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It has been almost a month since Member of Parliament Prince Maele shocked the nation by vowing to die for Ian Khama; a man he proudly called his paramount chief.
Barely anyone believes Maele meant what he said. This because he looked visibly ill at ease; rehearsed and uncomfortable too.
Cutting an image of an abducted underling, he kept pledging his tribal allegiance to the former president who he repeatedly called his mentor – part vanity, part naiveté, part ignorance.
It was a sorry spectacle, a graphic and glaring example of what happens when leaders stop to serve and start to look at their interests ahead of everything else.
It was like a pre-planned ultimate insult to the very people he represents in parliament, especially when given their history of humiliation and indignity.
Khama is a chief of Bangwato, a tribal hegemony while Maele is a political leader from Tswapong, by all accounts a historical dominion of sorts.
Bangwato and Batswapong have not always had an easy co-existence – certainly have never been equals.
The power relations between Khama’s and Maele’s people have been purely hegemonic – with Bangwato using all aspects of power to buttress their authority - be it cultural, political, tribal and educational to make Maele’s people feel innately inferior and subservient.
Under that sociological context, Bangwato are a much more dominant people, wielding excessive power and force while Batswapong are treated as subjects; subjugated by everything including by unfair forces of history.
That much was reflected in the image that Maele cast.
May be it is true that Maele loves Khama so much so that he could take a bullet for him.
But a more natural course for Maele to follow would have been to forfeit whatever friendly affinity he might be having for the Khamas and instead harness the historical wails of rage by his people to find a meaningful and lasting dignity for them.
From the circulating visual tape of his utterances, Maele is, at least at face value, happy with current status quo, an arrangement that while benefitting him personally, has paradoxically been a source of immense pain and humiliation for his own people.
Given all the above, the psychodrama emerging from his utterances is possibly a result of History amnesia.
At the very best Maele has a warped sense of that same history.
At the very worst he is effectively a revisionist trying to re-write history, while also undermining what has to be an unstoppable relational transformation that has to happen, very much on course like a force of nature and ultimately as inevitable as sunrise and sunset.
By putting his personal friendship ahead of his people’s existential struggles, Maele is trying to preach and advocate for an alternative reality, which if his people agreed to would in the end prove to be a recipe for colossal damage not only to themselves but also to other tribes across the country that find themselves in similar existential difficulties like Batswapong.
In more plain and unvarnished words, every tribe – however small - should be allowed to freely observe and practice its cultures and customs free from the over worldly caprices, vagaries and exigencies of so called paramount tribes.
Thankfully, his historically illiterate utterances do not reflect the general state of attitude among his people. As a fast rule Batswapong refuse to accept a Ngwato paramount chief as their rightful viceroy. In fact there are no incentives for them to do so especially given the painful history of their coerced existence under Bangwato. A similar situation exists to the north, where Babirwa also find themselves under a jackboot of a forced but subtle Ngwato hegemony.
Rather than adopt Maele’s shamefully defeatist attitude, a majority of Batswapong are beaming with a fierce enthusiasm for self-determination rather than remain as a tribal satellite administered from Khama’s headquarters in Serowe.
Maele’s rhetoric is predicated on an ancient master/servant axis; a tribal-based measure of the balance of power that has no room in today’s world.
I associate myself with those calling for Constitutional Reforms that would make all tribes equal. But more immediate for Batswapong and others in similar situation is to get the Central District broken down and have other regions given more autonomy away from Serowe, from whence they are still ruled.
There is no question that certain individuals including from minority tribal groupings like Maele’s might have made it big during Khama’s presidency.
These are the people who grew fat from Khama’s patronage during the ten years of his presidency.
For Maele that much was shown and rewarded by the over P200 000 bounty he donated to Khama when the former president left office.
But for as long as there are certain groups that consider themselves paramount over others, there is still a big role for such sub-cultural organisations like Reteng or better still “Lentswe La Batswapong,” which were created by some of the more patriotic Maele’s tribesmen and others to agitate for full autonomy from such tribes like Bangwato and also attempt to assert their rightful space independent of any tribal patronage.
Right-minded people of goodwill were right to be alarmed and even be cynical of Maele’s utterances in so far as he professed tribal allegiance to Khama, including his offer to take the bullet for the Bangwato paramount chief.
By his utterances, Maele is trying to play a manipulative hand. He is utterly self-seeking, self-centred and self-aggrandizing.
But under the circumstances, opportunistic and self-serving leaders like Maele are failing their people who are working hard to redeem themselves from the ravages of an unkind history. These are the people who are working extremely hard to correct the painful course that history has dealt them, many of who are exceedingly proud and immensely conscious not only of their rich and true history but also centuries old resistance against domination and who to this day take offence to being treated as a subservient appendage of Bangwato, or any other so called paramount tribe for that matter.
To paraphrase a leading British mind, given the difficult history as it relates to the two peoples, Bangwato if they so wish have the potential to become partners to Batswapong, but certainly never friends.
Instead of fighting from the corner of tribal overlords, who Maele wrongly but conveniently calls his paramount chief, Maele could use his seat at the table to call for a change and call for a better accommodation of not just his people, but others like them who are still wrongly viewed as lesser tribes.
More crucially, instead of consolidating prejudice that has resulted with his people being perceived as inferior, Maele should be using his vintage position as a personal friend of the Khamas to call for tribal neutrality and equality. Instead of placating the Khamas he can use his position as a Member of Parliament to better leverage himself and his people.
Instead of cementing himself as a pliant lackey who masquerades as a patriot he should be calling for other tribes like his to also have their own paramount chief who would be equal in status and stature like Ian Khama.