There is something fundamentally flawed with so-called ‘democracies’ that perpetuate political, monarchical or tribal dynasty. In Swaziland where The Mswatis rule by decree, in the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC] where the Kabilas cheat at the ballot box; the Bongos, the Kaddafis and the Mugabes who enforce their will using AK47s – we Africans have grown to tolerate dynastical oppression. But in a country where freedom, choice, multiplicity, tolerance, tranquility and respect for property rights are virtually a way of life, it is impossible to figure out why one political party, the Botswana Democratic Party [BDP] can exert such paralysing influence for over half a century. It is either the Tswanas are too naive or the Khamas are so incredibly good!
Most international institutions of ‘good governance’ – including our very own IMANI – tout Botswana as one of the ‘best’ democracies in the modern world, and for good reason. The Khama dynasty has long presided over peace, stability and exponential economic growth in the former British protectorate that has never tested political acrimony. With an overall population fewer than two and half million and the world’s largest known reserves of gem diamonds in Jwaneng, this Southern African country has escaped Africa’s traditional resource curse of corruption and crude management that plunges similar economies like Nigeria and the DRC into heart-rending strife. An average 9% growth rate yielding a US$14,000 Gross Domestic Product per capita and sophisticated infrastructure is any African’s dream destination.
And yet critics of reigning President Seretse Ian Khama argue that good governance goes beyond the usual indicators of ‘democratic fitness’ like a free economy, zero tolerance to corruption, respect of property rights and “A” grade credit ratings. The retired military man has been accused of heavy handedness when it comes to using the majority that his BDP enjoys in government. As late as last week, political opponents pointed fingers at him for misusing government funds and resources to ‘reinforce Botswana Democratic Party campaigns in constituencies where the opposition is considered to pose a threat’. The bedrock of Botswana’s democratic culture – the ‘kgotla’ village consultative forum – has been one of the entities that Ian Khama is said to exploit in furthering autocratic and populist interests.
Moreover, Botswana’s season of bliss has to contend with a forty percent HIV and AIDS rate, a phenomenal orphan population of one hundred and twenty thousand, and an economy largely dependent on one resource with key sectors driven by expatriates. It is therefore understandable why Khama’s critics have a case against a ‘dynasty’ that has driven a country on a dangerous path of dependency. Rural poverty and drunkenness have been for decades, the Achilles Heel of BDP’s seemingly untarnished political high scores that opposition parties have failed to exploit in their bid to neutralise Khama’s monopoly, more so at a time when this resource-rich country has been plunged into the fray of global recession.
Ian Khama has endeared himself with the free world by being the only president in the troubled Southern African Development Community [SADC] who openly condemns Robert Mugabe’s violent and coercive rule. He has been quoted as pouring scorn on any form of coalition government – even the Madagascar version – and for good reasons – as a cheap shot at rewarding losers. The Khamas know better. Botswana played host to Zimbabwean refugees as far back as 1973 at the height of Ian Smith-sponsored Rhodesian war. This author was one of the early beneficiaries of Sir Seretse Khama’s hospitality in the late seventies, but thousands of my fellow citizens have since paralysed Botswana’s immigration system to escape of Mugabe’s blood thirsty dictatorship.
So what is the problem with Ian Khama’s renewed five-year tenure? Looked every which way, there is evidence, more so in Africa, that one-party political dominance, even if it is a product of a perfect democracy, is not healthy for a nation. South Africans have only known two political parties – the Apartheid sponsored National Party and Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress [ANC]. Generations of Zimbabweans have come and gone under Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front and Robert Mugabe’s painful rule, not to mention Mozambicans who cannot perceive life without Samora Machel’s FRELIMO party. In all the above cases, the systems have produced complacency, poverty, crime, homelessness, illiteracy and in Zimbabwe’s case, genocide.
One can argue a case of good fortune from Ian Khama’s ‘red corner’, but employment generated mainly by public expenditure is hardly a reason for ululation. Mr Khama is a soldier-turned-politician who sooner or later will choke in his own popularity – and the signs are visible. It may be a myth, but pronouncements that beer drinking after ‘certain hours’ of the day is not exactly a decree associated with citadels of effective leadership is sad. Legend also has it that when the sun sets on the presidential motorcade, he ‘demands’ to spend the night in the nearest village with total disregard of his host’s security. In his own BDP, there are divisions that some critics insist were it that opposition parties are themselves not fractured, the ‘doomgra’ – a phonetic nickname of Khama’s party – would have crumbled at last week’s polls.
Put another way, the case of Khama’s political domination may not necessarily be a gift to the world democratic movement, but compared to American friends in Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and of late, the embattled Afghanistan – we Sothern Africans have to give Botswana a standing ovation. An election where literarily all parties campaign under the same roof without a single [political] water glass being broken must be a Guinness Book entry! Zimbabweans may be ‘smarter’ than their Tswana neighbours intellectually, but they have a lot to learn. Mugabe’s resentment of ‘Sir Seretse Khama’s young boy’ is founded in jealousy and envy. Between 1980 and June 2008, Mugabe’s brand of ‘constitutional democracy’ has accounted for over twenty five thousand deaths and three million economic refuges. If this had happened in Botswana, there would be no country to write about! Mr Mugabe, for crying out loud, look across the border, watch and learn on how REAL elections are run.
Rejoice Ngwenya is a columnist with African Liberty and director of Coaltion for Liberal Market Solutions.