Saturday, October 24, 2009

Despite economic unease, Botswana reelects incumbent party

AllAfrica: Botswana: SADC election observers applaud elections
Financial Times: Botswana set to vote for stability
New York Times: Botswana poll marked by discontent over economy

Last week, Botswana re-elected its ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) to another five year term. The party, led by President Seretse Khama Ian Khama won a total of 45 out of 57 parliamentary seats and 53.26 percent of the popular vote, according to an independent election commission. The BDP has not lost an election since Botswana gained its independence in 1966. The African Union sent a 25-member observation mission to monitor the election, and concluded that Batswana voted in a peaceful and orderly manner. Despite some police presence, there were no firearms present at the polling stations to intimidate voters.

The peaceful elections took place against a gloomy economic backdrop. Botswana, long viewed as one of Southern Africa’s best-run economies, has been hit hard by the recession. The worldwide slowdown has reduced the demand for diamonds, which account for nearly 40 percent of Botswana’s economy. Demand for rough high-value diamonds has fallen by 90 percent, forcing De Beers and Botswana’s government to cut costs dramatically. All four of the country’s diamond mines were closed during the initial months of this year. Gross domestic product is expected to shrink by ten percent this year, and the country borrowed $1.5 billion from the African Development Bank in June to sidestep a massive budget shortfall.

Despite these economic woes, many voters continue in their support of the BDP. Most analysts predicted a comfortable BDP win, largely because of the party’s official efforts to limit the social impact of the recession. Although opposition parties offered criticism, many voters were unwilling to blame the BDP for the economic downturn. The country’s sound fiscal position meant it had considerable reserves to draw on during the first months of the recession. Many voters also credit Mr. Khama’s firm leadership for Botswana’s stability over the years. One 35-year-old voter likened Khama to a “father” in charge of a difficult family, saying “he is fair and honest and he makes sure things get done in the way they are supposed to be done.” Although the diamond market remains depressed, signs of recovery are beginning to appear. De Beers and the government have already reopened three of the country’s diamond mines.

1. The effects of the economic downturn in Botswana were greatly exacerbated by the country’s extreme dependence on the diamond market. What can Botswana do to better weather future fluctuation in the diamond market?
2. The BDP has been in power since Botswana gained its independence in 1966. Botswana has also enjoyed more stability than most of its South African neighbors during those years. In the recent election, some voted to extend the long-standing BDP rule while others opposed President Khama’s re-election precisely because he had been in power so long. Which is the better perspective? Is it preferable to maintain the status quo, or to “switch horses in midstream” during an economic crisis?

1 comment:

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