“Our Father’s Programmes”: political branding around social protection in Botswana, 2008-2014

Year: 
2016
Working Paper Number: 
370
Author: 
Sam Hamer
Abstract: 
The Botswana Democratic Party has ruled uninterrupted in Botswana since independence, but opposition parties have made significant inroads during recent elections. In the midst of this heightened political competition, President Ian Khama (2008- ) has sought to increase support for the party by remarketing the country’s employment-based programmes to serve new governmental objectives around employment and poverty reduction. Khama’s rebranding of public employment programmes (PEPs), especially the Ipelegeng Programme, has allowed government to target underserved beneficiary groups such as the urban poor, and provided more reliable incomes to out-of-work Batswana in rural areas. Critically, the rebranding of social protection programmes has resulted in their being publicly associated more with Khama himself than with government. Public displays of empathy for the conditions of the poor moreover, as manifested during Khama’s visits to disadvantaged areas, reinforced the president’s image as a poverty-sensitive leader. These programmatic and non-programmatic measures have together defined Khama’s social protection ‘brand’; or the public emphasis that the president has placed on his social protection agenda. For their part, opposition leaders have branded themselves around a “social-democratic” approach to poverty reduction. Since the 1990s, ruling and opposition parties have converged in their social protection ideologies as the BDP has “counterbranded” in response to electoral competition by adopting opposition policy ideas. Khama’s branding around personalised PEPs, in conclusion, generated strong support for himself among the rural poor especially owing to popular preferences for low-wage work over cash transfers. Using Afrobarometer survey data, this paper shows that Khama’s branding was insufficient to maintain the BDP vote, as the party’s poor performance in the 2014 election confirmed.
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