Friday, December 13, 2019

How did we arrive here?

Confusion seems to be the order of the day lately in Botswana. In radios, for example, the talk is all about go rola kepese or go rwala kepese! A friend of mine wanted to know exactly what the whole noise around go rola kepese/rwala kepesewas all about, and my response was somewhat unhelpful for him. Obviously, the look on his face told of a lost guy who could not make sense of what I really wanted to share with him. The confusion on his part was not a problem of my own making: things in our republic have taken a decidedly different turn lately in terms of how we conduct national affairs. I am afraid, we have as a people lost the plot. Nothing, and I mean nothing, seems to make sense at all for many of our brothers and sisters. A state of uncertainty about our future dominates the public psyche. Sadly, the predicament that has befallen the nation is undoubtedly not surprising. It was always coming but we chose to look the other way. As such ours is mainly a man-made disaster! In this instalment the focus will be more on understanding how we, collectively, found ourselves where we are: a nation in a regression mode.

Indeed, we are headed for disaster, much faster than we ever imagined, provided we do not change the way we do things. Before I dwell much on the subject matter for today, I thought it prudent to highlight the nature of our current national psyche ÔÇô and that could best help us understand the paralysis that dominates in much of our lives and beyond. We are just a confused people and by extension a nation in crisis. Yes we get mixed massages which make it even worse for many of our people to know exactly where this country is headed. The rola kepese/rwala kepese massaging is illustrative in this regard. Like I indicated above, the talk nowadays is for us to put on our caps or take them off. With the former, the public is aggressively being asked to visit medical centres to undergo circumcision. It is targeted at males with the aim of reducing HIV/AIDS transmissions. The latter talks of something completely different. There are, however, similarities with the former in that both are meant to protect citizens from potential danger. In the first instance, like I said the idea was to fight HIV/AIDS scourge. Rwala kepese, on the other hand, has been the latest response to protect Batswana from unprecedented heatwave consuming much of the southern African region. Effectively rwala kepese fights the elements while rola kepese challenges man-made scourge! You are therefore never sure when to take off the cap or otherwise! This is who were are at the moment ÔÇô a nation lacking clarity about its own affairs. Uncertainty best captures the dominant public mood about the future of our semi-arid place.   

Certainly, we are victims of our own making. The post independence period witnessed unprecedented socio-economic and political success for our country. We were envy for many others around the Dark Continent. Yes, we had leaders who were not afraid to take hard decisions. They were not populist in the way they conducted public affairs, for example, rejecting Africanisation of the public services when it was politically prudent to do so. We stood our ground and pursued best-practise in terms of public management by recruiting foreigners where local skills were in short supply. In terms of development drive, clear frameworks were adopted such as NDPs. The state owned mining rights on behalf of all Batswana. Decentralisation, flawed as it was, proved successful towards delivery of services to many of our citizens across the country. Local councils, for instance, provided water and other amenities far much better than is the case now. Above all, we hard patriotic leadership that placed national interest above personal ones. In general ours was a functional state that tried its best, despite unavailability of resources, to provide for its citizens.

Fast forward to where we are now. Botswana has changed for the worst. We are now confronted with a calculated effort of centralising almost everything! Yes, centralisation has been tried in many African states without much success. In fact, it is usually the first step towards failure of such states in that it cultivates fertile environment for corruption and many other ills that accompany it. Because of centralised system of governance that exists within a contest of weakened key institutions, we now have to endure lack of basic amenities such as water and electricity. Seriously, after almost 50 years of self-rule we still have to go through this torture? By the way, billions have been spent in establishing infrastructure to provide for those basic amenities and no concerted effort is being made to seek accountability from those in charge of the nation. Yes, that money was borrowed to built, for example, Morupule B power station which has not lived up to expectations. We continue to import, at very high price, electricity from South Africa despite the money were poured into Morupule B. Apart from trade unions and opposition parties, civil society in general has gone silent on exposing and demanding explanation as to how we came to reach this low point in our history. It is just business as usual. And when you have a leadership like ours presiding over a helpless people like ours things were always going to go south. And I am not surprised that ESP is now being touted as the best thing to happen to this country. Botsalo Ntuane, for instance, in reference to the latest government effort towards reviving the ailing economy talks of ESP as the “return of the good old days”.

If the ESP is regarded in high regard by those in charge of the republic with no specifics and introduced within a system dominated by leakages and questionable capacity to deliver large scale projects, I am afraid; we are now on a path towards a failed state. Unless we do something urgently we are doomed as a people.


*Dr Molefhe teaches Public Administration at the University of Botswana