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POLITICS-BOTSWANA: I Lost the Election, But I Am a Winner

Vusumuzi Sifile

GABORONE, Nov 20 2009 (IPS) - When Kgomotso Mogami threw her name into the hat to contest the Gaborone Central parliamentary seat it was easy for many people to write her off.

It seemed so obvious she would lose the election. The reasons were not so difficult to find. She was just an ordinary councillor for the government ward in Gaborone, contesting against two men – Botswana’s most popular parliamentarian, Dumelang Saleshando of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and the Botswana National Front’s Kagiso Thutlwe, a former student leader.

Mogami indeed lost the election, by a very wide margin. She polled 2,662 votes, less than half the incumbent Saleshando’s 6,102 votes. She however beat Thutlwe, who polled 1,118 votes.

But now, a month after Botswana held its 10th General Elections, Mogami is still among the most talked about women. Despite losing the election, Mogami considers herself a winner. “I am ranking myself as a winner despite the fact that I am not in parliament,” Mogami told IPS.

“I did pretty fine considering that I only had two weeks to prepare for the election. The numbers I got in just two weeks are much better than what my rivals, who have been there for five years, got. Being a woman, and having campaigned for only two weeks, I can safely say I won.”

Mogami threw her name into the hat two weeks before the election when the existing candidate was suspended.

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) had named its secretary general Gomolemo Motswaledi as the candidate for Gaborone Central. Motswaledi was, however, suspended before the elections, and recalled as the candidate for the region. All BDP members in Gaborone Central seemed reluctant to fill the void left by Motswaledi. Only Mogami was confident enough to submit her name in his place.

Within hours of the announcement of her candidature, Mogami was strongly criticised – both by members of the opposition and supporters of her own party loyal to Motswaledi. She was not moved, and went ahead with the campaign.

Some BDP members, frustrated that she was a member of the committee that initiated Motswaledi’s suspension, mounted a campaign against her. This led the incumbent President Ian Khama to appoint an investigation in the matter.

Despite all these odds, Mogami was determined to prove her critics wrong.

“This (election) should show everyone that I have the political strength and I can deliver,” she told journalists just before the elections began.

Many were quick to write her off, as her candidature was only registered less than a month before the election, when her opponents were campaigning for the better part of this year.

In a telephone interview with IPS less than a week before the country went to the polls, Mogami was busy on the campaign trail.

“I got into it because I knew I have what it takes for the challenge,” said Mogami. “All I can say is that I am geared for the election. My chances of winning are actually even greater than those of Motswaledi.”

Eventually the election was won by Saleshando, the firebrand BCP spokesperson, who also won the seat in the last 2004 election.

But Mogami’s defeat was not as easing as merely losing to the opposition. When she put her name forward to fill Motswaledi’s post, many in the opposition and within her own party were quick to write her off.

And so Mogami faced opposition on both sides – on the one she had to face her BCP and Botswana National Front (BNF) rivals, on the other she faced disgruntled members from within her own party. But her situation is typical of the internal fights that characterised Botswana parties in the run-up to the elections.

A BNF council candidate, Rhoda Sekgororoane said the circumstances leading to Mogami’s candidature painted an incorrect picture of women in politics. Mogami is an executive member of the Botswana Coalition for Women in Politics (BCWP).

“The political situation in that area is volatile as people are still hurt by what happened to Motswaledi. She will be thoroughly beaten at the polls,” said Sekgororoane, a former BCWP vice-president, before the elections.

While the politicians were tussling, euphoria gripped ordinary citizens as D-Day fast approached. A drive on the dusty streets of Botshabelo in Selebi Phikwe and Old Naledi in Gaborone was enough evidence of the excitement ahead of the October elections.

Red, yellow and green posters for the BDP, BNF and BCP, respectively, were all over the place.

“It is very difficult to predict how things will go in this election,” said Rodrick Othusitse, a plumber in Broadhurst, which falls under Gaborone Central just before the voting. “The infighting in the BDP and BNF is unprecedented. There (was) a time when I thought I would not vote because of the way things were going. How can you have party leaders always indicating right, but turning left, or not turning at all?”

Internal fights are not a problem of the BDP. The main opposition BNF also spent the better part of the year fighting court battles against suspended members. In one of the high profile cases, the BNF suspended the outgoing MP for Gaborone South, Akanyang Magama and his team of prospective councillors.

Magama challenged the party’s leadership in court, and won the case – forcing the party leadership to launch him as their candidate. In the view of Debra Otlhogile, a hairdresser in Old Naledi in Gaborone, this already caused confusion among many voters, and led to the BNF’s demise.

“For (a long while) the BNF leadership told us that Magama would not represent the party in the elections as he was suspended,” said Otlhogile. “We were surprised when (BNF leader Otsweletse) Moupo held a rally and announced that Magama’s suspension had been lifted and that he would now represent the party. This just shows you these politicians take us for granted.”

The pre-election bickering within the party cast doubts over the BNF’s preparedness to retain some of its strongholds. The party recorded a significant decline in popularity, although it remains the main opposition.

More than 700,000 citizens registered for this year’s elections, a record high in the country’s electoral history. There are 57 contested parliamentary seats and 490 council wards.

Khama shrugged off competition from Moupo and BCP leader Gilson Saleshando to retain the presidency. The Botswana Alliance Movement (BAM) did not field a presidential candidate as part of its working relationship with the BCP that the parties do not contest against each other.

The MELS movement and the Botswana People’s Party (BPP) did not field presidential candidates after failing to raise the required number of nominations. Political parties are required to collect 1000 signatures of registered voters to support a presidential nomination. The BDP won the presidency and retained its majority in Parliament, capturing 45 of the 57 contested seats.

The party got an additional four members through presidential appointments. The BNF got six parliamentary seats, thus retaining its role as the main opposition with 22 percent representation in Parliament. The BCP won five seats, accounting for 19 percent. All opposition winners were men.

But for Mogami the election was an eye opener for women in Botswana politics.

“I believe all the women who contested parliament did well although only two managed to win. Those who won they did so with very wide margins. Those who lost also put up a good fight. I rank them as successful.”

Only two women, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi and Botlogile Tshireletso were elected into parliament. Two other women, Lesego Motsumi and Dorcas Makgato-Malesu were appointed as specially elected MPs. Another woman, Margaret Nasha was named the country’s first ever female Speaker of the National Assembly.

At her inaugural speech, Nasha said life in parliament was going to be tough for the four women, who have to raise their voice against 58 men.

“I cannot, however, pretend it is not a bitter sweet moment for me in view of the fact that there are only four women members in this parliament of 62 (members), including the president,” said Nasha last month. “Four women against 58 men is indeed an unfortunate reversal of the gains we made in women’s representation in politics and gender equality generally.”

But for Mogami and other women, the battle begins now. “I am now mobilising other women to take up the challenge in the next election. I am not only mobilising them, I am also educating them on the various challenges they have to look out for,” Mogami said.

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