Southern Africa Watch

Democracy under threat in Southern Africa – Part two

Can Daviz Simango become Mozambique’s opposition leader?
Daviz Simango.jpg

In the second of our series on the subject we look at two elections scheduled for October 2014 in Mozambique and Botswana that will test the future of democracy in Southern Africa..

The election in Mozambique tomorrow (October, 15) and Botswana’s general election on the 25th will test the strength of democracy in both countries. In both democracy has lately come under pressure for different reasons.


For Mozambique to be able to hold elections on 14 October 2014 in a peaceful environment is remarkable in itself.

Only a few weeks ago the election was still in jeopardy. For nearly two years Renamo, led by Afonso Dhlakama, wished to make Mozambique ungovernable and terrorised the central parts of the country with sporadic attacks on the transport system.

The situation changed when, after intense negotiations, Dhlakama and the Frelimo government signed a peace deal allowing him to participate in the upcoming election as Renamo’s presidential candidate.

By all accounts it will be a closely contested election, in itself carrying the promise of advancing democracy. Of the three main parties contesting the election, Frelimo’s 55-year-old former defence minister, Felipe Nyusi, is probably the least-known politically. He replaces President Armando Guebuza, stepping down after two terms as required by the constitution.

Against all odds and to the surprise of observers who wrote him off politically after his long exile in the bush, Renamo’s Dhlakama pulled huge crowds during his presidential campaign.

Also surprisingly, in contrast to his previous presidential campaigns, he punted a message of peace, hope and reconciliation. Most observers, however, caution against optimism and warn that, like in the past he might in defeat again cry foul, reject the result, and threaten to return to destabilising the country.

Under such a scenario the election outcome will be a test for the country’s new president and could largely determine the future political climate in Mozambique.

However, it is the third major contesting party, the Movement Democrático de Moçambique (MDM), that could in the end have the most profound influence on the future political landscape in Mozambique.

Observers predict that the MDM, led by the current mayor of Beira, Daviz Simango, could well replace Renamo as the official opposition in parliament. Expanding from his power base in Mozambique’s second biggest city, where he has been mayor since 2003, the MDM already runs three of Mozambique’s four largest cities, and gave Frelimo a fright during the 2013 local elections, winning 41% of the vote in Maputo.

Simango is not only charismatic but in contrast to Dhlakama he is far less belligerent and irresponsible. Under his leadership the MDM will raise the level of political debate in parliament and will confront Frelimo on political and socio-economic issues in a way the ruling party has never experienced before.
There is no reason why the MDM could not be the new game breaker in Mozambique’s domestic politics comes 15 October 2014.


Botswana is usually cited as an example that democracy can work in Africa – confirmed recently by the report of the Mo Ibrahim Index for Good Governance. Overall, Botswana was ranked third out of the 52 African countries surveyed.

On the same index South Africa ranked fouth Namibia sixth, Zambia 13th and Zimbabwe
It is generally accepted that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) of President Ian Khama, in power since independence in 1964, will once again emerge victorious.

But, there is a view that is rapidly gaining momentum that, as Shokespeare would put it, “something is rotten in the kingdom of Botswana” and it has much to do with the militaristic and autocratic style of President Ian Khama.

Criticism is not limited to the opposition. The voices of concern include prominent members of the ruling party. Even former presidents have joined those expressing fear that President Khama is causing irreparable damage to Botswana’s good name as a torch-bearer for good governance and democracy.

With President Khama coming from the military, as chief of the Botswana defence force before he entered politics, critics are concerned that the militaristic and autocratic management style he brought with him is a threat to the historically democratic character of Botswana’s political life.

Critics also warn of the close relationship between him and the country’s intelligence service, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS), and the large number of former military colleagues and family members he appointed in influential posts in the security sector.

Besides his nepotism, the president has surrounded him with a cabal of “yes men”, they lament.

Botswana’s constitution also grants the president immunity from both civil and criminal judicial action making him untouchable  in the eyes of the law. Critics argue that this allows him certain brazenness as manifested by his growing authoritarian and dictatorial decision-making.

Two more recent examples include perceptions of growing attacks on media freedom and the disregard for human rights regarding the way in which the Bushmen are treated.

In the latest media incident widespread condemnation followed the arrest of Sunday Standard editor Outsa Mokone on a charge of sedition for publishing a critical story about a motor car accident involving President Khama.

The journalist who wrote the article was forced to flee to South Africa where he was given temporary political asylum.

In a response Zoe Titus, the regional director of the Media Institute for Southern Africa (Misa), said her organisation is of the view that, “people have the perception of Botswana as the freest, most open and democratic society, but free expression is getting substantively shallow on a daily basis.”

More sinister are allegations of extra-judicial killings by an over- zealous and trigger happy security establishment. Critics are attributing the “free reign” of the security forces to a growing paranoia in government circles, which in turn is fuelling conspiracy theories about political killings.

Despite a High Court ruling in 2006, which upheld the right of Bushmen living in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to live and hunt inside the reserve, the government remains unwavering in its persistence to remove them from their ancestral land in the name of “conservation”.

Controversially, the Khama government has given the green light for fracking exploration and a US$ 4.9 billion diamond mine in the same reserve a decade after it claimed there were “no plans to mine anywhere inside the reserve”.

However, President Khama remains highly popular among the country’s population, particularly in rural areas, despite a media hype highlighting an opinion poll which found that President Khama’s popularity has “dropped” to 67%.

Despite this drop he is far more popular than the party he leads with its slim majority of 52% in parliament. The opposition has high hopes to erase this majority.

It would be a real test for the future political stability in one of Africa’s most stable democracies if the opposition should further reduce this slight majority of the ruling party in the forthcoming election.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     by Garth Cilliers

(Part one of this series can be read here)

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