Letter from Botswana

"It's a great pity that Botswana always either receives no coverage or receives coverage which paints a false rosy picture of the so-called 'success story' by World Bank standards" This letter from a Botswanan comrade tries to give a different perspective.

"It's a great pity that Botswana always either receives no coverage or receives coverage which paints a false rosy picture of the so-called 'success story' by World Bank standards" This letter from a Botswanan comrade tries to give a different perspective.


Thanks so much for the information. It's a great pity that Botswana always either receives no coverage or receives coverage which paints a false rosy picture of the so-called 'success story' by World Bank standards. What I can say off-hand is that this is a country which since the 1970s, following the discovery of minerals, especially diamonds, has been experiencing economic growth averaging 8 % per annum. Its an economy dominated by multinationals and with a government which is a captive of the private, especially foreign capital and in more ways than one, a puppet of the west. But the key point is that ours is a story of 35 years of economic growth without development. Of course a few social services in the form of schools and clinics have 'trickled down' to the people. Every town is surrounded by appalling slums, agriculture has failed dismally and the un-electrified rural areas are simply stagnating, manufacturing has never exceeded 5 % and the misguided government strategy of inviting foreign companies has simply drained the resources of the country - attracting most of the time fly-by-night investors. Poverty remains a fact of life for the majority of the people - 45% of the population. Gross inequalities ( the country even outshines Brazil!) is another serious concern. A tiny percentage of the ruling class is wallowing in mostly ill-acquired riches while the masses live in abject poverty in the midst of plenty.

Politically, again the west has showered all sorts of false praises on this country for adhering to a highly restrictive version of liberal democracy. Our President who is not even directly elected, has autocratic powers and an unlimited term of office. The country is still governed by a colonial constitution, which was never been debated nationally. That constitution fails to enshrine the rights of the workers, women, minorities let alone the environment. In fact currently a fierce debate is going on our tribalistic constitution which still recognises only the so-called 8 principal tribes - a colonial divide and rule invention. Strictly speaking our is authoritarian liberalism comaprable to the 'structured autocracies' in Malaysia, Singapore etc. The ruling party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) born in 1962, literally installed in power by the British colonial administration, has been ruling ever since independence day, 1966, Sept. 30 thanks to electoral rigging, political bribery and all the shenanigans associated with bourgeois democracy. Until 1999 the ruling party was the refree, player, spectator and match commissioner in every electoral game. Now there is a nominal Independent Electoral Commission.

The only serious left wing organisation is the Botswana National Front (BNF) formed in 1966 which is an alliance of progressive forces with a few committed Marxist elements. But it still suffers from serious financial, ideological and organisational problems. In terms of political programme it is wedded to socialist-inclined Social Democratic Programme - originally conceptualised in Stalinist terms of a National Democratic Revolution which was somehow expected to lead to socialism. Due to the international setback international socialism suffered following the collapse of Stalinist regimes that programme was somewhat revised and re-named SDP but most its leftist principles remain intact and we are prepared to defend and extend them.

In the 1994 elections the BNF achieved its most serious electoral success by capturing 13 of the 40 seats in the National Assembly. It appeared set to unseat the BDP in the 1999 elections but in the run up to the elections reactionary elements within the party, allegedly sponsored by imperialist forces (the US and Israel) decided to cause confusion - they broke away from the party and formed a rival more right-wing organisation called the Botswana Congress Party (BCP). Eleven of them were BNF MPs and this dealt a mortal blow to what many thought was the best chance the BNF had of pulling an eletoral surprise. However all but one of the 11 dissident MPs retained their seats, the BNF lost some of its strongholds to the BDP, albeit with a narrow margin but it managed to win 6 seats bringing the total number of opposition seats to 7. The good news is that the BNF is again gaining steady support while the reactionary BCP appears headed for exstinction - many of those who strayed into its ranks are coming back. These figures do not tell the full story of what is happening - the masses are generally bitter about the failure of the BDP regime and the challenge facing the left wing forces in the BNF is to organise them.

The BNF however faces severe financial problems. There is no state funding of political parties. We depend on our members contributions and sacrifices. Each year only the BDP has a well-oiled election campaign machine thanks to funding by imperialist financiers and domestic companies. Last year they had a 'mysterious' P3 millon funding and over and above that they use the state media to saturate the consciousness of the masses with bourgeois lies. We need resources to counter this propaganda. The working class remains small and politcally naive as as being at the mercy of imperialist organisations which pretend to be their friends. Trade union laws are draconian and the so-called 'shining example of democracy' in Africa has never had a single legal strike! Every strike is immediately declared illegal.

Last year I was involved in the BNF campaigns ... and the situation was desperate - no basic infrastructure - no party office, no computer or even an old type-writer, no office stationery no nothing. Just some people determined to change things but lacking the resources to make an impact. In the 1994 elections we had captured one of the only 2 seats but this time because of the split we lost both to the BDP, but not without putting up a fight.

...

Thanks

Comrade Moore