Allegations that the 2019 general election would be rigged were in the public domain before the poll. The same allegations gained traction after the results were announced with the results challenged in the courts of law through election petitions with the main opposition bloc the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) claiming that it had solid evidence to prove that indeed the election was rigged. These allegations could not be ventilated in courts because of points in limine raised by the Respondents in the form of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) respectively. But in the minds of the opposition notwithstanding the disappointment from court rulings, they were resolute that the margins of votes in the wards and constituencies which they claimed were historically theirs, were very high thereby fuelling their conviction that a third force played part in the election. Fresh allegations emerging from a company called the World of Oak (Pty) Ltd suggest that it carried a covert operation in the electoral process at the instigation of the Directorate of Intelligence & Security Services (DISS) head Rre Peter Magosi. Should these allegations be correct and authentic, there should be one key conclusion-the 2019 general election was compromised and therefore illegitimate.
The only DIIS involvement in the electoral process I want to believe, would be to provide intelligence information to the IEC in case persons and/or their organisations were attempting, or better still, had infiltrated such process in whatever manner with the aim of compromising, circumventing or contaminating the process in furtherance of a particular political party’s interests. It could have been in the interests of the BDP or the UDC. Acting in this manner, the DISS would be protecting the national security and sovereignty of the Republic, the electoral process itself and also importantly perhaps in the context of elections, helping and complementing the IEC to deliver a free, fair and credible election as contemplated in the IEC Act. Other than this and for all intents and purposes, DISS footprints on the election process should not be visible in any form or shape. But sadly, and should it proved that the DISS was the one trying to contaminate, or indeed succeeded in contaminating the election for a preferred outcome as the World of Oath alleges in its Statutory Notice, the IEC would have delivered a fake, fraudulent and illegitimate election. Without doubt, this could potentially throw Botswana into a deep and damaging constitutional crisis in the eyes of Batswana and the international community. In more ways than one, we would have become a trash of a banana Republic with the little credibility if any as a democratic nation anchored on free, fair and credible election process, thrown at the deep end of the nearest landfill.
The DISS has a reported chequered history to the 2019 general election. It will be remembered as widely reported in the private media that it made serious allegations that the 2019 general election was likely to be rigged. Key to these allegations is that the DISS had tried to procure ‘intelligence surveillance equipment’ from a Switzerland-based company called Plath AG Group which procurement was thwarted through courts by the UDC President Advocate Duma Boko. This equipment it was suggested, ‘could intercept election data, process it to advance the interests of a given client.’ Motivating for the procurement of this equipment, Rre Magosi was extensively quoted to have said that ‘this thing (procurement) went through the PPADB….yes our system is so porous that our elections could be rigged.’ The IEC it was reported, distanced itself from such procurement insisting that it did not require any other equipment to run the election. Having failed to procure the equipment it would appear, the DISS through Rre Magosi would not go down without a fight in so far as its hand in the election was concerned. Hence the World of Oak demand for the payment of about P15 million for allegedly rendering a service to the DISS.
I asked myself a few questions when this piece of news became newsworthy so I thought. And that is, would Rre Magosi, assuming the allegations are truthful, have been so brave to undertake this mission on his own without the involvement and sanction of his political bosses? Would a legal firm worth its salt agree to pursue such a highly sensitive case with the potential of throwing the country into some constitutional crisis without material and compelling evidence? Would such a law firm take the risk of tarnishing its own credibility in the process? If the DISS indeed had an agreement with World of Oak, didn’t it reasonably foresee the dangers of not paying as soon as the invoice was presented? I am not suggesting by any stretch of the imagination that the deal with this company if it ever existed is good for the electoral process. It would be a serious affront to democracy, free, fair and credible elections and the rule of law. These indeed are hard and difficult questions whose answers are also hard and difficult to fathom.
But one critical question must be asked and answered. Did the political atmosphere in the lead up to the election render the BDP so desperate to even think of asking the DIIS on its behalf, to undertake a ‘covert reconnaissance’ mission as seemingly undertaken by World of Oak if the letter of demand is anything to go by? The answer could rest squarely and firmly in the behaviour, conduct and Rre Magosi’s utterances as described above. The suggestion by him that the election stood to be rigged and the attempt to procure an ‘intelligence surveillance equipment’ should be reasonable enough and in the circumstances, to have suggested and necessitated the ‘covert reconnaissance’ mission. Probably up to the last home run to the elections day, the UDC had mounted a serious threat to dethrone the BDP with its partnership with the BPF. The Khama factor also threw the spanner in the works. By no small measure, the political atmosphere seemed to suggest a photo finish to the election race.
The Statutory Notice of Lerumo Mogobe Legal Practitioners representing the World of Oak raises serious and damaging allegations against the DISS. It says that the services rendered by the company ‘were of an extremely sensitive, covert and highly classified nature. When following up payment of its invoices you made several undertakings that payment will be made as soon as possible and due to the trust and confidence of our client has in you as the head of the DISS, they did not put a lot of pressure on you.’ Expectedly and if indeed there was a deal between the DISS and the World of Oak, the deal was by all accounts supposed to be a well-guarded secret the ordinary folk shouldn’t have got sight of. And the reason is obvious: the consequences for the DISS, the BDP and the country at large would be too ghastly to contemplate.
The latest news at the time of writing this piece is that the BDP is disowning the DIIS, that the party is conducting its own investigation and will at the appropriate time share the results with the nation and that, the IEC is distancing itself from the hot potato dished by the World of Oak. Fair enough! But if indeed the election was contaminated in one respect or the other as alleged by the World of Oak, wouldn’t the IEC had not picked up such contamination? If not, could it suggest that the IEC was aware of the contamination and decided to look the other way? Or, the World of Oak network or system was so powerful that it easily overpowered the IEC’s? These are pertinent questions I ask myself. The contamination if at all and I want to imagine, would have to do with the voting data in terms of compromising the voters’ roll for example to deliver a preferred outcome. The voters’ roll in any election is a critical document that would in my view, determine the ultimate winner. If it is contaminated therefore, a preferred outcome should be possible.
The World of Oak allegations are so serious that they require as a matter of urgency, a comprehensive investigation whose results should be made known to the nation. If the DISS was involved in the contamination of the 2019 general election and not with respect to providing intelligence information to the IEC to detect and disable such contamination from whatever quarters, that election result should stand unlawful and illegitimate. Botswana may very be sitting with an illegitimate government should the World of Oak allegations be truthful. Like they say, the jury is still out there. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!