Is Motswaledi’s death the tipping point for Botswana?

Former British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, has said, “Whether or not assassinations change the history of the world, they do change the history of the individual countries.” Was Motswaledi assassinated and will his death change the history of this country?

Even as the police investigations on the death of Gomolemo Motswaledi are ongoing, conspiracy theorists insist that the president of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and secretary general of the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and his party had become such a threat that the powers-that-be were left with no choice but to eliminate him two months ahead of the general election this year. When he was suspended from the BDP in 2010 prompting his resignation, the ruling party thought he was politically dead. To the dismay of the BDP, Motswaledi, who had been elected secretary general at the party congress in Kanye just before he fell out with its leadership, became a founder member of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD).

The BMD would later form an alliance with the Botswana National Fron t(BNF) and Botswana Peoples’ Party (BPP). According to a BDP report recently leaked to the media, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), which is the cooperation effort by the three parties, is giving the ruling party sleepless nights ahead of the general election this year. Motswaledi met his death in a car accident on Wednesday morning last week as he returned from a political errand in South Africa. Particularly ominous is the fact that, instead of abetting with time, the suspicion that the state, on behalf of the ruling party, murdered Motswaledi, seems to grow by the day as the mystery deepens. It is significant to note that Motswaledi’s death comes on the back of allegations by his party that the BDP led government had compiled a hit list of UDC members, particularly from the BMD element of the coalition, for elimination. Subsequent to the hit-list story, the president of the UDC, Duma Boko, himself from the BNF component of UDC alleged an assassination attempt on him.

Also of significance is the fact that, while several UDC officials have been subjected to break-ins into their houses and vehicles losing laptops and other valuables, not only has this crime not been reported by any BDP official (at least to our knowledge), but none of the perpetrators of these criminal activities on the UDC officials have been arrested. Motswaledi himself has experienced several burglaries and a number of break-ins into his car since he left the BDP. Yet another victim of the suspicious criminal activities on the BMD activists is Sedirwa Kgoroba who reportedly lost his gun to the criminals who had forcibly entered his house and beat him up. The latest in the long list of victims is Disoso Pheto, the BMD administrative officer whose house was broken into last week. Motswaledi’s death comes at a time when many people view our security agents with a lot of suspicion and fear. As a matter of fact, Motswaledi has, on several occasions, told his UDC candidates and party leaders that they were at the risk of being assassinated.

For the past five or so years, the security agents of this country have been accused of impunity. They allegedly serve the interests of individuals in government as opposed to those of the country. Things came to a head following the extra-judicial murder of one John Kalafatis whose wrong-doing has to date, not been shared with the nation. His family members were later victimised. Ominously too, the killers, all of them members of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), were given presidential pardon and allowed back to their jobs after only a few months in prison.

This gave the impression that our security agents can literally get away with murder. The unprecedented number of people evicted from the country as prohibited immigrants, fed into the new belief that Botswana was led by a paranoid and insecure government which would not accept anything less than blind loyalty and conformity. There have lately been cries that, while Botswana continues to espouse democracy, ours has become a predatory state which relies on patronage and intimidation. The government, which finds itself under electoral threat from the opposition for the first time, has been accused of using security agents to target the unions and private media for intimidation to minimise exposure of malpractices. If Motswaledi was indeed murdered, that would be a first in Botswana. As post-independence Africa was engulfed by ‘political bush fires and economic maladies,’ due to failure by the leaderships of the countries to respect the rule of law, Botswana remained ‘an oasis in the desert of aridity.’ Despite allegations of vote rigging even as way back as 1965 when the first election was held in this country, Botswana had no match at least in the regularity of its elections in the entire continent. When many African countries exported more refugees than commodities, ruling and opposition party cadres in Botswana enjoyed peaceful co-existence. Nor has Botswana ever had political prisoners.

There is no doubt that assassinations, which are the highest form of political violence, exacerbate the fear and suspicion of the people on security agents. In fact, as noted by the University of Botswana political science lecturer, Lawrence Ookeditse, the fact that the UDC is not willing to leave everything to the police, could itself be an indication that the trust levels between the two stakeholders in this matter is at all time low. As the British prime minister Disraeli suggests, in the worst case scenario, assassinations increase the possibility of conflict in a country. Though the possibility that his was an ordinary accident exists, conspiracy theorists, including the UDC itself, especially the youth league of that party, blame Motswaledi’s death on the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) led government. Asked if he thought Botswana had joined other African countries where assassinations and disappearances of opposition party leaders are a common occurrence, Ookeditse said he was constrained by the fact that both the police and the private investigator are yet to complete their investigations. “It is good that the UDC is doing a parallel investigation. One is happy that the police allowed a parallel investigation to take place.

The way forward should be informed by the findings of the police as well as the independent inquest,” he said any predictions at this stage would needlessly feed the rumour mill. Admitting that people are living in fear, he said that those fears will prove misplaced if the findings, especially those of the private investigator, do not support the perceptions that dominate conversations on the death of Motswaledi. “People might find that their fears were misplaced if the inquest finds no foul-play,” he said.

In his view, an incident such as the death of Motswaledi could be a wake-up call but not something from which conclusions are made. “You do not pick up a single event and make conclusions. In order for that to happen, a pattern has to have been observed,” he added. In Ookeditse’s view, the fact that, arguably, more BMD officials have been in the news as victims of crime as mentioned above, is not a sufficient pattern. 

Last modified on Monday, 11 August 2014 09:48

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