It was previously submitted that in order for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) to stand a realistic chance of retaining state power at the 2019 general election and beyond, it has to confront its shortcomings head on. This instalment discusses some of these shortcomings, many of which have been in existence for decades but became glaringly evident under President Khama’s administration. Most prominent amongst these is the party’s lack of control over the BDP government, hence the party’s dismal failure to rein in government over its excesses.
The remarkable success of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) at the 2014 general election was to a large extent due to its deft exploitation of excesses by the BDP government, against which rebuttals by the party were impossible. Without the unrestrained behaviour of the government, the UDC would not have gained the kind of traction that resulted in its electoral achievements. Government excesses have taken the form of extra-judicial killings and corruption by public officials.
It would appear that extra-judicial killings by security agents did not start with the administration of President Khama; but they increased significantly under his watch. Under previous administrations, there were rumours doing the rounds of extra-judicial killings by military intelligence agents, but these were rare and it would seem that every effort was made to keep the killings out of the public domain. People took comfort in the fact that the government of the day was fearful of such acts being made public, given the likely political repercussions.
And when, in May 2009, Mr John Kalafatis was executed in full glare of the public by members of the Botswana Defence Force reportedly on loan to the Directorate on Intelligence and Security (DIS), public reaction was complete disbelief. The act shocked the nation to its very core. And the insensitive remarks that made light of the incident reportedly by the then vice president did not help matters. Before long, the police also jumped onto the bandwagon and incidences of criminal suspects being shot dead spiked, with some suspects mysteriously disappearing under police custody.
The fact that the president and his vice were retired army generals, both having headed the Botswana Defence Force, caused some degree of public apprehension that was largely driven by incessant warnings from the opposition (parties, media and unions) about the advent of a military dictatorship. The appointment of a former soldier to head the newly formed DIS in some ways lent credence to the opposition allegations. It was against this backdrop that the public execution of Mr Kalafatis took place. And instead of addressing a nation still in shock over the execution of Mr Kalafatis at the hands of state agents, in June 2012 President Khama comes up with another shocker and pardons and reemploys the convicted killers of Mr Kalafatis a few months into their jail term, without taking the nation into his confidence about the pardons. President Khama is yet to explain his actions, and the party is powerless to take him to task over them. The BDP’s failure to publicly condemn extra-judicial killings gave the electorate the distinct impression that the party just could not be bothered. The party’s inability to call Government to order over extra-judicial killings meant that it went into the 2014 general election with a huge albatross around its neck.
Because of this perceived indifferent attitude by the party and its president over extra-judicial killings, it was quite an easy task for the opposition to convince a sizeable section of the electorate that it was under siege from what was described as a heartless military regime. The UDC went further by concocting a hit list of opposition leaders that it said were to be assassinated by state agents in the run-up to the 2014 general election. The hit list claim was a master stroke because, as providence would have it, soon afterwards - merely three months before the election - Mr Gomolemo Motswaledi, president of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and deputy president of the UDC, had a fatal car accident. And to the astonishment and chagrin of the BDP, an already malleable electorate was told by the UDC that Mr Motswaledi had been assassinated by state agents in accordance with the hit list.
Naturally, the UDC exploited Mr Motswaledi’s death to the fullest – sucking it dry for political mileage. A gullible University of Botswana student community swallowed the assassination claim whole - bait, hook and sinker - and on Election Day Mr Dumelang Saleshando did not know what hit him, as a UDC political novice unexpectedly found himself in parliament. Without the extra-judicial killings and the attendant blasé attitude, the UDC would not have pulled off this stunt, which helped the party increase its seats in parliament two and half-fold.
As earlier observed, the other notable form of government excess is corruption by public officials. However, this is more of a perception rather than proven conduct, as illustrated by incidents of cabinet ministers and top civil servants charged with corruption being routinely acquitted by the courts. The fact that cabinet ministers and other top public officials can be hauled before the courts on corruption charges had, on the whole, convinced the electorate that the BDP government does not tolerate corruption within its ranks nor is anyone above the law. The existence of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) also helped government parry corruption allegations levelled at it by the opposition. Consequently, opposition allegations of corruption on the part of the BDP government never found traction. Until Mr Isaac Kgosi and the DIS happened.
A DCEC docket on its investigation into Mr Kgosi’s alleged corrupt conduct somehow found its way into print media houses. And the revelations were stupefying. The allegations painted Mr Kgosi as an unscrupulous man who abused his position to unlawfully enrich himself with impunity. He was said to haul to the bank suitcases full with some of the loot for depositing. Some media reports even went to the extent of suggesting that he was willing to take out those who could implicate him in alleged corrupt dealings, citing his possible links to the brutal slaying of Mr Harry Tembo, a Malawian national who was alleged to be corruptly linked to Mr Kgosi and was about to be questioned by the DCEC as part of the agency’s investigations into Mr Kgosi.
The BDP was totally blindsided by the revelations, which surfaced just before the 2014 general election - it had no defence against the exposé. It was a total nightmare for the ruling party as it was also trying to deal with the aftermath of Mr Motswaledi’s death that the opposition blamed on the state security apparatus. For the anti-BDP newspapers, the expose was a wet dream; with the allegations and other perceived missteps by the DIS becoming the staple front page news until Election Day. The BDP faithful and election candidates could only watch helplessly as President Khama refused to yield to demands that he should suspend Mr Kgosi from duty pending the conclusion of the DCEC investigation and the subsequent judicial process in order to take the steam out of the opposition onslaught.
In his refusal to suspend the DIS chief, President Khama cited people whose careers had been derailed after he suspended them from duty only for them to be later on cleared by the courts. The allegations against Mr Kgosi and President Khama’s refusal to suspend him from duty were seized upon by the opposition and sold to the electorate as proof of wide-spread corruption in the upper echelons of government and the condonation of corruption by the BDP. And as President Khama continued to stand by Mr Kgosi, the BDP continued to bleed until Election Day. The discussion on the shortcomings of the BDP will continue in the next instalment.
*Bugalo A. Chilume is a member of the BDP