/ 23 October 2014

We’re on the government’s hit list – Botswana opposition leader

Duma Boko
Duma Boko

Ahead of Botswana’s elections, Duma Boko, leader of the opposition party Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) says his life and the lives of other leaders are in danger. 

He believes a hit list has been drawn up against them. But in a written response to the Mail & Guardian, President Khama’s spokesperson, Jeff Ramsay dismissed the allegations saying as a civil servant, he is “reluctant to get into political mudslinging”. 

The UDC brings together three small parties: the Botswana People’s Party, the Botswana National Front and the breakaway Botswana Movement for Democracy (BDM). Three parties will contest the October 24 poll on Friday – the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), the Botswana Congress Party and the UDC. 

The elections are significant because they will test the strength of the BDP since the BMD split from it in 2010 – the first split in the history of the ruling party. In an interview with the M&G in Johannesburg, Boko, a Harvard-trained lawyer, alleged that the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) was behind the attempts. 

“Indications are that there is a hit list. We have established that my name was second. Gomolemo Motswaledi was third.” He did not say who topped the list.

Hit list not an ‘exaggeration’
Motswaledi was the UDC’s deputy president. He died in a road accident in July. The UDC is yet to release a report by private investigators it hired to look into the accident.  “We hold the firm view this was a manufactured accident,” Boko said. 

Motswaledi, a former BDP member, was suspended by the party after a falling-out with the president, Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama. Boko denied that the allegation of a hit list was a publicity stunt ahead of the elections. 

“We are not exaggerating. These things are documented. My house has been broken into by these people. People have related their ordeals at the hands of the DIS. They are not exaggerations, but some have actually been understated. Everyone in Botswana feels unsafe from the actions of the DIS. We live in fear. Even the phones of ordinary citizens are tapped.  

“With the judiciary it’s even worse. They [the DIS] are snooping on everyone, even government ministers. I’ve received death threats before from this government. We have received very credible reports from within the intelligence community from those who do not agree with the status quo.” 

The DIS was set up by Khama and has a wide range of interests. “He established something that was not there before — the directorate of intelligence and security. This directorate is accountable only to him. It is not subject to oversight by any parliamentary commission or any other institution. Its mandate is unclear. 

“It dabbles in crime intelligence (the mandate of the police) and in national security (the concern of  the army and police),” said Boko.  

“It [the DIS] is now also involved in issuance of residence permits with no clarity of what basis it uses to assess. It’s involved in tender applications, applications for senior government jobs. It has been involved in extrajudicial killings of suspects. It has an almost unlimited budget.”

Allegations ‘absurd’
Ramsay said the allegations are unsubstantiated. “Unsubstantiated allegations of hit lists during the campaign are unfortunate and as we approach polling day. They are rendered increasingly absurd by the peaceful nature of campaigning across the country. 

“Under President Khama Botswana has continued to be a beacon of good governance and the rule of law, reflecting the President’s own values as well as those of the nation,” Ramsay said. 

On Friday 57 MPs will be elected and they, in turn, will elect the president. There are 824 073 citizens registered to vote, up from 712 494 in the 2009 elections. The BDP, in power since 1966, has 41 of the seats in the House. The UDC says it stands a chance for 32 seats. 

“We have the best prospects of removing the BDP this time around. In the past we have had many oppositions, splitting the vote, and going into polls lacking credibility. The BDP has been experiencing serious decline in its share of the national vote,” said Boko.  

“The UDC presents the most formidable challenge to the ruling party. Our campaign is efficient, though limited in resources.”

‘Statistics flatter to deceive’
Botswana is touted as one of best democracies in Southern Africa. Last month the Mo Ibrahim Index for Good Governance ranked it third out of 52 countries surveyed. It is also widely lauded for rolling out a comprehensive antiretroviral therapy treatment programme in its public hospitals. But Boko said the statistics distorted the situation on the ground.  

“The statistics flatter to deceive. They give an incorrect impression of the country. We have massive unemployment sitting at around 25%. We have people living in abject poverty and high maternal and infant mortality rates for a country ranked so highly on development indexes.” 

He said that, although the country’s gross domestic product had increased, income disparities were on the rise. 

“The statistics doled out by some agencies do not capture the realities for the people of Botswana – which is why there is so much disgruntlement in the country, and disgruntlement among civil servants who have not received a salary increase in the past five years with purchasing power having deteriorated over time. 

“These are some of the things that elude capture by some of these agencies like Transparency International. Levels of corruption in the country are astronomical. Corruption has become institutionalised and orchestrated from the office of the president,” says Boko. 

On corruption, Ramsay said, “For the 18th year in a row, Botswana was cited as being the least corrupt country in Africa, as well as among the least corrupt countries in the world (according to Transparency International).” 

Last year Botswana broke ranks with the rest of the Southern Africa Development Community, criticising Zimbabwe’s election as a sham. Boko said the government was hypocritical because it also hounded journalists – and it abused the DIS, using it to prosecute those who speak against the government.  

He said the case of Sunday Standard journalist Edgar Tsimane was an example of the government doing exactly what it criticised. Tsimane recently fled to South Africa and was granted temporary asylum. He and his editor, Outsa Mokone, were arrested for publishing a story alleging that Khama had been involved in a car crash. The government denied the story. 

Ramsay said Botswana has continued to excell in international rankings citing the Mo Ibrahim Index in which he said the country did exceptionally well in categories such as rule of law, accountability, national security and personal safety. He said Botswana was also ranked among the most peaceful nations in the world. Ramsay also added that Khama remains hugely popular as shown by a July Afrobarometer survey in which 79% of citizens approved of Khama up from 77% in 2012. 

Links to Economic Freedom Fighters
Boko alleged that the government is xenophobic, accusing it of deporting foreigners with valid work and residence permits. 

“Permits are revoked with no valid reason. This sours relations with other countries. Nigerians have petitioned their government to assess the state of relations with Botswana because of these deportations. Investments don’t come to places that operate in uncertainty.” 

He accused the government of being paranoid and “failing to understand the critical role foreigners can play in a country with a small population such as Botswana where we don’t have enough skilled personnel”. 

Boko denied allegations of links between the UDC and Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters party. “When Julius was president of ANC Youth League, some of our party members related to him. Some have personal friendships with him and some of those [friendships] remained after he left the ANC.”  

He said Malema attended a UDC event after being invited as a personal friend of some party leaders but “there was no personal invitation from the organisation”. 

Last week the Botswana Guardian reported that the government had placed American actor Rick Yune and his friend Jennifer Lindsay Bell on a list of people who should apply for visas.  

The two had been invited by the UDC to a rally on Saturday, October 18. Citizens of the United States are normally not required to apply for visas to enter Botswana and obtaining a visa is usually a lengthy process, the newspaper said.