Just what do we do with former Presidents?
by The Watchdog
The issue of just how best to put our former presidents on a tight leash while also utilizing their experience is once again attracting public attention.
Former President, Festus Mogae, has been appointed to sit on a board of what would otherwise pass as an obscure Indian Diamond Company.
A former president that he is, Mogae’s appointment is, however, causing waves. And rightly so.
One of the conundrums with having too many former presidents at a time is that a fight for turf soon becomes inevitable. That is where we are headed.
The matter gets even more unmanageable when you have among them personalities like Festus Mogae.
Mogae is one man who cannot keep his opinions to himself.
He likes to debate. And he relishes it when he takes his opponents to the gutters. He used to do it with University of Botswana professors, many of whom he held in very low regard.
Mogae is always itching for controversy; a fight is more like it.
Not so long ago, he called on government to consider legalizing prostitution.
Just as some were beginning to suspect he was getting senile, he hit us with yet another bomb; Botswana should decriminalize homosexuality.
Instead of engaging him his detractors jumped to impugn his motives.
Questions were asked why he had not done it during his ten years as State President.
“I feared I would lose elections,” he replied in his archetypal blunt but cavalier sense of honesty.
Lest we forget, Mogae left politics when his popularity was at its lowest.
Nobody, it seemed, could wait to see him leave.
The only reason why all of a sudden it’s like we can’t get enough of him is because we look back and think things were so much better under him.
Mogae has repeatedly told his interviewers that he is done with politics.
But in many ways he behaves like someone intent on ruling from the grave.
I would be shocked if Mogae’s business activities are not a source of concern for his successor.
Mogae wants us to believe he is a private citizen. Nothing is further from the truth.
The administrative infrastructure that a president sets up during his tenure does not crumble the morning after he leaves office.
It’s not surprising that almost 80 percent of Botswana’s ministers were first handpicked into cabinet by Festus Mogae.
That includes the incumbent president. One way or another, those people still owe some allegiance to the former president.
Just how do such ministers reject a personal request from Mogae made on behalf of the many companies he represents? It’s possible, but it’s not easy. His image still looms large on many a minister’s subconciousness.
Mogae may no longer wield legalistic power. But he surely retains influence.
Ian Khama will never forget the fact that he owes his position to Festus Mogae - literally.
There is hidden anger that Mogae is cashing in on goodwill that by right clearly does not belong to him but to the state. The resentment started when Mogae became Chairman of Choppies, a billion pula supermarket empire.
People are angry that Mogae is not only mortgaging himself but the public office he used to hold as well.
But it matters little. Its impotent anger. As the former president often says, he does not give a damn. Afterall, he has broken no law. And Botswana has been reduced to a rule by law. Morality matters no more. Integrity and public perceptions no longer have a role to play.
We should have come up with a clear law prohibiting former Presidents not to make money from private dealings for the time that they continued to receive state benefits. Alternatively former presidents should have been forbidden from engaging in business for a certain length of time after leaving office. In commerce that is called “cooling period.”
We can pretend there is nothing wrong with Mogae’s behavior, but it takes us nowhere.
Former presidents retain both power and influence long after they have left office.
They should not be allowed to behave like hired guns, open for rent to the highest bidder.
Allowing them to rent themselves out can only blight the office they used to hold.
Elsewhere former presidents are moral beacons – repositories of wisdom to whom nations turn to during difficult times. They could make money by public speaking, or book writing.
Allowing them to dabble in suspicious business deals, the origins of which are not so clear can only undermine the integrity of the very office they used to hold. When we allow sitting presidents to cut themselves deals in anticipation for a life outside the State House, we open the floodgates for corruption.
Allowing former president to engage knee-deep into business is to encourage them to cut deals for themselves when they are still in office.
It’s already happening in many countries.
Just how do we hold former presidents in high regard when they behave no better than the sharks that frequently straddle the boardrooms?
Just how do we retain respect for the presidency when perceptions exist that the office is a nursery for covert deals that put incumbents in a good pedestal for a future life in business?
No one citizen would be happy to see a former president dying in poverty. That would be unreasonable.
The least that we expect is for the state to provide former presidents with a comfortable life until they leave this world.
And by law, that is what Botswana Government is doing. The thinking behind a pension law for former president was to cushion them against the overweening bad influence of business moguls?
The public mood is clearly not standing with Mogae. But he is not the only former president to lose his way into corporate boardrooms. I remember another former President, Sir Ketumile Masire, who used to sit on the board of Chobe Holdings, a Botswana Stock Exchange-listed tourism outfit. That too was bad judgment on the part of yet another one of our greatest statesmen.