FLAWED AND CORRUPT: A Fading Beacon of Democracy

The US joins Botswana as a “flawed democracy.”

Gazette Reporter

Botswana has dropped a massive 3 points in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ratings to hover 1 point above the next (lower) category of corruption.
Less than a month after the Court of Appeals Judge President’s opening address highlighting the flaws in Botswana’s constitutional democracy, Economist Intelligence Unit has released its report confirming his assessment.
On 13th July 1998 President Khama took office as the Vice President, his platform was, and remains to root out corruption and drive Botswana’s international image as an economic power house and bastion of democracy forward into the new millennium and beyond.  19 years later statistics from Transparency International, the United Nations, Mo Ibrahim Foundation, The Economist Intelligence Unit and other international monitoring organisations reflect the opposite; a rapidly declining trend in all aspects of life in Botswana not least in regard to corruption and democracy.
At the time of taking office as the Vice President, the 1998 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranked Botswana 23rd in the World, a year later in 1999 Botswana was ranked 24th. The downward trend has continued over the last 19 years. The CPI report for 2016 released on the 27th January 2017 shows Botswana is now ranked 36th alongside 2 other countries, a significant drop of 13 places in the world rankings over a 19-year period.
The trend is also evident in the Democracy Index released this week by the Economist Intelligence Unit with Botswana dropping 2 places in Africa to be ranked 3rd behind Mauritius and Cabo Verde, first and second respectively. Botswana is now in the same category as India, Japan, Ghana and the United States, which has dropped from a full democracy to a flawed democracy according to the latest report.
Freedom House is scheduled to release its latest Report on World Freedom on the 31st January 2017. However, given the current legal challenges between the executive and the judiciary, the clamp down on the media by government and the introduction of Electronic Voting without voter verification the report is expected to show a continued downward assessment against the previous year’s report. The 2016 Freedom House report showed the decline in respect of civil liberties and political rights for Botswana ranking it “Free” with a score for civil liberties of 2 (1 being the best 7 the worst) and 3 for political rights (1 being the best 10 the worst) and an overall score of 73 (0 the worst – 100 the best). The report found that the press is now only “partly free”.
The 2016 Mo Ibrahim Report shows Botswana now placed second in Africa in governance and rule of law after Mauritius, having held the top spot since the Reports inception in 2006. Again, a downward trend. Cabo Verde is 3rd though notably Botswana ranks better than both in the Transparency CPI report.
Botswana’s Ambassador to South Africa, Zenene Sinombe, speaking to Mail and Guardian newspaper (20th January 2017) reiterated the government’s much cited mantra when explaining BOTS50 celebrations; “But we are saying while it is a time for song and dance, for us it is also time to reflect. To reflect on what, you may ask? To reflect on what we have been able to achieve, including the challenges that still haunt our country; one of our key challenges remains the issue of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, which now stands at 20% of two million citizens; we also have the challenges of HIV and Aids, poverty and inequality.” Reaffirming the governments success without reflection of the current downward trends he added “We have been voted for the past 20 years as [one of] the least corrupt countries in the world by the Corruption Index.”
It is the time to “reflect”, as stated by Simonbe on the “challenges”, not to be complacent about our rankings but to note the trend within the rankings. Such “reflection” must be inclusive not only of the achievements of Botswana but further as to what is causing the government’s unacknowledged but clear downward international assessment of Botswana as a bastion of democracy.
The Economist Intelligence Unit Report on democracy suggests some answers in finding that “sacrificing public safety for regime security, these governments alienate and anger their citizens, squander public resources, and enfeeble the institutions that are necessary for sustainable political and economic development”. 2016 saw an unprecedented allotment of funds being sought for NDP11 under the pretext of “regime security”. The allocation, as reported by this publication and confirmed by Defence Minister Shaw Kgathi in parliament of 15 billion Pula for military expenditure against the backdrop of mine closures in Phikwe and the growing rate of youth unemployment fails to contribute to “sustainable economic development”. The introduction of the unpopular Electronic Voting Machines, particularly without the availability of a Voter Verification Paper Trail, the secrecy behind the direct tender process, as authorised by the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) on the 19th December 2016 between the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and Bharat Electronics Limited equally undermines confidence in sustainable political development.
The “reflection” into the “enfeebling” of institutions that undermine the democratic ratings are more easily ascertainable according to the report. They include the failure of government to take action against Isaac Kgosi, the arrest and raids on the media, the placement of key agencies notably the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) and the Directorate of Intelligence (DIS) and security services directly under the authority of the President, the executive’s position as supported by the Attorney General that judges can be hired by the President without regard to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) as well as the suspension of judges for critiquing the Chief Justice are all factors that have negatively impacted on Botswana’s ratings within the category of a “flawed democracy”.
Government and the executive have typically answered these complaints derisively. The executive has repeatedly derided the media as being “opposition” (notably the same language recently used by the US President Donald Trump), being unpatriotic and seeking to undermine the constitution.  Government has, once again in the same tone of language as President Trump, taken a stance of “us” and those that criticise it as being obstructionist or an “enemy”. The position exemplified by Minister Kgathi publicly denouncing the Law Society and indicating that the ministry would cease to “work with” it when the Law Society expressed its concerns over the appointment of Court of Appeal Judge Brandt at a time when litigation was before the Court pertaining to the appointment of Judges.
The Economic Intelligence Unit report notes that governments who generally condemn “parties and their voters as being deluded, manipulated or simply beyond the pale, (they) have so far shown little inkling of how to respond (to criticism)” contribute to the decline on democratic values. The report notes further that in inflexibility of governments to accept criticism, promote constitutional values and the separation of powers leads to a “decline in many countries in some aspects of governance, political participation and media freedoms, and a clear deterioration in attitudes associated with, or conducive to, democracy”.
In Botswana, there are a variety of critical aspects in the downward trend in democratic rankings, such as the declining trust in non-political institutions; the non-functioning of government; it’s failure to provide vital infrastructure; the increase in specially elected members of parliament, lack of judicial independence; “increased voter abstention and declining political participation; and curbs on civil liberties, including media freedoms. All of these are having a corrosive effect on some long-established democracies,” such as ours and giving rise to “populism”. Populism and its anti-establishment, anti-globalisation language has blurred the lines between political parties which sacrifice their philosophies for in order to win votes which in the process undermines democracy based on diversity of political thought.
The report however does not attribute economic down-turn as the sole cause for the rise of populism and it’s undermining of democracy. Unlike in Europe and the United States, here the populist rhetoric is not advanced by opposition or fringe parties and personalities but rather by the BDP led government, both Khama and Masisi have variously adopted populist positions, whether those are in respect of the media (labelling it as opposition and unpatriotic), cultural values (condemnation of a satirical image of the president in a bathing suit as being contrary to public morality) or blaming the economic recession of 2007/9 for unemployment; that funding for BOTS50 celebrations to be used with nationalistic overtures (citizens only) or that the economic stimulus package (ESP) will give all Batswana access to funds and even the wealth gap;  “Nor is contemporary disaffection with democracy simply a reaction to economic underperformance. That populist movements have come to prominence in rich and poor European countries alike suggests that they are not the product solely of the economic crisis. Economic issues are often not at the forefront of the populists’ concerns; issues of culture, identity, tradition and values dominate the populist discourse and resonate with their supporters”.
Botswana has the 3rd highest disparity between the rich and the poor in the world according to the 2015 World Bank GINI Report. This income inequality, more than any other single factor gives rise to populist rhetoric, even when done by those that have perpetuated it just as Trump, a multi-millionaire who appoints a cabinet of fellow multi-millionaires claims he will “drain the swamp”. Botswana, uniquely in Africa adopted neo-liberal policies in the 1980s following the lead of both Thatcher and Reagan. “Many of the policies pursued by the Thatcher governments of the 1980s found their echo in Reaganomics across the Atlantic and in the austerity policies pursued across the Channel by Socialist governments in France and Spain. This period saw the beginnings of the rupturing of the relationship between Europe’s post-war political parties and their traditional support base—especially, but not exclusively, that between social-democratic, labour and communist parties and their working-class supporters. …By the 1990s the convergence of left and right on economic and social policies made it difficult for parties to maintain distinct identities”.
The Economic Intelligence Report continues by noting that “the traditional political parties remain in place today, they are so disconnected from wider society that they bear no relation to their forebears of the 1950s. Parties of the left (social-democratic, socialist, communist) and the right (Christian-democratic, conservative), which dominated the post-war body politic, have lost touch with their traditional supporters and, as a consequence, have lost votes and influence. As they lost touch with their former social constituencies, political parties became closer to the state; they moved to the centre ground to try to widen their support base. Gradually the world view of party and political elites began to develop in contradistinction to, and in opposition to, that of the voters they had increasingly neglected and left behind. The revolt against the elites has been driven by economic and social factors, but it is also a consequence of the shift over the past few decades of the mainstream parties towards the centre ground of technocratic politics. There has been a growing estrangement of political parties from the electorate, as well as a growing gulf in the values held by political elites and ordinary people. More than anything, the 2016 events were a reaction against the way in which political elites have been conducting politics—by keeping the electorate at arm’s length, by avoiding the issues that are important to people, and by presuming that everyone shares their moral values”. Not only has government lost sight of Seretse Khama’s caution made in the 70’s that a focus on Gross Domestic Product would lead to cronyism but government has notably kept the electorate at an arm’s length portraying an image that only its elite can govern in a manner best for the nation. In the aftermath of protests by unemployed youth outside parliament last year, their flogging by the police, the Ministers of Youth Sports and Cultures Thapelo Olopeng’s response to the youth was to “stay out of politics”. Yet, like the Trump led administration of elites, government seeks to appeal to the electorate by populist rhetoric, coupled with its unique brand of elitism by claiming the successes of the nation, though not its failings and furthermore that only its government is capable of running the country despite having lost the popular vote.
According to both a UN and an Actualitix report for 2016 on the Human Development Index (HDI), Botswana ranks 106 out of 184 countries. The reports are based on data for the preceding year and as such do not take into account the closure of BCL and other mines. Notably however, there has only been marginal improvement in the HDI index over the last 6 years (0.2 points) and it will be expected to fall once BCL is factored into the computations.
However, a key factor in the determination of HDI is access to electricity. Current estimates place national consumption of electricity around 550MW with a shortfall (in 2011) of 150MW supplied by SA (in 2008 the shortfall was 410MW). Morupule B was intended to produce 600MW which would have availed an excess in electrical output. The excess electrical output would have made the power plant financially profitable and improve human development. The failed project is now to be sold into private ownership. Electrical power and human development are synonymous with each other. Government’s abdication of its responsibilities to provide the basic necessity of power in favour of expenditure on military and surveillance equipment will undermine its objectives in attaining poverty eradication and improving its HDI rating thereby further contributing to additional downgrading of its democracy ratings. It is noteworthy that government has not advised the media or the public of what legal action it intends to take against the contractors further undermine public confidence in government institutions.
In order for democracy to prevail a vibrant socially aware electorate need to take active participation in large numbers. There can be no guarantee that electoral victories in societies with fragile institutions or constitutions, as highlighted by Kirby JP will lead to stability, peace, and prosperity. But people naturally “aligned themselves with the universal principles of democracy and human rights”; people will choose the system that works. As all varieties of government face mounting pressure to perform, the coming 2 years will demonstrate whether democracy is truly existing even if flawed or whether we will descend yet another rung of the ladder to oblivion.
Botswana is going against the general trend in Africa, where the rate of democracy has increased with a few notable exceptions of war ravaged nations and yet we continue to call ourselves the beacon of democracy despite our downward trend.