By World News Forecast
Diamond-rich Botswana elects its National Assembly, the body that chooses the country’s president after the vote, with the country’s reputation and the long reign of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) in jeopardy. Sluggish economic growth and high youth unemployment have given the opposition a big foothold, along with the fight over elephants and hunting.
The BDP has held the presidency and a majority of the 63 National Assembly seats since independence in 1966. During that time the country has won an international reputation as an African economic and political success story and a bastion of conservation.
In Mar 2019 the World Bank noted high levels of income inequality and high unemployment, particularly youth unemployment in the country. It also lauded the orderly transfer of power to Mokgweetsi Eric Masisi at the end of Ian Khama’s second term as president in Apr 2018.
Khama and his hand-picked successor are at odds. Masisi took office vowing to diversify the economy away from diamonds. He targeted tourism, Botswana’s second largest source of foreign income after diamond mining. He also changed several key policies adopted by Khama, one of which was the 2014 ban on elephant hunting and culling in Botswana, home to a third of Africa’s elephants.
Khama, whose father led the southern African country to independence, quit the ruling party in May. He accused Masisi of becoming an autocrat and threatening the country’s reputation as a beacon of stability in a troubled continent.
Khama leads a BDP splinter group, the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF). An opposition coalition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) brings the BPF together with three other parties. If it holds together until the election, the country could see its first change of government since independence from Britain in 1966.
Reporting on the elephant issue in Feb 2019, the BBC noted that the massive animals can be very destructive when they encroach onto farmland and move though villages – destroying crops and sometimes killing people. The broadcaster pointed out that the government has to balance lifting the hunting ban to win rural votes against the impact it may have on Botswana’s international reputation as a luxury safari destination and as a beacon for conservation.
The poll will elect 57 national assembly and 490 local government representatives.