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10 Sep 2018

It is somewhat bizarre. It is like in President Masisi, Batswana have got the calibre of the person they wanted as their state president after a disastrous 10 years in which the country imploded but still all they can think and talk about is former President Ian Khama - the person many accuse of frogmarching Botswana towards authoritarianism and creating problems that will eat up all President Masisi’s time in an endeavour to right things. It has become a sort of manifestation of paranoia that has turned Batswana of all rank and file into evil spies who are hell bent on digging up as much dirt about the private life of former president Dr Khama. It is a foolish and meritless hobby that has caused many people to stop living their own lives and focus on deriving pleasure from gossiping about this fortunate man.

It is as if Dr Khama is the hook on which our lives are baited. It is Khama this, Khama that or this Khama, that Khama. We fiercely compete in bashing or praising Dr Khama and on occasions that we are not praising or bashing him, we are bashing each other over him, hard enough as though it is a profitable addiction. We have made Dr Khama the be-all and end-all of our challenges. Whenever people who loathe former president Dr Khama for whatever reason complain that he is crowding and harassing incumbent President Masisi, those who stand on the side of Dr Khama blow up in impassioned rants and careless behaviours that make them look like dogs wagging their tails to show affection to their owners or signal hunger.

In like manner, when Dr Khama’s supporters accuse, wrongly or rightly, President Masisi of humiliating their Godfather, President Masisi supporters and sympathisers fill up Facebook pages with a series of profanities and a gush of fury and vitriol not so much with intent to defend President Masisi but rather with intent to mock the former president. In effect, we are all in it and we obsess about Dr Khama to no end in way that demonstrate that we are addicted or perhaps even doubt ourselves as human beings capable of managing our own affairs.

The decision by retired former president Dr Khama to refuse to leave the stage and in the process obliterate President Masisi’s administration has cultivated deep-rooted insecurities among the general public, particularly inside President Masisi’s camp. These insecurities may never be disproved or proven but the imaginations would not easily die away. With no established precedent on dealing with a former president who has a false sense of immortality that seems to entitle him to do as he pleases and get whatever he wants, the nation finds itself split right in the middle, into two camps each with a profound disdain and blatant loathing for the other side.

The apparent split has now morphed into an undisguised, bareknuckle brawl that threatens to reverse the gains made since political independence in 1966. The split has manifested into a full-blown conflict chaperoned by a retired former president with a military background and cheered on by people who seem to have been embalmed alive. Fundamentally, the former President’s endurance and penchant for recognition and status and in particular the machinations of this bitter and vengeful retired Lieutenant General has all the ingredients of a coup in the making. In the same degree, our obsession with Dr Khama has caused a new low in our political discourse wherein his supporters are determined to show how vulgar, crass and primitive they really can be in an effort to shield their prince.

The infantile squabble provoked by former president Dr Khama’s refusal to bow out of active politics that seems to suggest that he is not willing to leave the stage and would not be pushed by anyone has set the stage for an ugly spectacle that may never end – the settling of scores by immediate rivals, their families, supporters, and those yet to be born into these glaringly rigid camps. The barefaced bickering between the once venerated former president Ian Khama and his former right hand man who is famed for confiding in public that he was a reputable kiss ass has morphed into a theatrical show that is intended to amuse idiots and turn them against their state president.

Essentially, Batswana have become obsessed with conspiracies around Dr Khama. Their minds are numbed and their everyday lives portray an unproductive fascination with a perfidious and disloyal backstabber as though we have no lives of our won. We are consumed by recrimination, blame and desperation for political correctness that feed our curiosity about things that add no value to our lives. It is as if we stopped living the very moment Dr Khama left the army to join politics or that without cheering or celebrating and/or criticizing Dr Khama we are illegitimate and have nothing to talk about or do. Our fixation on Dr Khama’s comic show is an unhealthy distraction.

We are investing considerable time, resources and emotions in the daily lives of a former president who we portray as having an extraordinary superficial personality; a person who only cares about us for the duration that we continue to provide comic relief and sustain his false sense of importance; a former president who no longer deserves our attention as much as the incumbent president deserves it. Far more worrying is the long shadow this senseless show is beginning to cast on our erstwhile reputation as a thriving democracy and on the future of decent politicking in Botswana.

After out-living and surviving Dr Khama’s lethal presidency, Batswana have allowed themselves to be drawn into his post-retirement adversarial politicking that grows on indignation is solely aimed at undermining incumbent President Masisi and by extension sabotage age-old constitutional arrangements that have ensured national prosperity, unity and peaceful coexistence of a people with diverse and competing interests.

Our obsession with Dr Khama and this is by both is legion of rabid supporters and addicted stalker-like critics, has morphed into political gambit where bread and butter politics have been replaced by personal attacks, ethnic bigotry, recycled theories of evil and all the negativity associated with politics in Africa. Freedom square politics, Facebook chats and lunch break debates no longer feature issues germane to our survival as a people but have been turned into opportunities to flaunt deep and irresistible hatred for one another. The media too has whipped itself up into a frenzy like flies attracted to bad smell.

Sure as night follows day, this obsession with Dr Khama is a sign of a deeper problem with our politics. Our politics is now a little more than a gimmick that distract from our fundamental challenges. Our politics plays on people’s fears and lives on anger. There is no substance and argument. It is all about bashing each other and coming up with the best cartoons and photo-shopped mankinis with intent to harm the dignity of others. We have been drugged to swallow hook, line and sinker the narrative that Dr Khama is bigger than the Botswana society or the combined strengths of his ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and the opposition collective to the extent of calling for a whole government response in dealing with the marauding psychopath.

The consequent of this superficial portrayal of Dr Khama as a victim rather than a purveyor of dirty politics is that Batswana keeps squabbling among and with themselves; tripping over each other for Dr Khama’s attention and in the process retarding progress on all fronts while the chief bandit escapes any sanction. We are so obsessed with Dr Khama that many seem to believe that if we stick with and believe in him Botswana will rise again and our problems will evaporate instantly.   

With Botswana’s future held hostage by unprecedented hatred, recrimination and alarmist propaganda and with the entire government machinery focused on fending off a mischievous retired Lieutenant General and former president who refuses to cede space and allow his successor to manage and mismanage the affairs of the nation, it is just a matter of time before the bubble burst and the economy brought down on its knees.

Meanwhile, we take heart in the fact that so many young people are now engaged and actively involved in politics. While this is not an end in itself, it could actually make things better for they have lives to live and have no time playing sycophantic games.

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