A Botswana for the Batswana: Politicians’ last-ditch promises to voters


Botswana’s sweltering heat did little to deter political campaigners and presidential hopefuls from taking to the streets in a final attempt to woo voters ahead of the national elections tomorrow.

Loudhailers could be heard as early as 6am in Gaborone as vehicles drove up and down the streets and the voices behind the mics preached the parties’ promises and urged Batswana to vote for them.

They were periodically drowned out by flypasts from what looked like army fighter jets, which had Gaborone residents and local media convinced that it was an aerobatics practice run – a thrilling preview of what would be seen on presidential inauguration day when the man who got the stamp of approval at the polls on Wednesday would be officially sworn in as the head of state.

City Press also saw a fleet of army buses and vehicles pulling cannons driving though the city.

The buses were filled with squad members heading to practice their act, including the gun salute, for the anticipated big day, even though the date was yet to be officially announced.

One thing the Batswana were sure of was that when they returned to work and schools on Monday, they would have a president-in-waiting. The question now is, who?

READ: Wednesday is D-Day for Botswana

The incumbent, Mokgweetsi Masisi, has declared a long weekend. Batswana have been given Wednesday to Friday to go vote and would only return to work on Monday after election results have been announced.

Tuesday was a “half day”, so people could travel to different areas and vote in their constituencies. Botswana is divided into 57 constituencies that vote for a member of parliament. The party that wins 29 constituencies takes the helm.

Masisi and other presidential hopefuls continued to crisscross Botswana on Tuesday. The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) leader was spotted at a local shopping centre, Main Mall, where he made an early morning public appearance.

The fifth president of the BDP, who took over from former president Ian Khama 18 months ago, Masisi, is vying for a fresh term as Botswana’s head of state.

Mokgweetsi Masisi
Botswana's president and leader of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), Mokgweetsi Masisi, arrives at a rally in Thamaga village, about 40km west of the capital city Gaborone, Botswana, on Tuesday. Picture: Siyabonga Sishi/Reuters

Fighting for retainment

The BDP has governed Botswana since its independence 53 years ago. Masisi is facing a huge task of keeping this party – which was co-founded by the diamond-rich country’s first President, Sir Seretse Khama, who is also Ian Khama’s father, 66 years ago – on top.

Former Botswana president Ian Khama
Former Botswana president Ian Khama attends an election rally in Gaborone in August. Picture: AP Photo/File

Things are not easy for the BDP. The party is facing a fierce contest from the Botswana Patriotic Front (BDF) which may only be a few months old, but counts Ian Khama among its members and is led by the BDP’s former member of parliament, Biggie Butale.

Masisi was live on Facebook earlier today urging the people of Molepolole, north west of Gaberone to allow him to continue as the president of Botswana.

“By voting for them [the BDP leaders] you are voting for me. It is time for the BDP to go fix things. I am here to tell you and I urge you to go tell others… you need water in Molepolole and I promise you a bill that will ensure you get water. Vote BDP,” he said.

Masisi – who has had a falling out with his predecessor, Ian Khama, that is believed to have led to the latter leaving the BDP for the BPF months ago – has been promising to “fix things”.

“If you want to see change, choose the BDP because the BDP of today is not that of 2014; it is youthful, modern and beautiful,” he said.

This could be easily understood to be a swipe at the BDP that was led by Khama when it won the elections in 2014.

“Don’t vote for anyone else … especially those of umbrellas because some of them have joined forces with the people we never thought they would align themselves with,” Masisi said.

This could also be taken as a reference to the alliance between the opposition party, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), and the BPF.

The UDC leaders were known critics of Ian Khama and his leadership but now were working with his party, the BPF. The latter was contesting in 19 constituencies and the agreement was that they would urge their supporters to vote for the UDC in areas where their party was not contesting.

The two parties were not clear on whether this would lead to a coalition after elections.

There is also the Alliance for Progressives (AP), which is led by Ndaba Gaolatlhe, who has been tipped to be the possible kingmaker as the next Botswana parliament takes shape post-elections.

The frontrunners

- Biggie Butake, BPF; lawyer and pastor

Biggie Butale

A former assistant minister under BDP, Butale studied law and is also a preacher. He promised to strive for an economy that would create local wealth, business opportunities for locals and create jobs. The 47-year-old wants procurement to be done locally as well. “Close our borders so that Botswana companies can grow,” he said.

- Mokgweetsi Masisi, BDP; the educationist

Mokgweetsi Masisi
Mokgweetsi Masisi is the current President of Botswana. Supplied

A former teacher with a masters degree in education, 57-year-old Masisi is hoping for the majority of the Batswana to give him and his 66-year-old party a fresh mandate. He is promising a change in governance by his party, which is still governing.

“We may be in government, but we want to change things… I would be lying if I said that most of our economy is in the hands of Batswana. We need to have citizenship, economic empowerment and increase opportunities for Batswana,” he said.

- Duma Boko, UDC; the advocate

Duma Boko
Duma Boko

A Harvard Law School graduate and human rights lawyer, Boko is burning with passion to remove the BDP from power.

“Our country has shocking problems… there are those who plunged it into this mess and those who must pull it out. We are serious when we say we will create 100 000 jobs in 12 months,” said the 50-year-old presidential hopeful.

- Ndaba Gaolathe, AP; The Numbers Man

Ndaba Gaolathe
Ndaba Gaolathe

He is the son of a former Botswana finance minister, Baledzi Gaolathe. A former BDP member, the 47-year-old holds an MBA in finance and degrees in mathematics and economics, all obtained in the US. “We need to build a strong economy inclusive of every Motswana (a singular for a Botswana citizen) …an economy where people have land. Our economy is not in Batswana’s hands,” he said.

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