Why Botswana’s election could be decided by elephants and diamonds
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Why Botswana’s election could be decided by elephants and diamonds

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Botswana will hold general elections on 23 October and as a BBC World Questions debate found out in Gaborone, diamonds and elephants could play a sizeable role in deciding who wins.The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has won every election in Botswana since independence in 1966, but this year there is a real chance that could change. Three of the opposition parties have united under the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). They have a carefully pitched manifesto promising 100,000 jobs. In a country where more than 20% of the population are unemployed, and where there’s a growing anxiety about “incomers”, that is an attractive proposition.

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Dumelang Saleshando says most people in Botswana have never seen a diamond

UDC vice-president Dumelang Saleshando told the BBC debate that “it’s about an economy which has excluded its citizens”.”If you go to construction, it’s a Chinese-dominated sector. If you go to retail, it’s Asian-dominated… there isn’t a single industry in this country dominated by Botswana except the informal sector.”A country built on diamondsBotswana is often called an African success story – its independence was achieved without the bloodshed experienced by some of its neighbours, it has never had a civil war and its elections are usually unmarred by violence. Part of Botswana’s good fortune is down to its diamonds. Although Russia produces more diamonds overall, four mines across the southern African state produce the greatest quantity of high-quality gems in the world and Botswana shares its stake in the industry on a 50-50 basis with De Beers, which describes itself as “the world’s leading diamond company”.

The deal brought $3.5bn (£2.7bn) in government revenue last year, and the trade represents up to 40% of the country’s economy. The money has built roads, schools and hospitals but after more than 50 years, many people have started thinking they should be getting more out of their good luck. This year, rumours of corruption have contributed to growing scepticism about the relationship.The partnership with De Beers is up for renewal in 2020 and has become a big issue in the election. The prospects of a better deal was the first question asked at the BBC debate.Transport and Communications Minister Dorcas Makgato defended the government’s approach to the negotiations. “Diamonds for us are our tomorrow. We are the biggest producer of diamonds in the world so it would be suicidal for us not to treat that commodity with the respect and love it deserves.” But the negotiations had to remain a secret, as the government could not show its hand, she said.

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The Lesedi La Rona – “Our Light” – is the biggest diamond ever found in Botswana

But Mr Saleshando disagrees.”Ninety-five percent of the people here have never seen a diamond with their own eyes. The truth is good-paying jobs are created in foreign countries though Botswana diamonds. We just remain diggers – we just dig the holes.” Despite, or because of, its diamond riches, Botswana has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world, according to the World Bank, and its people are starting to question why. The election at a glance:BDP – won every election since independence, led by Mokgweetsi Masisi
UDC – coalition formed in 2012, led by Duma Boko
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