A Nation Speaks
This week Botswana’s newly returned ruling party, the Botswana Democratic Party, will form a new government. Last Friday (16th October) was a general election. Since my arrival, I’ve seen a constant supply of posters and billboards promoting one party or another. Every road junction, virtually every signpost, has a poster for at least one candidate. They’re easy to spot – coming in one of three colours for the three main parties: red for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), yellow for the Botswana National Front (BNF)* or green for the Botswana Congress Party (BCP). There are other parties, even a few independents, but these three are the main contenders.
There have also been rallies – many, many rallies. In the two days before the election I was lucky enough to be touring around some of the villages surrounding Gabs. We saw cars with loud hailers, great long convoys of crowded combies and backies (pick-up trucks), even a group of children standing by a junction waving campaign posters at passing traffic.
The Batswana are rightly proud of their right to vote – and whilst in previous years the electorate have succumed to apathy (around 40% turnout in 2004), this year the campaign to raise engagement seems to have worked. I know one lady who queued at the polling station from 9am until 4pm, so determined was she to cast her vote. Since the Batswana are so mobile, and so attached to their home villages, many others made long round trips – over 10 hours in total for some, to make sure their voices were heard.
Having cast their vote, some went on to stay at the polling station, in a bid to be first to hear who had won for their constituency. Once the votes had been counted (by hand of course) the celebrations started in earnest. There were parties and parades all weekend, even fireworks!
Of course, nothing is perfect, and no election ever runs without a degree of controversy. In the run up to this one we had court cases, conspiracy theories and allegations, some quite serious. But the fact that they could be discussed openly, rather than behind hands, can only be a good sign. And in spite of it all, the people voted. Not all of them, and there were wrangles over that too, but a majority of Batswana were engaged in the process and cared about their right to be heard – including an unprecedented number of young people. Today, the talk in the office has been all about the results and their implications.
Why not have a look at some of what the papers were saying. There’s plenty more on each site if you fancy a look around.
Good luck to new government. They have a lot to do, and now they have a nation of engaged citizens – with high expectations.
Here are few of the images I snapped whilst out and about last week…
*I couldn't find their official website.