Gaborone, Botswana, Oct 21 (AFP/APP): Botswana votes in a closely fought general election Wednesday in which the ruling party and opposition will compete to form the country’s next government, which will choose its next president.
Here are profiles of the two party leaders, one of whom will likely be Botswana’s president for the next five years.
– The incumbent –
President Mokgweetsi Eric Masisi is a veteran of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which has ruled the country since independence in 1966.
Born in July 1962 in Moshupa village, west of the capital Gaborone, the US-educated, former UNICEF employee is the son of an ex-cabinet minister and diplomat.
From 2009, Masisi served as assistant minister for presidential affairs and public administration before the then president Ian Khama appointed him education minister in October 2014.
Just a month later Masisi became vice president, with Khama grooming him as his successor.
In April 2018 Masisi became leader under the BDP’s carefully constructed succession process in which the sitting president steps down 18 months before the next elections.
Masisi, seen as reformist, then reversed numerous Khama policies, including a ban on trophy hunting, as well firing the country’s controversial intelligence chief.
Khama, furious with his former deputy, quit the party earlier this year and has campaigned against the president and the ruling party.
Masisi said the split had made this election the most difficult in the BDP’s history, but defended reversing Khama’s policies.
“I’m not absolving myself of being part of the BDP at the time — I certainly was — but there is a reason I had to help hold a party, the government together,” he told AFP.
He said the party’s constitutionally mandated transition that brought him to power allowed the BDP the “opportunity to breathe fresh air as we now do and it is nice”.
The father of one said when he’s not working he spends time with his “very small family”, looking after their cattle and goats, and growing vegetables.
– The challenger –
Duma Boko, a 49-year-old lawyer, is the leader of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), a coalition of three opposition parties formed in 2012.
Born in a poor rural village near the eastern town of Mahalapye, Boko studied at the University of Botswana, where he was a student activist, before going to Harvard Law School.
He specialised in human rights and humanitarian law and returned to become a lecturer at the University of Botswana. He also practised law, working on numerous high profile cases.
“I interacted with people brutalised by systemic injustice and took a decision at some point that my effort on the legal front would never be enough, so I ventured into the political space in 2010,” he told AFP.
He became the UDC’s leader in the run up to the 2014 election.
The UDC won 17 of 57 parliamentary seats in 2014, while the BDP’s share of the vote fell below 50 percent for the first time. In Botswana the party with the most seats elects the president.
Economic analyst Keith Jefferis called Boko “more of a fiery political operator”.
“He is intelligent, there is no doubt about it, but he does come across as bit of a hothead,” Jefferis added.
Boko said he enjoys playing with his nine children and being inspired by their “free spiritedness, sheer innocence and lack of inhibitions”.