Botswana's rulers face united rival

2012-11-22 14:43

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Gaborone - The African Spring may not have materialised, but in Botswana - the continent's oldest multi-party democracy - the winds of change are buffeting a party that has ruled the country since independence.

For 46 years, diamond rich Botswana has been governed by the centre-right Botswana Democratic Party.

During that time the country has been a rarity in Africa: both democratic and stable.

It has also entered the ranks of middle income nations and per capita is now richer than neighbouring South Africa.

Stranger still, former president Festus Mogae stepped down after ten years and two terms in office, having won plaudits for his handling of the country's HIV-Aids crisis.

The number of children under 15-years-old newly inflected with HIV fell 78% between 2001 and 2009.

Consequently, Mogae is one of only three leaders to have won Mo Ibrahim's illusive prize given to leaders who don't mess up their country and stand down without bloodshed.

Current president and former military man Ian Khama has been accused of having authoritarian tendencies, but he is no Mobutu Sese Seko or Robert Mugabe.

Precious stones

Still, if attendance at the recent launch of a new opposition coalition is anything to go by, then the path to his re-election in 2014 will be anything but easy for Khama.

Unifying under the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), the leaders of the three parties, Botswana Movement for Democracy - which broke away from the ruling party - the Botswana National Front and the Botswana People's Party are determined to give the government a run for its money.

"We are here to provide an alternative," said Duma Boko, a human rights lawyer who will lead the party.

"Botswana might be a middle income country but the majority of its people are poor, we need to change."

The party is counting on attracting young voters, poor voters and those who believe the economy must be diversified away from diamonds.

The precious stones are the bedrock of Botswana's economy and account for between 70-80 percent of GDP and about half of government's revenue.

But foreign reserves have taken a nose dive due to slow diamond sales as a result of the global economic crunch.

Worse, the diamond mines are forecast to be depleted by 2025.

Heading for disaster

"The ruling party has failed the nation," said Rasina Rasina of the UDC. "Yes Botswana has diamonds, but one day we will wake up to hear that our diamonds are no more. What then will sustain the country when that eventually happens?

"Botswana used to export beef to the EU but all that is no more because of poor management. Our tourism has great potential but it is being underutilised," said Rasina.

"If the current status quo continues beyond 2014 then we are heading for disaster," said Rasina.

The coalition will hope to tap a vein of discontent among labour unions and civil servants.

The government's refusal to give them a 16% salary increase has created animosity.

Civil servants went on strike for the first time ever last year demanding 16% salary increase but the government said it had no money and only gave them three percent.

With inflation running at around 7%, civil servants said that was not enough and downed tools for two months, shuttering schools and clinics.

"We are struggling to make ends meet because of this BDP government, which refused to adjust our salaries accordingly," said one civil servant who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"We will have our day in 2014 where we will make sure that Khama and his government come to an end, we are tired."

Biggest election threat

Analysts say this is the biggest electoral threat the BDP has seen to date, but that does not mean it will lose.

Political commentator, Lawrence Ookeditse believes the opposition has a very slim chance of winning the next election, but 2014 will be a watershed.

"Unless something catastrophic happens between now and 2014 the BDP will still win,' he said.

"It may lose some of the seats in Gaborone and other urban areas but won't have much bearing on the results."

"The political landscape is no longer the same and I have no doubt that many people are looking forward to 2014 to see what will exactly happen."

For now the country's ruling party is confident.

"I can liken the UDC to a new born baby which is drawing attention and being liked by everyone, but as time goes on the excitement fades away," said Lesang Magang, culture and publicity chairperson of the ruling BDP

"What they need to understand is that politics and elections are a marathon not a sprint.

"We have been in the marathon for too long and results of our good governance are there for all to see, so really we are not bothered by this excitement around the opposition coalition."

Read more on:    robert mugabe  |  festus mogae  |  mobutu sese seko  |  ian khama  |  botswana  |  southern africa

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