President Mokgweetsi Masisi has allegedly developed cold feet over his decision to engage in a live presidential debate ahead of the forthcoming general elections, as reported on Thursday, 10 October 2019.
Botswana holds do or die general elections on 23 October.
In June 2019, Masisi told a ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) rally in Maun town in the north western part of the country that he was ready for a presidential debate with opposition leaders.
He said in the run-up to the 2019 general elections that he would like to engage leaders in a live debate, but he has since made an about-turn on his promise.
The debates were supposed to be organised by the Botswana Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (BOCONGO).
In a letter, BDP executive secretary Ame Makoba informed BOCONGO executive director Botho Seboko that Masisi would not be available for the debate scheduled for Friday, 11 October 2019.
“His Excellency the President has pre-arranged government business that he will be undertaking,” Makoba said.
Masisi was expected to face the leader of the opposition in parliament Duma Boko whose aggressive campaign trail has taken the nation by storm through their thematic message dubbed “Decent jobs, decent lives.”
A lawyer by profession and leader of the opposition coalition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Boko is taking advantage of the escalating unemployment figures to woo the youth to his party by promising to raise the minimum wage from less than 100 dollars to 300 dollars a month.
Botswana’s youth unemployment currently stands at more than 20 percent.
On the other hand, Masisi is currently traversing the length and breadth of the country in what government officials have termed “consultation with the nation”.
But the opposition parties have raised a red flag, accusing Masisi of using the public meetings disguised as consultation through the kgotla system (a traditional law court of a Botswana village) to campaign.
Botswana laws prohibit the use of the kgotla system to discuss partisan politics; only development issues, tribal affairs, among others, should be discussed.
Other presidential candidates who are expected to take part in the debate are Ndaba Gaolathe of the Alliance for Progressives, Sidney Pilane of Botswana Movement for Democracy and Biggie Butale of Botswana Patriotic Front.
But observers are of the view that the real competition is between the ruling BDP and the UDC.
While the BDP had in the past taken advantage of incumbency by using state resources to traverse some difficult terrain to campaign, the UDC has also secured international sponsors who have provided it with an aircraft and buses so that Boko and his team can reach rural communities.
The leaders of the parties were expected to explain their manifestos to potential voters and observers are of the view that because of the huge number of unemployed youth, it was going to be a mammoth task for Masisi to counter Boko and his UDC’s “decent lives, decent jobs.”
A statement from BOCONGO states that the discussion was expected to be moderated by highly skilled and respected scholars in the field of economics, political science and development.
It states that the overall objective of the debate was to create a platform for discussions with presidential representatives under the theme “The future of Botswana, our offer.”