Botswana's President Mokgweetsi Masisi in Gaborone, Botswana, on November 1 2019. Picture: AFP/MONIRUL BHUIYAN.
Botswana's President Mokgweetsi Masisi in Gaborone, Botswana, on November 1 2019. Picture: AFP/MONIRUL BHUIYAN.

An investigation into Botswana’s elections, commissioned by the main opposition group, alleges widespread rigging and the involvement of the country’s secret service.

A report on the investigation, carried out by SA’s Forensics For Justice, includes signed statements alleging that thousands of voters were allowed to cast ballots twice in different constituencies and that election officials and voters were bribed. Forensics for Justice is headed by SA-based investigator Paul O’Sullivan.

The results of the probe will form part of a challenge by the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change to results in 16 of the 38 constituencies won by President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) in the October 23 vote. A smaller opposition party linked to former president Ian Khama is challenging results in three other constituencies.

The BDP’s victory extended the party’s 53-year grip on power and was a rebound in the popular vote from its worst electoral performance to date in 2014. The government has said that all Botswana citizens have the right to challenge election results legally.

“Boko and his associates have placed the issue before the courts,” said government spokesperson Andrew Sesinyi, referring to the opposition leader Duma Boko. “The law will take its course. Mr Boko is entitled to the due process of the law,” he said, declining to comment further.

A protracted dispute over the election results could tarnish the reputation of a country that’s often regarded as one of Africa’s better-run nations. While Botswana, which relies on diamonds and tourism for its foreign exchange, is ranked fifth in the 2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, its score has declined over the last decade.

‘Very organised’

Boko’s UDM was predicted to win 31 of the 57 constituencies, the report said, without saying from where it got that information. It won 15. Before the election, Masisi had said he was confident of winning.

“We ran a very organised and targeted campaign that delivered a win for us but that was stolen from us,” Boko told reporters in Johannesburg. “Democracy has been subverted in Botswana.”

According to the report, statements from BDP officials and a member of the party’s communications team alleged that duplicate voter cards were generated and voters were transported by bus between constituencies to vote more than once. They were allegedly supplied with mobile phones and had to photograph their voting slips and were then paid.

Churches were given money and football tournaments sponsored allegedly to sway the vote in the BDP’s favour. The money came from the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services, or DISS, according to the affidavits.

In one sworn statement, a member of the BDP communications department said the plan was co-ordinated by Masisi and Mpho Balopi, the secretary-general of the party. The person said he attended a meeting with the two leaders as well as other senior party and DISS officials. At that meeting, the person said, Masisi expressed concern that he would lose the elections and directed them to come up with a strategy to keep him in power.

The affidavit included details of how the voter duplication worked and said that payments were made by Balopi and a “slush fund” owned by the DISS. The DISS contributed 15-million pula ($1.4m), according to another BDP member who said he helped the vote rigging.

Boko said his opposition group is calling for an independent audit of the election.

Bloomberg