Botswana's Democracy And Its Discontents

The word democracy originates from the Greek words "demos" and "kratia",the former meaning "the people" whilst the latter means "power". So in short,democracy means that the people hold the power of decision with the state merely implementing these decision and the parliament,in Botswana's case,ensuring that the state does implement the will of the people,at least in that is how it should work in theory.

Botswana,Africa's longest running democratic state, has been the beacon of democracy amongst its sub-Saharan African peers since the inception of its independence in 1966.Thanks to good governance which was a result of its democracy,the country was able to transform herself from being one of the poorest countries in the world post independence to a middle income status countries, all in a few decades.

Whilst her peers struggled to stay stable after gaining their independence from the colonizers,going through decades of civil wars,Botswana soared higher and higher,guided by her national principles of democracy,development,self-reliance,unity and botho.

Despite the strides that the country managed to make as a result of its democracy in its early days,like how Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud lays out on his book Civilization And Its Discontents how civilization despite the apparent good it has done for humanity,is itself a major contributor to the unhappiness that is rife within civilized communities,one might argue the same case about democracy and Botswana,with the ineffectiveness of the former currently crippling,severely,the latter.

According to The Economist's Democracy Index, Botswana's system of governance falls under what is termed a "flawed democracy",meaning that although elections are seemily free and fair and basic civil liberties are honored,the system has faults in other democratic aspects including but not limited to an undeveloped political culture and issues in the functioning of governance,aspects which i am going to expound on this post.

In political science terms,Botswana is what is referred to as a parlimentary democracy,meaning that the executive branch is answerable to the legislative branch,this being the parliament.In Botswana's statal structure,the parliament is the only body which is sovereign and directly elected by the people.

These characteristics should make the Botswana parliament the strongest body in the country,the voice and protector of the people as well as the superintendent of  the executive branch (cabinet and the president)  but unfortunately in practice,this is far from true and due to several reasons.

The first one i am going to talk about is the impotence of the opposition. Although Botswana is constitutionally a multiparty state,the powerlessness of the country's opposition parties has rendered it a de facto one party state, with the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) having assumed governance since the dawn of independence.

In their 2006 paper, The Pitfalls of Parlimentary Democracy In Botswana,scholars David Sebudubudu and Bertha Hwedie state that Botswana's opposition is weak because of several factors,the first one being the electoral system, which severely stunts the presence of opposition members of parliament (MPs).

Botswana uses the First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system,which is simple terms means that a candidate with the most votes in a constituency is pronounced the winner. Although this system allows the most popular candidate in that constituency to be pronounced the winner and is relatively easy to administer during elections, it has several disadvantages,one of them being that in a multi party state like Botswana,opposition parties can garner a significant portion of the popular vote but lose out on the number of constituencies won.

For example,citing the statistics of the 2014 general election,the BDP had a popular vote of about 46% and the two closest opposition parties being the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) had a combined popular vote of about 50%. When one looked at the constituencies won,however,the BDP,from their 46% popular vote,managed to get 37 seats in the National Assembly (65%) compared to a measly 20 seats (about 35%) attained by the UDC and BCP from their almost 50% popular vote.

This shows that the FPTP  system fails to truly reflect the wishes of the electorate when it comes to representation in the national assembly,completely defeating the purpose of democracy which is to represent the wishes of the people.

As a result of this loophole in the electoral system,the ruling party can either choose to strategically contest in particular constituencies to get just enough parliamentary seats or more practically,contest in as many constituencies as possible to increase its chances of accumulating a majority of parliamentary seats,which brings me to the second factor severely impacting the potency of the opposition in parliament,which is lack of funding. Whilst the ruling party has lot of funds at its disposal for elections campaign,these including both public and private sources,opposition parties do not enjoy the same privileges.

Unlike in some democracies like Germany,Sweden and Mexico where all political parties including the opposition are given election campaign funds or subsidies on campaign aids to even the playing field,this is not the case in Botswana. Opposition parties have to rely solely on private funding from donors and other forms of aid,a situation which severely limits their ability to have candidates in multiple constituencies which would significantly improve their chances of giving the ruling party a run for their money.

The lack of funds also gravely affects their ability to increase their visibility during election campaign because they are unable to effectively place their campaign paraphernalia in the different private media bodies,having to instead resort to using the public broadcast mediums which,because they are under control of the ruling party's government,are not inclined to do best by them as witnessed by the lack of opposition news coverage during the administration of the previous regime.

The last but not least factor which contributes to the stunted effect of the opposition in parliament is,well, the opposition parties themselves,which are rife with maladministration and constant factional squabbles even within the numerous coalitions that they have unsuccessfully attempted to form over the years.

This pettifoggery,as we witnessed during the 2014 general election and even now leading to the general elections in October ,does nothing but hand the ruling party the parliamentary majority it needs to assume governance even when they themselves are not in the best state for the elections.The bickering fails to give the electorate an alternative to the incumbent ruling party,leaving them with no choice but to go with the "its better the devil you know than the one you don't" mentality when casting their votes.

Because of the aforementioned factors,the opposition is unable to offer much if any resistance to the ruling party in parliament, meaning that for them to have their motions passed in parliament,they need the support of MPs from the ruling party, which they seldom get,a situation which brings me to the second point about why the Botswana parliament system is ineffective.

Instead of being in parliament to represent the will of their electorate,most of the MPs in Botswana's parliament are first and foremost there to assume the role of professional politicians. This means that instead of their first mandate being to represent the wishes of their people,theirs is instead to make decisions which will benefit them and ensure that they keep their jobs and positions. So for example, even if a ruling party member sees that a motion proposed by an opposition MP benefits his electorate but goes against the ruling party,he will vote against it just so he can keep his political career and position within the ruling party.

Because their politics are not based on serving the interests of their people but rather their own stomachs,those lot in the parliament chambers find it easy to leave the ship when it sinks,as is typical with rats,for the warm bed of another political party or faction which will line their pockets.

Groupthink is rife in the parliament system,with MPs seemingly forgetting that they are there to represent their constituency and not the policies of their party.Because of the majority system used to pass motions,it means that the most popular and not the most feasible motions get passed and because the ruling party has the majority, their motions are the ones which mostly get passed,again defeating the purpose of democracy which is to implement the will of the people and not the ruling party.

The parliament system,in its current format,fails to appreciate intelligent and high class politicians who are in opposition parties but instead appreciates and rewards, with the passing of motions,mediocre politicians who are part of the majority.It allows the capacity of a competent politician to be overshadowed by the impossible task of getting the ruling party majority to side with him during voting for passing of motions.

The third factor which contributes to the inability of the parliament to perform its functions is the lack of skills of the MPs themselves. It is not a secret that the majority of MPs in the Botswana parliament,on either side of the political spectrum, are not exactly the brightest lights on the Christmas tree.

Unfortunately,during the election process,the ones who are voted to parliament are not always the best intellects but rather the best blusterers.Like the old saying goes, empty barrels make the most noise and as i mentioned on this post ,unfortunately,as a result of some vices of human nature,these barrels end up being able to get the vote into parliament.

According to Botswana's constitution,the parliament has the power to make and repeal laws but because of the aforementioned limited intellect of most MPs, they fail to perform this legislative function of drafting and suggesting bills,resorting to clamorously debating bills which have been drafted by the government instead of they themselves coming up with bills which align with the needs and wishes of the electorate.

So in essence,the bureaucracy comes up with all the policies in the country and because it does not know much about the intricacies of the needs of the average citizen,most of the national policies it comes up with which are then voted for in parliament by MPs who do not have an academic background in the economics of national development, or any academic background at all, fail to have an effect in the lives of the citizens,explaining the innumerable number of failed policies and initiatives in the country.

From the aforementioned factors,it is quite clear that the country's parliament system counteracts against the concept of democracy,muting the voices of the masses and instead amplifying those of the bureaucracy and serving the interests of those in the fancy chambers of the parliament instead of the citizens,something we know and have known for a while now but chose to ignore for the sake of upholding our national principles.

But should a nation suffer for the sake of its principles?Does a nation exist for upholding its principles or for bettering itself?Should the rights and dignities of a nation be trampled on for the sake of upholding its principles?How long should tyranny against a nation's people exist,covered by the cloak of national principles?

If a state uses it has been given by a nation to lead the same nation to ruin and those who are supposed to perform the checks and balances on that state decide to be complacent and serve themselves instead of the people, a rebellion not only becomes a right but  responsibility of every individual citizen for the sake of its present livelihood and its posterity's.A nation's principles should never take precedence over the preservation of its individual citizens.

Just because a nation has principles does not mean it should live only for the upholding of those principles but instead,it should live for the welfare and conservation of its people. Good rankings in different measures of governance by western organisations mean nothing when the people on the ground are struggling for mere survival due to skyrocketing unemployment levels,deteriorating quality of life of citizens,misappropriation of public funds and failing public institutions all of which are a result of sheer incompetence of those in public offices.

As with every disease,the first step to tackling it is diagnosing it and because we already know that there is definitely something wrong with the country,the next step is actually doing something about it. Although democracy has done much to propel the country forward during its early days,currently,its ineffectiveness is clear because of the inefficiency of the state,the government and the parliament.

A well functioning democracy and hence state is only possible with an effective parliament which understands that its sole reason for existence is to ensure that the state serves the interests of people. Addressing the forementioned factors which contribute to the impotency of the parliament system and hence democracy will go a long way in ensuring the presence of  a responsive and responsible government which will exist to serve the interests of the people who have tasked it with serving them.

All this,however,will only happen if we, the people, make it happen by any means necessary,always keeping in mind that future generations need to be born in a Botswana which they will be proud to call their motherland for generations to come,words we are unable to utter looking at the present state of affairs.