The end of exceptionalism – how Botswana became just another African country

04 Aug 2013

A few months ago, we learnt that President Ian Khama had turned down an invitation by American President, Barrack Obama for a meeting in Washington.

Official communication from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs simply said President Khama was too busy.

He had other prearranged engagements, the ministry said.

It turned out that those arrangements were not much beyond his run of the mill doling out of blankets in the countryside.

It did not appear to President Khama or anyone of his advisors that donating blankets could always be postponed for a few days while he travelled to Washington to meet the most powerful man on the planet.

Except for a few voices in the media, nobody of substance in the private sector and opposition even bothered to point out what risks and pitfalls come with not honouring an invitation by an American President.

Nobody shuns an American President and gets away with it.

There is a price to be paid, and it goes well beyond diplomatic isolation to include economic blacklisting.

For those of us who had been shocked by Khama’s misplaced bravado, it did not come as a surprise when a few months down the line the Whitehouse announced that Obama would be visiting a number of African countries, the list of which did not include Botswana which, under normal circumstances, would be considered a frontrunner among the candidates.

We may blame him for all we want, but our president’s personal detachment from reality is very much in synch to how as a nation we have over the recent past gone astray - away from the core values that once led us to dominate the international community’s imagination.

As Batswana we have spent a lifetime being conditioned to the fact that we were different and indeed much better than other Africans. We were in Africa but not of Africa; we were the least corrupt country on the continent, there was no ethnic strife, poverty was at its lowest and for a greater part of the post independence era, the economy grew at a double digit rate, resulting in swollen foreign reserves that had overnight become the envy of the world. It was the story of rags to riches.

While the rest of southern Africa lay in ruins following the civil and liberation wars in Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, we were the only country that was well on course to building rather than destroying infrastructure as a result of internal differences that raged across the sub-continent. Peace, stability and tranquility were our marketing pitch. But that was then.

Today, of course, everybody – apart from those who think it’s now their turn to eat - broadly accept that we are just like the rest of the club.

Thanks to our current political leadership which says one thing and does another, Botswana has succumbed to exactly the same evils that set us apart from the rest of the continent in the seventies and eighties.

Just how do we find it acceptable that a minister of state could keep his job in cabinet even as he has been procedurally been charged to face criminal allegations in a court of law by competent state institutions such as the Directorate of Public Prosecutions?

Just what message of contempt are we sending to such institutions like DCEC when we continue to allow such disgraced criminally accused ministers to rub shoulders with the Head of State on a daily basis?

There is not a more glaring example of how far down the tube we have gone as a nation than the spectacle that is currently playing out in parliament.

Parliament has adopted a report which has spelt out shocking acts of alleged criminality at Botswana Development Corporation. Yet, instead of calling on the responsible minister to resign, ruling party members of parliament have resorted to speaking in tongues because, to them, by protecting one of their own, it is seen as buttering up the President who they worship as if he was a God-incarnate.

As a country, we have turned our backs against the founding principles on which the initial success was created and we are now paying the price for it. As we speak we are now in the middle of a gravitational pull to the bottom.

While the pace of decline has no doubt defied all prediction, the outcome, we have to be honest has been predictable; institutionalised moral corruption, economic decline, nepotism, cronyism, patronage and despite all attempts to fight it, increased poverty.

And the decline has only just begun.

For those who founded this country, it has turned out to be a truly horrible disappointment.
For those of us who grew in the seventies and eighties when the national mood was at its highest, the last few years under Ian Khama have provided a truly seismic change.

Despondency and pessimism have replaced hope and optimism that were once the tapestry of our national mood.

Once the economic poster-boy of the continent, we now have been reduced to the backwaters. What remains - and there is quite a few - is not much more than nostalgia for the good old days.

History is clear that based on his beliefs, the founding President, Sir Seretse Khama would consider today’s levels of state-sponsored corruption to be entirely antithetical to what he stood for when he made it his ambition to wean this country away from colonial shackles.

The irony though, is that it’s all happening under the watch and explicit consent of his own son.