Botswana has a reputation for political stability, democracy, sound economic management and good governance. This opinion is widely shared — by foreign governments, international financial institutions, organizations such as Freedom House and Transparency International, and even academics. Developments in the run-up to the Oct. 24 elections have revealed a significant gap between Botswana’s reputation and reality. The campaign took a tasty turn at the end of July, when charismatic opposition politician Gomolemo Motswaledi died in a suspicious automobile accident. In September, another opposition politician was abandoned for dead in a ditch but survived; he claims to have been kidnapped and tortured by agents of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services. Other opposition politicians and activists complain about threatening phone calls and being followed. Some have been attacked but got away while others have moved to protect themselves.
There are also signs of media harassment. A journalist fled and obtained political asylum in South Africa, saying that he fears his government and that his life is in danger. His editor was arrested, and, after agents confiscated digital media and equipment, he was charged with sedition. Vandalism of radio transmitters disrupted broadcast of parliamentary debates.
The long-ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has resorted to desperate strategies to retain power. Private radio stations broadcast leaked recordings of BDP politicians discussing the inclusion of ruling-party campaign managers in cabinet meetings and using fake Facebook accounts to discredit critics. The president and the BDP campaign manager attacked the character and personal life of an opposition candidate who is also the leader of a rival tribe, inflaming ethnic tensions and personalizing the campaign.