Botswana on a wing and a prayer! | Sunday Standard
Thursday, July 2, 2020

Botswana on a wing and a prayer!

Botswana still needs God. Getting things in order has become like a wild goose chase – more or less. The more things change, the more they stay the same.This must be how many of our people are feeling these days. For many Batswana the biggest issue remains the economy, followed by corruption.If he is eager to succeed and leave legacy behind, President Mokgweetsi Masisi should not measure himself against the Ian Khama standards.He must not even use the Khama standards as part of his defence, much less to justify his own actions.

It is a long-settled opinion that Khama tenure was an aberration.What they see as creeping mediocrity in government concerns many Batswana of good will.They are depressed by their wilting economic conditions. They cannot be sure under the circumstances if their government really has their backs covered. They would do with some evidence-based reassuring. In the eyes of many Batswana the economy of their country is imploding. And corruption, as exemplified by crony capitalism has continued its march even as Khama has now long left the scene.

Questions abound on whether or not as a nation state we are making any progress; not just on democracy but also on governance.Or are we regressing into just another African country – on the brink and struggling to make ends meet. For me a bigger concern is not the present, but the future. If we again let Batswana down, will we really be able in future to motivate them to keep the faith in the system?

It will be a tall order because events are swiftly running out of control. And the nation is itself running out of patience.The next generations will evidently be less deferential to authority. They blame anything they perceive as a symbol of that authority and power.

The story of A.T.I has all such elements.With no first-hand knowledge of it all, they are unencumbered by romantic stories of Botswana’s past successes and exceptionalism.They strongly feel they owe no debt to any authority, much less to this government. Their lives are not controlled by fear. They know it is this fear that has for far too long kept their parents away from taking control of own destinies. Rightly or wrongly they see themselves as victims of a corrupt and heartless system that has from the beginning been heavily tilted and stacked against them.

Our pretensions of African exceptionalism today feel more removed farthest from reality than ever before. Today’s events, especially the covid-19 aspect of it would severely test even the best and most experienced cabinet. Effects on the economy, education and how to respond have all made current cabinet look like bungling teenagers. The Masisi cabinet is a mixture of loyalists and inexperience. There does not appear to have occurred any discernible paradigm transition from Khama era to Masisi era. The fault is not entirely Masisi’s – even though he could have done much better with his choice of Specially Elected Members of Parliament, so as to explicitly strengthen his cabinet.

Cabinet ministers are as yet reluctant to lift themselves out of their prevailing insignificance. Those who have talked to the president in private recently say he remains as ever full with certainties. It turns out he is fully aware some people are having second thoughts about him going forward. Apparently he is abnormally aware that his time in power has not brought about the results he had hoped for.If only covid-19 could pass, the people would get to see his vision, has become his dictum. He is also aware of concerns about the quqlity or lack of it in his cabinet – which concerns he also shares.

One is hard pressed to come up with a handful of names in cabinet among them who the nation would feel their absence were they to suddenly drop dead.There used to be ministers of significance like Chiepe, Mogwe, Mmusi, Kedikilwe, Balopi, Sebego, Kwelagobe to name but a few. They were politicians and ministers of consequence. They were men and women of immense quality but also conviction.When Mmusi and Kwelagobe resigned from cabinet in 1992 it felt like the country had been hit by a political tsunami.

Kedikilwe resigned his senior cabinet post because he was unhappy with how things were going in government and recovery took long to come back into cabinet.The fact of the matter is that the ruling party ceased to breed exceptionally good politicians a long time back.A party of government if it is going to be a successful one should strive to produce politicians and thus ministers that matter. This means ministers that have self-confidence and possessing political purpose.Disunity in cabinet is a recurring feature. But it’s a rare feat to be disunited and easy to ignore at the same time.

A close scrutiny of the pretenders that we learn are fighting each other to ultimately replace vice president Slumber Tsogwane reveals an eerie image of multiple emperors fighting over clothes that are not even there to start with. Take for example the all-important education sector! The same mentality that was typified by a lack of urgency under Khama seems to still apply today under Masisi. For a party that has been in power for over half a century, the public is right to feel let down by what they see as a disconnect between themselves and those in power.

The nation had wanted to hold Masisi to much higher standards.Their hope and thus burning agitation were to introduce high levels of dignity to the State House. It turns out the problem might not be with the individual but the system. Changing individuals without supplanting the system is a vain effort.Clearly this is an administration still struggling to prove in words as in deed what it really stands for. On governance it has often sounded fluent and even articulate – in words but not in action. In real life the same government has often preferred soundbite over substance. At times the situation gets so dire that even ministers are themselves confused. In its early days it had set corruption as its main target.Where public grumblings started as muted, measured and discreet, they are now louder and even shriller.

Initial public hope is no doubt giving way to obduracy.Hopes that a more spirited fight against corruption in government was on the cards now seem fanciful as three years later the law on declaration of assets is yet to pass. And what we have seen is a disappointedly watered-down version of what many had hoped for.Initially this administration defined itself by its combative stance against Ian Khama – their devil incarnate.

Now Khama seems to be slowly and wisely withdrawing himself out of the milieu– which he should have done a long time backAnd his withdrawal is denying government a cover and also target. The result is a public confusion on just what are objective that this government really stands for.The solution lies at least two fronts. The opposition should do more. They should get the ruling party out of a comfort zone by coming up with public policy alternatives that resonate with the public. The opposition should start behaving in such a way as to prove to the doubting public that there is an alternative.The second solution lies with individual cabinet ministers.

Each minister needs to allow a spirit of creativity embedded in them to explode to the public. That means showing much more than ambition. The nation wants to experience imagination – not just atomised creatures we have seen so far.Foreign policy has also not been clear to understand. Clearly a decision by European Commission to list Botswana among risky financial jurisdictions has rattled the administration.The trouble though is they have not as yet figured out how to respond. So far their response has been a mixture of shock, anger, helplessness and a deep sense of betrayal.Botswana cannot afford to move away from Europe. Not even China is ready much less reliable enough to fill the European void.

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.