Khama

The temptation of turning political power to personal advantage is a test of democratic leadership the world over. In this article for South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper, Ntibinyane Ntibinyane (whose internship was funded by OSISA) looks at the record of three Presidents of Botswana – often held up as beacons of good governance.

President Ian Khama (2008-present)

Nepotism in President Ian Khama’s administration is a sensitive issue in ­Botswana, which, with Swaziland, is thought to have the highest unemployment rate in the world. Khama, who has been president for four years and was vice-president for 10 years before that, has concentrated enormous power in his hands. One of his close relatives, Ramadeluka Seretse, is the minister in charge of the defence force, police, intelligence services and the law enforcement machinery.

Not so long ago, Botswana favoured what is known in the diplomatic circles as ‘silent diplomacy’ over ‘megaphone diplomacy’. Although the policy is unwritten the government believed that it was better to carefully engage countries discreetly and constructively without causing unnecessary noise and injuring the egos of other countries.

In the 2009 elections, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) of President Ian Khama won the majority of seats in parliament – and maintained its perfect record in post-independence elections. So while Botswana is the oldest democracy in southern Africa, it has never actually experienced life under any other party and there are few indications that this situation is likely to change in the next elections.

Botswana - Khama Doctrine; Lesotho - Land Reform; Malawi - What politicians own; Mozambique - Woes of decentralisation; Namibia - Bones of contention; Zambia - How Sata hoodwinked women

President Khama’s government has come in for quite a lot of criticism on this website over recent months for its secretive dash for gas and its treatment of Botswana’s San communities.

So often are the winds of change said to blow through the southern reaches of Africa that the uninformed might think there are always hurricanes here. Last month's Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit held in Maputo really gave the impression that transformation gusts were sweeping the region: three new leaders took a bow, among them southern Africa’s first female head of state, Malawi's President Joyce Banda, plus Lesotho’s new prime minister and Zambia’s new president.

Three years ago, political pundits were confidently penning the ruling Botswana Democratic Party’s obituary. Having ruled Botswana since 1965, the BDP was undergoing a major split – a split that was so serious and so messy that many thought it would be close to impossible for the party to regroup, let alone win the 2014 general elections.

Botswana is often referred to as one of the few shining examples of democracy in Africa. But scratch the surface and things are sometimes less than shiny – such as discovering that there is no public funding for political parties, which gives the ruling party a huge (and perhaps unbeatable) advantage.

Indeed, a recent study by the Institute for Democracy in Southern Africa concluded that, “The lack of state funding of political parties [in Botswana] has created an uneven political playing field for aspiring candidates, with a particularly negative impact on opposition parties.”

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