31 March, 2015

$10 for my vote! How Botswana Opposition Women Politicians Learnt the Hard Way that Party Loyalty Is a Thing of the Past!

by Sethunya Tshepho Mosime

Surprising for the beacon of Africa democracy, the number of Botswana women in politics has been declining over the last ten years. Trends in much of Africa have been quite the opposite, with Rwanda leading in the world at a whopping 56% of its parliament seats being held by women. Liberia has a woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Malawi also had Joyce Banda briefly serving as a woman president. Zimbabwe’s Joyce Mujuru also briefly served as a woman vice-president. South Africa is not doing too badly either, and South African woman Nkosazana Zuma- Dlamini is the current Chairperson of the African Union.

Botswana went into the 2014 general elections refusing to sign the 2008 Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Gender Protocol, which among other things calls for commitment to the quota system to ensure representation of women. This did not altogether discourage women from contesting for local government and legislative positions. Altogether 17 women from the three main political parties stood for a total of 57 seats, only 4 women made it through the ballot box, and for the first time, a woman from an opposition party made it to parliament. At local government, even more women entered the race, although still very few in proportion to men. An even smaller number won the local government seats.

The newly founded Letsema Resource Mobilization Support for Botswana Women in Politics provided some modest training for the women before the general election. Training included bringing Ambassador Meryl Frank from the United States to share her experiences in running against strong male opposition. Appointed by President Obama, Frank is a former mayor of Highland Park in New Jersey and serves as ambassador and deputy U.S. representative to the Commission on the Status of Women. Women also trained on the use of social media, message packaging and personal branding. However, none of this prepared them for a new phenomenon they discovered on the eve of elections and on the day of elections, $10 for my vote!

Although there had been a massive public servants strike in May to July 2011, by the beginning of the 2014 election year, it seemed as if it would be business as usual in Botswana politics with the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) comfortably winning. Predictions were that, the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) would come second. Very little was initially thought of the new kid on the block – the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). As a union of three opposition parties of the Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and Botswana Peoples Party (BPP), speculation was that the union would be inundated by in-fighting. They became the game-changers, making social media a massive campaign tool for the first time in the elections history of Botswana. They reached very quickly to their target audience - the youth. Rather than deterring them, the death of Gomolemo Motswaledi, President of the BMD, catalysed them into branding their ‘bring change’ campaign more crisply into Moono 2014 – making change the agenda for elections 2014. It went viral on social media and by election eve, it was the most trending and threatening development for other parties. Moono 2014 was a success, and the UDC emerged from oblivion to the second biggest political party in Botswana, winning a whopping 17 seats.

At Letsema elections evaluation workshop for women candidates held recently, it came out that Moono 2014 was by no means the only game-changer. Neck on neck with Moono 2014 was a very new and disturbing trend, $10 for my vote! Women shared about this unprecedented trend, where party loyalty was laid to rest. Voters had all the three parties’ membership and attended all the rallies of all the parties. “Even after cross-checking the voters’ roll, no candidate of any party could say for sure how many supporters they had”, one of them declared. “My very own campaign team ditched me at the last minute because they found a better paying candidate to campaign for!” said one. Another recounted the story of an artisan that had come to do a small job in her town. Asking him when he planned to go back to his town for elections, the man shockingly replied, “Depends on which of the contesting candidates in my town will pay for my fare back!”

Social media was in fact used, but not the way the women had been trained. They were trained to use it to spread their message and stay in touch with the younger electorate which preferred social media. Come Election Day, smart phones were used to take pictures of the ballot paper as proof to candidates that the voter had indeed cast them a vote for the promised reward! Male candidates stood outside the polling stations to dish out the reward – the $10 for my vote!

Sethunya Tshepho Mosime (University of Botswana, Department of Sociology) is also the Chair of the Letsema Resource Support for Botswana Women in Politics.

26 March, 2015

Namibia: On the Road to Economic Ruin?

by Hussein Solomon

At face value, it would seem that Namibia has a lot going for it. Its relatively sparse population of 2.2 million inhabitants occupies a vast country. It has immense natural resources and is classified as a higher middle-income country with an estimated GDP per capita of US $5,828. Yet this figure conceals tremendous income inequalities. Indeed, Namibia is one of the most unequal societies in the world with a gini-co-efficient of 0.591. To put it differently, whilst a few are enjoying the economic largesse, 55.8 percent of the population survives on less than $2 per day. Furthermore, consider the fate of the hapless 52 percent of the population who are unemployed.

Windhoek (Photo: Brian McMorrow)

In such a situation of extreme inequality, social unrest beckons. The Namibian government clearly understands this and in 2010 launched an ambitious fiscal expansion programme aimed at job creation. Unfortunately, this failed spectacularly making little impact on unemployment whilst at the same time resulting in a situation where government debt has grown exponentially. That this is taking place at a time when Namibian GDP growth is slowing – from 5 percent in 2012 to 4,2 percent in 2013 with further contraction predicted in 2015 is particularly worrisome.

Three reasons account for Namibia’s economic vulnerabilities. First, the economy is too dependent upon South Africa. 90 percent of the country’s imports originate in South Africa and much of its exports find their way to the regional hegemon’s markets. Moreover, the Namibian dollar is pegged to the South African rand. Given the poor health of the South African economy, the Namibian economy is bound to suffer from any setback in the economic performance of the hegemon. Difficult, as it is to do, the need to become less dependent on the South African economy is an imperative for Windhoek’s policy makers.

Second, the Namibian economy suffers too from its lack of economic diversification. Consider here a country, which is prone to droughts yet 47 percent of its labour force is located in the agricultural sector. Consider too that much of its exports emanate from its minerals yet given the perilous state of the global economy, demand for such minerals is declining. In both these cases diversification of the economy would make the country less vulnerable but such economic diversification is held back by the poor education system – made worse by a restrictive immigration policy that effectively prevents highly skilled immigrants from entering the work force.

Third, and a perennial problem across the continent, is the fact that Namibian policy-makers are sending the wrong signals to international investors. Corruption is endemic and pervasive. This coupled with fact that government is placing pressure on white and foreign owners to sell property hardly builds confidence in the international community to invest in Namibia. Without such investment, economic diversification and lessening dependence on South Africa is all but impossible.

17 March, 2015

A Constitutional Reform: An Essential Element for the Success of Lesotho’s Coalition System of Governance

by M. K. Mahlakeng

“a coalition government is a cabinet of a parliamentary government in which several parties cooperate, and a common reason for such an agreement is that no party on its own can achieve a majority in parliament”

Following the 28th February general snap elections, a coalition of seven parties, namely the Democratic Congress (DC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP), Basotho Congress Party (BCP), National Independent Party (NIP), Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC) and Popular Front for Democracy (PFD), also viewed as a coalition of “Congress Parties”, was established.

On the 4th March, the coalition partners’ met at “Mosikong-ao-Thaba” (i.e. the BCP headquarters) and elected DC leader and former PM Pakalitha Mosisili as the country’s next PM. The DC won 47 of the 120 parliamentary seats on offer, while the All Basotho Convention, LCD, Basotho National Party, Reformed Congress of Lesotho, PFD, BCP, LPC, MFP and NIP took 46, 12, seven, two, two, one, one, one and one, respectively.

Pakalitha Mosisili (Photo: ILO)
This is a second and largest coalition government in Lesotho following the collapse of the ABC, BNP and LCD coalition which only took office for two years. With varying reasons for its “coup de grâce”, ranging from unilateral decision-making, the politicisation of the security agencies to a clash of ideologies, however, one can question whether the current coalition government will learn from the former coalition.

As many of these parties come from one branch (i.e. the BCP), for instance, a split occurred within the BCP in 1997 forming the LCD, and the LCD went through two splits in 2001 and 2012 which saw the establishment of the LPC and DC respectively. One ought to believe that this coalition represents the re-establishment of a sense of unity of the Congress movement in Lesotho. And as such, miscommunication in the process of governance, which is common in an entity of various organisations, will be easily restored.

However, one key element that is essential for the survival of this coalition government, or any coalition government in Lesotho for that matter, is the establishment of a constitutional commission to see the process of “constitutional reform”, something that was not done in the previous coalition government and detrimental to its downfall. Due to the changing political landscape, the constitution must change accordingly to accommodate for varying needs and demands associated with coalition governments. This means the inclusion of the principle of the coalition government in the constitution to provide it with legitimacy.

An inclusion of the coalition governments’ principles in the constitution will serve numerous purposes. Firstly, this will ensure accountability and responsiveness to the duties of the coalition partners. Secondly, it will protect the principles and integrity of the coalition government. Thirdly, it will protect the rights of all coalition partners. And lastly, it will help avoid duties and responsibilities of coalition partners in various ministries being encroached upon.

If the survival of any coalition government rests on an efficient co-operative manner of governance, then a constitution is an essential tool to ensure such.

10 March, 2015

“National History” and Local Perspective: Thoughts on the Death of T. K. Mopeli

by Sayaka Kono

Tsiame Kenneth Mopeli passed away on 10 October 2014. He was the first and the only Chief Minister in the former Bantustan or “homeland” called Qwaqwa in the Eastern Free State of South Africa from 1975 to 1994. His death became news among local Africans because of both positive and negative perceptions of his contribution to community development and the liberation struggle. Here, I will try to discuss an issue associated with the ongoing South African nation-building process, which can be seen from the local perspective of T. K. Mopeli.

The territory of Qwaqwa expanded and developed under T. K. Mopeli's rule

The Bantustan policy was an extreme practice of 'divide and rule' in the apartheid system. The small territories called Bantustans were designated as “homelands” for all the “ethnic” groups and the “ethnic” government ruled its “citizens” or theoretically all the members of the “ethnic” group. Since such policy was the basis of the apartheid system, the Bantustan politicians were criticized by the anti-apartheid activists as collaborators or puppets. T. K. Mopeli was seen as such in the current ANC (African National Congress)-oriented “national history”. This perception is common among the majority of South Africans – as an African historian from Johannesburg told me, “don’t drop your tears at his (T. K. Mopeli’s) funeral because he is a puppet”. He was criticized, as were other Bantustan leaders, for supporting the apartheid system by accepting status within the system, monopolizing power for his “tribe”, or oppressing opposition by violence etc. These critics are correct in a sense, but we also need to turn our attention to the other dimension of history.

The reaction to his death by the local Africans in the Free State was a bit different. The news spread through local radio, local newspaper and by word of mouth. A teacher, concealing his grief, said that he was a great leader contributing the development of Africans’ education in the Free State. An unemployed old man told me how many factories were operated and jobs created in the area during his era. A woman in the media said that she strongly regretted not to be able to attend the funeral due to her work. Even a teenage girl related to me a short story about T. K. Mopeli that she was told by her family when our conversation came to the topic of Qwaqwa. I could see that there are still quite a number of the people in Free State who appreciate him as a local leader; as one who established so many schools for Africans, who helped his fellow “citizens” to gain land, who was always humble and standing the people’s side.

Nevertheless, the situation is not as simple as a “national discourse versus local discourse”. There is still a deep confrontation between ANC supporters and T. K. Mopeli’s followers in Free State, especially in places like Qwaqwa, where his influence was strong. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, there was massive violence by young ANC sympathizers against his supporters during the late 1980s and during the transition era. On the one side, the victims remain traumatized about “ANC’s violence” and cannot openly speak out about it even now. On the other side, supporting Bantustan politicians still means to some people as supporting apartheid and having contributed to the legitimization and maintenance of the system. Secondly, complaints regarding the new ANC local government have risen but have been suppressed in the post-apartheid era. They arise from the failure of the new ANC government to develop the economy in these areas in comparison to the former Qwaqwa government, but they cannot always raise their voice because they might be disadvantaged if they do so. Thus, there remains a power structure even among the locals reflecting both history and today’s politics.

The funeral was a large one, but smaller than I expected considering his contribution to the region. Those in attendance were mainly his political supporters. There was some attendance from the ANC in the form of representatives of the public sectors as well. Although all the speeches praised what he did as a local leader, there was political argument over who should rule the region comparing now and then.

Of course, he was not a perfect leader, but no politician is. We, however, cannot ignore the fact that there are still those who strongly appreciate his governance. Twenty years have passed since the end of apartheid. Dissatisfactions have grown, and ANC is driven to emphasize its “central” role in the liberation struggle to keep its supporters. In this process, there will always be some people who would be excluded from the mainstream “national history”. The people’s sorrow at T. K. Mopeli’s death shows that he should not be evaluated by a “resistance versus collaborator” dichotomy. To understand the dynamics of today’s political situation, we need to reveal the complexity of the histories which have been undermined by “national history” discourse, and which have constructed the hierarchy in the interaction with the current politics.

A businessman in Qwaqwa said with an ironic smile: “To be honest with you, I hate the ANC with all my heart, but what can I do? I just say ‘Amandla’ to keep going on.”