Tag Archives: Botswana

Incumbency and elections: the 2019 polls in Botswana and South Africa

On Saturday 31 March, Botswana’s Ian Khama stepped down as the country’s president and a day later Mokgweetsi Masisi was sworn in. In a region which has seen two of the continent’s longest running presidencies – Robert Mugabe (37 years) and José Eduardo dos Santos (38 years) – Khama’s decision to respect the country’s term limits and bow out after 10 years was widely applauded. Botswana’s ruling party faces an election in just 18 months, so why would the president step down before the election?

Incumbents win elections in Africa. When a sitting president faces an opposition challenger, the opposition wins just 12% of the time.[1] But when an opposition challenger competes in an open seat election (after the president has stepped down), the opposition’s success rate increases nearly fourfold to 45%.

Incumbents win more often due to the ‘incumbency effect’ – presidents can bend state institutions in their favour, frequently securing positive coverage in the public media, they use patronage and positions to buy loyalty, and they are able to introduce popular (or populist) policies to consolidate the ruling party’s vote base. In many cases, the president is also able to use state resources to campaign in the elections, severely skewing the playing field in their favour.

Khama stepping down 18 months ahead of the polls allows Masisi to increase his chances of being elected in 2019, by accruing the benefits of incumbency and thus perpetuating the survival of the BDP.

Protecting the Party in Botswana

Botswana’s presidential terms are disconnected from the five-year electoral cycle – a trend that began after Ketumile Masire introduced presidential term limits and stepped down for his successor after 18 years as head of state in 1998. Rather than a marker of democratic governance, the uncoupling of the electoral timeline and presidential term limit is a mechanism for ensuring the continued electoral success of the ruling Botswana Democratic party – in power since 1966.

History recalls Masire in a positive light, but his decoupling of the presidential and parliamentary terms was intended for the very purpose that it now serves. In 1997 when he changed the constitution, it was in response to the growing unpopularity of his ‘old guard’ due to serious corruption scandals; and it was done to stave off the threat of an electoral loss in 1999.[2]

Prior to Khama’s 2018 resignation, politics in Botswana appeared eerily reminiscent of the last days of Masire’s rule in the 1990s.[3] Khama’s administration had been accused of growing authoritarian tendencies, corruption and populism at home – though his foreign policy stances were widely celebrated abroad.

After 52 years in power, many Botswanans have begun to tire of the BDP. The party narrowly avoided defeat in the last elections, when they faced a more united opposition. In the 2014 elections Khama’s BDP failed to win an outright majority, garnering just 46.5% of the vote, while opposition parties shared 53.5%. The next 18 months will give Masisi time to consolidate his position within the BDP and take the lead on popular policies to address the corruption, inequality and unemployment that are seen to have increased markedly under Khama.

The South African Comparison

While South Africa’s presidential term depends entirely on parliamentary electoral cycles, the predominance of the ANC – in power since 1994 – allows the party to similarly short-circuit the party’s electoral accountability. The ANC’s constitution provides for just two presidential terms as party leader – a convention that has been respected until now, notwithstanding Thabo Mbeki’s attempt to change it and Jacob Zuma’s intention to install a proxy.

However, the party’s leadership renewal calendar installs a new party leader a little less than 18 months before the country goes to the ballot box. With the removal of Thabo Mbeki and now Jacob Zuma, the party has begun a similar (if less formalised) trend to Botswana, by delinking the presidential term from the electoral cycle.

Jacob Zuma – and to a lesser extent, Mbeki – was removed to allow the ANC to revive their waning electoral legitimacy and clean up the party’s image in the wake of damaging scandals.[4] After the party’s bruising loss of major municipalities in the 2016 local government elections and the decline of the ANC’s national tally to just 54%, most pundits predicted that the Zuma-effect would pull the ANC under the 50% threshold in 2019.

The coalitions formed by the opposition to govern in Nelson Mandela Bay, Pretoria and Johannesburg have been seen to presage the need for a national coalition after 2019.[5] The opposition Democratic Alliance was certainly hopeful.[6]

Instead, the removal of Zuma and installation of Cyril Ramaphosa as president led to a wave of positive sentiment – dubbed ‘Ramaphoria’ – which has bolstered the currency, helped stave off a downgrade to ‘junk status’ by Moody’s and left the middle class sleeping a little easier. The ANC hopes to capitalise on their renewed breathing space, and was reportedly considered bringing the 2019 elections forward to outflank the opposition.[7]

Introducing a new president – who is presented as a ‘new broom’ – ahead of an election can help revive the waning fortunes of a dominant party. This (to some degree) has helped reinvigorate the image of Tanzania’s ruling CCM which has been in power since 1962.  Both the ANC and the BDP will be hoping that their pre-emptive moves to renew public confidence will pay off at the ballot box next year. By never running an open-seat election, these parties are likely to maintain their longevity for as long as the public is willing to give the new leader the benefit of the doubt.

[1] Nic Cheeseman, “African Elections as Vehicles for Change,” Journal of Democracy 21, no. 4 (2010): 139–153.

[2] Kenneth Good and Ian Taylor, “Unpacking the ‘Model’: Presidential Succession in Botswana,” in Legacies of Power: Leadership Change and Former Presidents in African Politics, ed. Roger Southall and Henning Melber (Cape Town: Uppsala: Chicago: HSRC Press; Nordiska Afrikainstitutet; Independent Publishers Group, 2006).

[3] Joel Konopo, “Bad Khama,” August 10, 2017, https://www.businesslive.co.za/fm/features/africa/2017-08-10-ian-khamas-growing-intolerance/; Monageng Mogalakwe and Francis Nyamnjoh, “Botswana at 50: Democratic Deficit, Elite Corruption and Poverty in the Midst of Plenty,” Journal of Contemporary African Studies 35, no. 1 (January 2, 2017): 1–14, https://doi.org/10.1080/02589001.2017.1286636.

[4] For example, Mahlatse Mahlase and Lizeka Tandwa, “It’s Not a Matter of If, but When Zuma Goes – NEC Sources,” The M&G Online, January 9, 2018, https://mg.co.za/article/2018-01-09-its-not-a-matter-of-if-but-when-zuma-goes-nec-sources/; Mogomotse Magome, “Graft Charges Make Zuma an Electoral Liability,” IOL, May 2, 2016, https://www.iol.co.za/news/politics/graft-charges-make-zuma-an-electoral-liability-2016402.

[5] Marianne Merten, “Analysis: Coalitions No Easy Route Come 2019, as Current Co-Operation Pacts Wobble | Daily Maverick,” The Daily Maverick, October 8, 2017, https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2017-10-08-analysis-coalitions-no-easy-route-come-2019-as-current-co-operation-pacts-wobble/.

[6] “The ANC May Not Be the Government in 2019, Coalitions Are the Future for SA,” Democratic Alliance (blog), December 6, 2017, https://www.da.org.za/2017/12/anc-may-not-government-2019-coalitions-future-sa/.

[7] Sam Mkokeli, “ANC to Discuss Bringing Elections Forward to Capitalise on ‘Ramaphoria,’” Sunday Times, March 25, 2018, https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/business/2018-03-25-anc-to-discuss-bringing-elections-forward-to-capitalise-on-ramaphoria/.

Continuity and Change: Presidential Succession in Southern Africa

At the risk of using a tired cliché, it would appear that the winds of change are blowing across Southern Africa. On Wednesday 14 February 2018, South Africans awoke to the news that there had been a dawn raid on the Saxonwold compound – derisorily referred to as the ‘Saxonwold Shebeen’ – owned by the Gupta family, close friends of President Jacob Zuma. It was the clearest sign yet that the president’s powers had faltered and his time was drawing to a rapid close. Having lost the succession battle at the ANC’s elective congress in December 2017, speculation had been brewing that he would soon be removed by the ruling party. With most of his friends and allies having shifted positions to the new sheriff in town – newly-elected ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa – Zuma’s days in the presidential residence seemed to be numbered. On 13 February, after more than a week of negotiations between Zuma and Ramaphosa, the ANC National Executive Committee formally requested that Zuma resign the presidency, in an apparent repeat of Zuma’s 2008 removal of former President Thabo Mbeki. They gave him until midnight on 14 February to do so. In a late-night address, Zuma resigned on Valentine’s day; Ramaphosa was sworn in less than 20 hours later.

On South Africa’s northern border, events in Zimbabwe have also heralded spectacular changes. Following the November ‘soft coup’ that removed Robert Mugabe from power after 37 years at the helm, new President Emerson Mnangagwa has spent three months on a major marketing drive, trying to convince the region and the world at large that he is setting Zimbabwe on a new course. The UK has been eager to re-engage, with several high-profile visits to Harare, and moves suggesting that the country will soon re-join the Commonwealth. But having been burnt before by promises and intransigence on the part of the ruling party, all eyes are on the general elections to be held later this year. The full normalisation of relations with Harare is largely contingent on the holding of a ‘fair’ and peaceful election. But the same day that Jacob Zuma was facing down a recall by his party, 65-year old Zimbabwean opposition veteran Morgan Tsvangirai passed away in a Johannesburg hospital. Despite his two-year battle with colon cancer, Tsvangirai had been tipped as the presidential candidate for the opposition’s 7-party coalition, due to fight the upcoming elections in less than six months’ time. The week prior to his death was marred by a very public succession battle between the MDC-T’s three vice presidents – something that will no doubt hurt the party and the coalition’s electoral prospects. The Zimbabwean opposition’s prospects look dire – Tsvangirai’s unmatched public profile and failure to pick a successor has left the coalition rudderless, while changes instituted by Mnangagwa have taken the bite out of the opposition’s ‘change’ mantra. It’s unclear whether the fractious opposition can regroup, rebrand, paper over their squabbles and develop a positive messaging platform in the months before the looming polls.

Meanwhile, change is also afoot in the rest of the region. Botswanan President Ian Khama announced that he will be handing over power in April 2018. Khama, the son of Botswana’s independence President Seretse Khama, is stepping down after ten years at the helm. When he steps down, the Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, will automatically succeed him until the 2019 general elections. But Masisi won’t necessarily be the ruling party’s candidate for those elections as the party will go to a special elective congress in 2019 where several high profile government leaders have thrown their hat in the ring to succeed him. In Angola – Southern Africa’s largest oil producing nation – President José Eduardo dos Santos handed over power in 2017 after 38 years at the head of the country’s ruling MPLA, after anointing his successor, João Lourenço. When Lourenço won the August elections, few predicted that he would follow through on his promises to clean up the MPLA and the state. However, in a shock move, he removed the former president’s daughter – Isabel dos Santos – from her position at the head of the state-owned oil producer Sonangol. Lourenço also removed the heads of police and intelligence, governor of the Central Bank, head of the country’s diamond company and the boards of all three state-owned media companies, as well as dos Santos’ son who was head of the country’s sovereign wealth fund.

However, despite all the apparently positive changes across the region and some significant reasons for optimism, there is a need to maintain a cautious stance. In Angola, many remain sceptical of Lourenço’s moves, arguing that it resembles a “dança das cadeiras” – a ‘dance of chairs’ or little more than a reshuffling of the political deck. Whispers in Gabarone suggest that Ian Khama is hoping to position his brother, Tshekedi Khama, to take up the presidency. Having tried to anoint his brother in 2014 (after making him a Cabinet minister in 2012), but facing outright revolt from the ruling party, Khama backtracked. But he has one more chance to secure the dynasty in the ruling party’s special congress next year. If he is successful, three of five of independent Botswana’s presidents would be from the Khama family. In Zimbabwe, following the possible collapse of meaningful opposition in the wake of Tsvangirai’s death, Mnangagwa may feel little pressure to make substantial changes to the state, and will instead continue along the well-worn path that ZANU-PF has tread for nearly four decades.

As for Ramaphosa, he is riding high on a wave of public optimism and international goodwill, but he will need to prove that he is serious about rooting out corruption in the state by removing Zuma’s key backers through whom public finances were so wantonly squandered and misappropriated. But over the longer term, serious questions remain over whether Ramaphosa’s business- and market-friendly approach will be sufficiently flexible to make the necessary policy changes to tackle the country’s burgeoning inequality and mass joblessness. With the possibility of a Congolese election (or mass uprising in the absence of an election) at the end of 2018, what is certain is that the Southern African region will look very different at the end of 2018 to how it looked just more than a year before. But it remains to be seen whether these changes will be thoroughgoing, or if it will be little more than a dança das cadeiras.