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Opposition Leader Says, President Khama Has Weakened Botswana’s Democracy

A leading member of a breakaway faction of Botswana’s ruling Democratic Party (BDP) says President Ian Khama’s repeated refusal to address their concerns “clued-up” their decision to form a new opposition party to challenge what he described as the status quo.

Botswana President Ian Khama
Botswana President Ian Khama

Sydney Pilane, spokesman of the newly formed Botswana Movement for Democracy said the country’s democracy is deteriorating and under serious threat after describing President Khama’s rule as festooned with dictatorial tendencies.

“We have for the last few years watched our democracy slowly but troublingly declining. Our people increasingly live in fear they do not as before, feel secure in their own country. They feel besieged by the government and by the intelligence services. Our government is increasingly becoming a dictatorship,” he said.

Leaders of the new party, include six incumbent members of parliament, broke away from the ruling party after President Khama suspended them for indiscipline. The breakaway faction was accused of siding with the opposition to prevent Mr. Khama from nominating for special legislators into parliament.

But Pilane said failure to salvage Botswana’s “deteriorating” democracy could lead to the same problems that led to neighboring Zimbabwe’s political crisis.

“There are some people who think there isn’t too much cause for alarm yet [but] we say we do not want to reach the stage that Zimbabwe has done, because if you do, it is so much more difficult to reverse it. We want to stop it while we can,” Pilane said.

The ruling BDP has governed the southern Africa nation, which is the world's biggest producer of diamonds, since it gained independence in 1966 from colonial power Britain.

Political observers say the breakaway group could weaken BDP’s dominance in Botswana’s next general elections in 2014.

Pilane said President Khama refused several attempts by mediators including former President Quett Masire to resolve tensions within the BDP.

“The mediation did not take place all together because the president and his committee declined President Masire’s offer and so we decided that we would now proceed to the formation of a new party without any further delays. He [Masire] is not the only one who tried to mediate others have done so before… We have always been prepared to talk but the other side had never been prepared to talk,” Pilane said.

President Khama is a former military chief of general staff and the son of Botswana's founding father, Seretse Khama. Opposition groups including former members of the ruling party have often questioned his leadership style describing it as autocratic -- charges his supporters deny.

Despite the criticisms, President Khama led the ruling BDP to a landslide victory in last year’s October general elections. The ruling party won 45 seats in Botswana’s 61-member parliament leaving the opposition parties with only 12 seats.