4615

4602

428

  

5033

Francistown West

4018

1604

1623

1142

 

6014

Gaborone Central

2868

1874

983

293

13

3063

It was in the wake of these factions that the BDP engaged a consultant, Lawrence Schlemmer, to study the problems in the BDP and what the party needed to do to improve it chances of winning the 1999 election. The Schlemmer Report (1997:13) identified factionalism as one of the factors that affected the BDP poll in 1994. The report then recommended that the party should bring into its fold a person of 'sufficient dynamism' who was 'untainted' by factional fights. The report further recommended the retirement of the old guard of the party and an injection of new blood, especially youth and women. The appointment of Lieutenant Ian Khama Seretse Khama, the eldest son of the first President, Sir Seretse Khama, as Vice-President and Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration was testimony to the seriousness accorded to the solution of factionalism. Former President Sir Ketumile Masire and other founder members of the party retired from active politics giving way to youth and women, many of who have made it into cabinet.

A reinvigorated BDP entered the 1999 election a relatively united party. This was attested to by the fact that the 1999 Congress proceeded without factional fights. However, unity within the BDP remains fragile given the prominence that Lieutenant Khama enjoys above long serving party stalwarts. Recently, the BDP youth wing publicly condemned President Mogae's decision to grant Khama a one-year sabbatical leave.

(b) Unity of Opposition Parties

As explained earlier in this paper, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won every election by a landslide since the independence elections in 1965. It has since emerged that the only way in which opposition parties can dislodge the BDP from power is through a united opposition. It is the only way of avoiding a split of the opposition votes.

The idea of a united opposition was first conceived in 1991. Drawing inspiration from the BNF, the BPP and the BPU, the People Progressive Front (PPF) envisaged a merger of the three opposition parties into a united front. However, PPF did not live beyond the level of an idea, it collapsed because its proponents did not agree on its modus operandi. Nevertheless, the germ if an idea was born.

In place of the PPF a new body known as the United Democratic Front (UDF) was formed in 1994. For its part, as discussed in Molomo (2000:82), the UDF envisaged the creation of an umbrella organization or a front through which various political parties and civil organizations, while retaining their individual identities, would coalesce into a united opposition. However, the UDF as a body that was formed by breakaway factions from the BNF (discussed under the section on factionalism and party splits), lacked credibility and internal cohesion, and did not articulate any agenda beyond unseating the BDP. As a consequence, UDF never made a difference in the 1994 elections.

The latest attempt towards unity was mooted in 1999. This time the unity movement was conceived under the auspices of the Botswana Alliance Movement (BAM). Just like its predecessor, the alliance partners were to maintain their independent identities and only pull their resources together to counter the overbearing influence of the ruling BDP. Suffering a similar fate as attempts made before it, BAM did not win the support of all political parties. Although the BNF initially bought into the coalition, it withdrew because, they, together with other coalition partners were not prepared to make the necessary concessions which are implied in coalition building. In the end, the parties that contested the 1999 elections under the fold of BAM were United Action Party (UAP), Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) and Independence Freedom Party (IFP). However, due to the fact that the major opposition parties such as BNF and BCP were not its members, BAM only served to split the opposition vote. It did not only fail to gain a seat in parliament but only polled about 5 percent of the popular vote.

(c) Institutionalization

The late 1980s, specifically, marked a turning point in the history and growth of the BNF. This had been the only party whose share of the popular vote was increasing while that of the BDP was declining. A number key people who had left their respective political parties such as the former Mayor of Gaborone Mr. B. Bagwasi and the former Member of Parliament for Kanye Mr. Leach Tlhomelang, Mr. W. Seboni, former Assistant Minister of Finance and Development Planning defected to the BNF. As the party grew, there was a feeling amongst the veteran members that new members who allegedly also initiated an ideological move towards the center were slowly hijacking it.

Part of this growth came with new initiatives to ensure that the party is institutionalized, and had offices and procedures for doing things including procedures on how candidates had to be chosen. Previously, the party leader and his close advisors handpicked leadership within the party. With increased competition for leadership positions, there was pressure to have systems in place; and to ensure that they are adhered to even if the results would go against the wishes of the leadership. As discussed in Molomo (2000:79), Johnson Motshwarakgole, a party stalwart and trade unionist, expressed the personification of the party as Koma (Party ke Koma). Had there been clear institutional procedures, respected by all, many of the problems that besieged the BNF since the late 1980s would have been properly managed.

(d) Party Funding

Effective political competition requires visibility and contact with the electorate. This can be achieved if funds for running campaigns, advertising and securing transport for all constituencies are available. However, not many political parties in Botswana are able to do this. The only party that appears to have sustained visibility even outside election years is the ruling party. It has received generous donations from undisclosed sources, particularly in the 1999 election year. On being criticized by the opposition parties for receiving money from secret donors, and therefore engaging in unfair competition, the ruling party pointed out that the BNF had also received assistance from undisclosed sources in 1994. BDP also added that the opposition was free to fundraise from whichever sources they chose.

The law in Botswana covers a very narrow aspect of campaign financing because it deals mainly with disclosure of election expenses by candidates and not political parties. Candidates are compelled by law to disclose any expenses incurred immediately after the writ of elections has been issued. We may wish to add that once the writ is issued, elections have to be held within 60 days. So expenses incurred before this period are not regulated. As Dingake (1999) has concluded, regulation would be important in order to level the political playing field.

6.0 Women's participation in politics

The Beijing Platform for Action states that "without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women's perspectives in all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved."

One of the weaknesses of Botswana's democracy has been the under-representation of women at virtually all levels of decision-making, both in the political sphere and even in the government bureaucracy. For a number of years, this situation was not even questioned in the country, particularly because according to Setswana tradition, "women cannot or should not lead." This situation was increasingly questioned following several developments, both locally and internationally. These developments were as follows:

The Formation of Emang Basadi

Following the amendment of the Citizenship Act in 1982, a group of Batswana women met to decide how to challenge this Act which denied Batswana women married to foreign men the right under the law to pass on citizenship to their children. The women felt that the Act denied them their democratic rights. They formed an organization called Emang Basadi that has since become a leading organization in terms of advocating for women's rights.

The Dow Case

Emang Basadi tried since its formation in 1986 to lobby government to amend the Citizenship Act and to enact a gender-neutral piece of legislation. When these efforts did not seem to bear fruit, a Motswana woman, Unity Dow, (married to an American citizen) took government to court on grounds that the Citizenship Act denied her enjoyment of human rights and that such discrimination violated the country's constitution. Dow won the case but the state appealed and still lost.

The Beijing Conference

The Beijing Conference, just like the others before it (e.g., the Nairobi Conference of 1985), and other regional initiatives such as the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development have also played a major role of bringing into focus the issues of gender, equality and development in the agendas of many governments. The Government of Botswana is a signatory to both the Beijing Declaration and the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development. These international initiatives have also helped local women's organizations, namely Emang Basadi and its collaborating partners that needed a boost in questioning Botswana's democracy and its effectiveness particularly in promoting participation by all, and ensuring equality.

The results of the 1999 elections have shown that all the different interventions from NGOs and the entire civil society concerning women's empowerment, are starting to bear fruit. Actually, these results started to become evident following the 1994 elections. After that election, only two women won elections, but the President used the provision for special nomination in the constitution to bring in two more women. Still, that was not substantial, given the fact that parliament has 40 members. However, the women's movement welcomed the gesture as it was seen as an important step in strengthening Botswana's democracy, and continued to lobby for more gender equality.

The number of women in parliament following the 1999 elections is eight. Six of these contested elections and they all won. The President later nominated two. In addition, for the first time since the country's independence, there are four women in Cabinet. Two more women have been appointed Permanent Secretaries. However, despite these gains, it is still evident that the challenges of achieving gender equality in Botswana politics are still great. Increasingly, it has been realised that if more women were to be visible in politics, political parties would have to device strategies that will ensure that they are represented even within party structures, and to ensure that they go through the primary elections stage. Women's wings of political parties would have to play a central role of ensuring that such changes occur at party level.

Minorities and youth

One of the issues that have occasionally dominated political debate in Botswana is the issue of minorities, particularly the Basarwa. Human Rights groups such Ditshwanelo (Botswana Human Rights Center) and the Botswana Christian Council have complained about alleged violations of human rights of Basarwa. In particular, the issue of land rights and the relocation of the Basarwa from the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve have been repeatedly cited.

The major mouth piece of the Basarwa (i.e. the First People of the Kgalagadi Organization, has joined forces with the international NGOs to bring this issue to the attention of the international community. They have been somewhat successful because two years ago, the European Union even sent a fact finding mission to Botswana to study the nature of the problem.

However, government has not gone back on its earlier decision to relocate the Basarwa. In fact, the issue has not even dominated national debate. Until the issue is brought into the national agenda, it will remain peripheral.

The electoral reforms introduced in 1998, were largely expected to strengthen democracy. In particular the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 years was expected to give the youth a voice in the political system. However, the problem of youth voter apathy in the 1999 election did not make this possible.

Compounding this problem was the failure of the party primary election system to produce youth candidates. The entrenched cultural stereotypes against youth leadership, and the failure of youth wings to articulate a clear and coherent agenda for youth political empowerment did not help the situation. We believe that unless the different political parties in this country prioritize this issue, and tackle it head on, youth will remain marginalized from holding political office.

8.0 Botswana's democracy - which way forward?

The picture that emerges from this paper concerning the development and sustainability of Botswana's democracy is a somewhat contradictory one. It is contradictory in the sense that there have been real positive developments that have the potential of promoting the sustainability of the democratic system, but there have also been negative developments that may have the potential of undermining the achievements made thus far.

Positive Developments

As we noted in the paper some of these notable positive developments include the following:

  • Free and fair elections have consistently been held since independence. The country has never experienced political violence, and there is evidence that a culture of political tolerance has taken root.
  • Major electoral reforms have been undertaken. These include the formation of the Independent Electoral Commission, lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18, and the introduction of the absentee ballot system.
  • There have been concerted efforts by government to respond to the wishes of the traditionally marginalised groups, particularly women. Discriminatory pieces of legislation have been amended, there are more women in cabinet today than at any point in the country's history, and Botswana has finally acceded to calls from the women's movement to ratify international conventions outlawing gender based discrimination.
  • The private media continues to grow and to be vigilant in its watchdog role. Today there are two private radio stations, and about seven newspapers. This obviously enhances the dissemination of a variety of ideas and opinions, not just the official view that is what the state media provides.

Much as the above are commendable and go a long way in enhancing Botswana's democracy, there are still a number of concerns and problems in the following areas:

Shortcomings of Botswana's Democracy

  • The Electoral System
    Despite having introduced significant electoral reforms noted earlier Botswana has continued with an electoral system that distorts electoral outcomes. The winner takes all electoral system produces a parliament that is disproportionate to the popular vote.

  • Crisis in the Opposition
    The crisis takes the following forms; it is the lack of internal unity and cohesion that manifests itself in party splits, a proliferation of small parties, and factionalism. On the other hand, this crisis also manifests itself in the area of poor management and the failure to build a cohesive force that can truly provide a voter with a viable choice.

  • Uneven Political Playing Field
    Elections like any form of competition have to be held in an environment where none of the contesting parties is unfairly disadvantaged. This is an important aspect in the fairness of an electoral process. However, in Botswana, there are a number of factors that actually contribute to the unfairness of the country's electoral system. These include the following:

    • Access to Government Media
      The state controls both the Daily News and the biggest radio station in the country, Radio Botswana. The opposition has complained on numerous occasions about this situation, indicating that they do not get fair and equal coverage like the ruling party. They have even gone to the extent of recommending the introduction of an Independent Broadcasting Authority.

      Government on the other hand has dismissed such concerns as unfounded claiming that all parties get equal and fair coverage. Nevertheless, we do not think this is so. The BDP as an incumbent party obviously cannot get the same airtime on radio as opposition parties in a state controlled media.

    • Political Party Funding

      For as long as political party funding from the state is not provided, the playing field cannot be level. The ruling party is able (being an incumbent party) to attract generous donations from various donors as it admitted during the 1999 elections. We do not expect potential sponsors to risk their interests by targeting untested small parties. This effectively means that at election time, BDP has a lot of financial strength and visibility which others do not have. During the 1999 elections, the ruling party put up billboards, bought a fleet of vehicles and engaged in numerous advertising activities. They had visibility, the opposition did not, and we feel the contest was as such not fair.

      However, the provision of state funding for political parties cannot take away the apparent need for opposition parties to deal with their internal problems and lack of institutionalization since these undermine their viability, and their chances of emerging as alternative governments.

In concluding this paper, we would like to address one pertinent issue, and that is, what is being done in Botswana to strengthen the democratic system? In doing so, we look at government's efforts and those efforts of civil society.

Contemporary efforts to Strengthen Democracy

Government Efforts

Vision 2016

In 1997, the former President Sir, Ketumile Masire set up a Task Force to facilitate a process of formulating a long-term vision for Botswana. After extensive consultations with people all around the country, the committee published all the ideas and issues raised by the people in a document entitled Long-Term Vision for Botswana: Towards Prosperity for All. Subsequently, an interim Vision Council was established to oversee the implementation of the vision.

Among the areas of focus in the Vision is the 'creation of an open, democratic and accountable nation.' What the Vision aims to achieve is to consolidate Botswana's democracy, and the cultivation of a certain leadership ethic described as follows:

A morally and ethically upright, educated society ... with increased political tolerance, and legal sanction against those who violate the principles of accountability at all levels of leadership, including the state president (Vision: 1997:11).

The portfolio for the vision rests with the Vice President. This shows the extent to which the Vision is important to the country.

Parliamentary Offices

After the 1999 elections, a decision was taken to provide all Parliamentarians in their constituencies with offices in order to promote consultation with those they represent.

NGO Efforts

The NGOs continue to make their contributions in the following areas:

  • They continue to provide a voice from outside government thus
    making government accountable.
  • They provide civic and voter education, thus enhancing the democratic process.
  • The media continues to educate, question and raise issues demanding government answers, thus promoting accountability and transparency.

However, these efforts have largely relied on donor assistance whose exodus since 1998, has deprived the NGO sector of valuable support for its continued survival. If the remaining donors are to follow SIDA, NORAD and others, then the infant civil society currently existing will vanish from the political scene; thus the state will remain dominant without a countervailing voice. This will weaken Botswana's democracy.

9.0 Recommendations

Given the above problems and issues, we make the following recommendations which we believe are necessary for strengthening Botswana's democracy;

  • Reform the electoral system.
  • Enhance the operational autonomy of the IEC.
  • The state should provide funding for political parties.
  • The law should be changed to make it compulsory to disclose all sources of political party funding.
  • Continue to strive to achieve greater gender equality in politics.
  • Establish an Independent Broadcasting Authority.
  • Endeavor to ensure that Vision 2016 is translated into tangible, concrete implementable programmes for strengthening democracy.
  • Donors must provide financial and institutional support to civic groups dealing in the area of democratization such as Emang Basadi and DRP.


ENDNOTES

1. G. Winstanley, The Bechuanaland General election 1965: Ballot Envelopes and Voting Counters, 1965; G. Winstanley, Report to the Minister of Health, Labour and Home Affairs on the General Elections 1969 Gaborone: Government Printer (March 1970); P. L Steenkamp, Report to the Minister of State on the General elections, 1974 Gaborone: Government Printer (1974); P. L Steenkamp, Report to the Minister of Public Service and Information on the General Election, 1979, Gaborone Government Printer (1979); Festus G. Mogae, Report to the Minister of Public Service and Information on the General Election, 1984, Gaborone: Government Printer, (1984); Nathaniel Mmono, Report to the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration on the General Election, 1989 Gaborone: Government Printer (1989); Nathaniel Mmono, Report to the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration on the General Election, 1994 Gaborone: Government Printer (1994); Gabriel Seeletso, Report to the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration on the General Election, 1999 Gaborone: Government Printer (1999).

2. During the mid-1990s three splinter groups emerged from the BNF. These were the Botswana Workers Front (BWF) formed by Shawn Nthaile, United Socialist Party (USP) led by Nehemiah Modubule and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) by Mareledi Giddie. Shawn Nthaile left the BNF to form the BWF because he felt Batswana of Bakgalagadi origin were marginalised from top party positions. Manifesting a different problem Modubule whose party espoused a socialist ideology felt that the right wing had gained a hegemonic position in the party. As a mark of political opportunism, Giddie after he lost the primary elections for Gaborone Central broke from the BNF to form the SDP, professing the same ideological position as the party he left.

3. Op. cit.

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