STANDS A GOOD CHANCE: Activists for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) distribute posters with the picture of incumbent President Ian Khama at a pre-election gathering in Gaborone on Wednesday. Picture: AFP
STANDS A GOOD CHANCE: Activists for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) distribute posters with the picture of incumbent President Ian Khama at a pre-election gathering in Gaborone on Wednesday. Picture: AFP

PRESIDENT Ian Khama is favourite to win his second and final term in Botswana’s elections on Friday but analysts say victory will confirm the strength of the political system pioneered by his father rather than massive support for the incumbent.

The late Seretse Khama was Botswana’s first president at independence from Britain in 1966 and his Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has retained power ever since.

Resource-rich Botswana’s predictable and prudent economic policies have produced dividends and one of the highest per capita growth rates in Africa.

But job shortages and human rights concerns have alienated many young people and the urban middle class.

They are medium-term threats to the ruling party and its leadership, diplomatic and other analysts say.

The party and Mr Khama, a former commander of the armed forces, are still widely perceived to be unbeatable at the ballot. The team won 45 of the 57 parliamentary seats in 2009, including all but one in the capital Gaborone and the second city of Francistown. The opposition parties were left to pick up the scraps in a country the size of France with only 2.2-million people and no ethnic or religious tensions to speak of.

However, few people are predicting the same crushing victory margin this time.

"The BDP knows its majority will be reduced but personally I think they could get between 30 and 40," Weekend Post newspaper editor Aubrey Lute said.

"The decline is in the main cities where people understand the big issues like the public-sector strike in 2011, the threats to media freedom, security issues and so on," he said.

The Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) is a source of worry to many Batswana. Diplomats say its investigations span everything from petty crime to military intelligence and from tenders and procurement to promotions in the civil service.

"They have a hand in deportations of foreigners which lack due process," one European diplomat in Gaborone said.

"There is total unpredictability about their work. They are accountable to President Khama alone but they have made him terribly unpopular in some circles."

The arrest in September of Outsa Mokone, the editor of the Sunday Standard, after a story said the president had been involved in a late-night car crash, struck some observers as high-handed and intolerant. Prominent opponent Gomolemo Motswaledi died on July 30 in what police said was nothing more suspicious than a road accident.

Despite these security incidents, and others, Botswana invariably ranks near the very top of good and clean governance indices published by the likes of Transparency International and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

"I find what they say about Botswana is almost an insult," said Duma Boko, the leader of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) coalition.

"It is mystifying that an institution like Transparency International is failing to pick up these signs" about abuses of human rights, he said in an interview in Johannesburg. A public relations company helped Mr Boko, a Harvard-trained lawyer who has defended the rights of Botswana’s indigenous San people, to raise his profile in SA and the region during his election campaign.

Mr Boko told Business Day that an opinion poll by the Afrobarometer group which suggested his coalition would come third in the vote with 13% was conducted too long ago — in June and July — to be accurate.

"Our prospects are very, very good," he said.

The same poll showed waning but still majority support for the president and the BDP.

The established opposition party is Dumelang Saleshando’s Botswana Congress Party.

If respect for civil rights and legal process are President Khama’s weak flank, the management of the economy is usually hailed by foreign investors and many opposition supporters.

Botswana has some of the biggest diamond deposits in the world and the government set precedent in 2011 by creating a 50-50 joint venture with De Beers called Debswana.

After a major skills transfer from London to Gaborone, the company now sorts, values and sells diamonds locally and accounts for about one-third of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

In another strong signal that Botswana is not just talking about "beneficiation", Russia’s Norilsk Nickel said this month that it had agreed to dispose of stakes in two nickel mines in Botswana and SA for $337m to BCL, Botswana’s state-owned nickel mining and smelting company.

BCL will treat concentrate from Nkomati Nickel in SA at its smelter as part of its plans to become "the ultimate destination" for all nickel concentrate in Southern Africa.

Botswana is the home of the secretariat of Sadc (Southern African Development Community) even though its pro-western political profile is at odds with those of most of the other members — like SA, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique and Namibia — whose governments are all allied through a common history of liberation movements.

The head of the African Union observers at Botswana’s election is Joyce Banda, the former president of Malawi who briefly refused to accept her defeat in last year’s vote.