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Personal Rivalries Overshadow Botswana's Democracy

Political developments in Botswana are attracting unprecedented attention, causing some pundits to fret about the stability of its longstanding democracy. While it is undoubtedly true that Botswana is experiencing more public political turbulence than anyone is accustomed to, moving real political debates out of exclusive meetings of the long ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and into the public sphere need not be a sign of terrible trouble. To date Botswana’s opposition parties have functioned largely as divided critics of government and beneficiaries of protest votes, but very rarely as sources of viable policy alternatives. A change in this state of affairs would be a sign of real democratic maturity.

Unfortunately, maturity is not the first word that comes to mind when surveying the latest headlines from the country, where coverage of the feud between current President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his predecessor and former boss, Ian Khama, sometimes reads like highlights of an overwrought soap opera. The latest dramatic turn saw Khama renouncing his membership in the party his revered father helped found, complaining that his legacy was being dismantled, and encouraging others to throw away their BDP membership cards. The storyline threatens to consume all of the political oxygen in the country...


Ambassador Michelle Gavin served as U.S. Ambassador to Botswana from 2011 to 2014. Ambassador Gavin is a senior fellow for Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. She has over twenty years of experience in international affairs in government and non-profit roles.


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