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Sometime in 1787, as he left a secret confab that had been designated to hammer out the United States Constitution, Benjamin Franklin was confronted by a woman.
“Well Doctor what have we got for us, a republic or a monarchy?”
“A republic madame, if you can keep it,” Dr Franklin replied.
The words from Franklin were no doubt chilling.
Keeping a republic demands continuously working at it.
These words, by one of America’s founding fathers are as apt for Botswana today as they were for America 230 years ago.
The same issues that America’s founders grappled with at the time are relevant in Botswana today.
History is asking if Botswana is a monarchy or a republic. But more to the point if we are able, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, to keep it.
This became ever more glaring in the past two weeks after Member of Parliament for Sefhare/Ramokgonami told former President Ian Khama to choose between chieftainship and politics.
Dorcas Makgatho held that Ian Khama wanted to wear these two caps simultaneously or at the very least interchangeably depending on which one suited him at any given moment.
Makgatho reminded Khama that he could not eat his cake and have it, before mumbling something to the effect that Botswana was a republic not a monarchy.
What we are seeing is a fight for the soul of this country.
In every way and every day Botswana’s chances of remaining as a republic are being tested.
It is a fight of our lives.
A republic, if it is to remain one needs a constant and continuous devotion to the ideals that created.
Anything short of that would amount to a collective moral failure on our part as a nation.
The last time I heard any politician invoke a principle that Botswana was a republic was Ponatshego Kedikilwe in 2003.
Kedikilwe was fighting a political war of his life to retain the chairmanship of the Botswana Democratic Party.
His challenger was Ian Khama. All insinuations were being made to indirectly put pressure on Kedikilwe to make way for the Chief.
“But we are republicans,” Kedikilwe protested.
He held firm and stood, but ultimately lost the contest.
Khama does not want anybody to think for themselves.
He wants to control anything and everything that moves.
His latest battleground is the Central District.
He wants to turn the whole of the Central District into his feudal backwater – devoid of republican ideals and run based entirely on his ever-shifting caprice.
The current round of Khama’s inconsistencies started with Mokgweetsi Masisi, then Shaw Kgathi, before moving against Francesco Kgoboko and now Dorcas Makgatho.
Looked at from a close range, it is a case study in both caprice and entitlement.
All these people had at one time been Khama’s allies.
He chose Masisi as his deputy and ultimately successor.
Kgathi was Khama’s ally until Kgathi reneged on buying multi-billion Pula military assets from Scandinavia under a scandalous deal that made economic sense only to Ian Khama.
Makgatho was always an enthusiastic supporter - a cheerleader leader even.
To some of us she looked more Khama’s lapdog than a minister.
Inside cabinet she was often treated with suspicion because her colleagues regarded her as the president’s backroom amanuensis on sticky issues.
After he fell out with Kgathi, he hand-picked Kgoboko. They were all smooches until Kgoboko said he did not want to any party to efforts to remove Masisi or destroy the BDP.
That was up until she endorsed Masisi against Khama’s will.
Then he became a target.
In other words, Khama behaves like a mob leader.
It’s his way or the highway.
All the above people became enemies the moment they told him that he was wrong.
In his universe, anybody who dares challenge him, for whatever reason should be removed.
Now he has expanded and broadened his frontiers.
He has his eyes trained on the opposition UDC.
He wants to coronate them so that they become the guarantees of immunity for himself and his corruption laden enterprise.
He is currently engaged in what looks like a dance of death with the Umbrella for Democratic Change.
If there is any constant with Khama it has to be his unpredictability followed by his aversion to the truth.
This is a man who wholly and genuinely believes he is bigger than the republic.
At a recent launch of Kesitegile Gobotswang, Khama turned up and sat next to Dumelang Saleshando, the Botswana Congress Party leader.
In a picture that has been doing rounds since, Saleshando gives an impression of an animal that has been tide down to a pole; wanting and eager to move but unable to do so. He looks like a man consumed by self-doubt.
Saleshando wants to broaden his party’s electoral base, but not, it seems at all cost.
He knows so well that Khama is much more than just a lightning rod of controversy. He is a poisoned chalice.
Saleshando deserves some credit. But he is clearly in a very bad space.
Some of the BCP planners, including its intellectual guiding light and godfather Mike Dingake have this whole week been trying to spin the drama and shift public opinion on Khama – with no discernible success.
From the optics Saleshando is innately and totally uncomfortable with Ian Khama. Khama stands against all that Saleshando believes in. More crucially embracing Khama is against his inner conscience.
There might be some short-term gains. But in the main it will lead to inevitable self-destruction.
And this clearly does not sit well with Saleshando.
But his advisors are adamant – vehement is the correct word - that he should bite the bullet and embrace Khama if he still wants win state power.
For them integrity can be re-built at later stages.
This is the biggest blow to our republic.
Indeed Dorcas, ours is a republic, but only if in the words of Dr Ben Franklin, “you can keep it.”
The race is on to keep Botswana a republic.