Saturday, June 15, 2024

A President must be brave

A former schoolmate of mine at Gaborone Secondary School who became a soldier with Botswana Defence Force once told me that one day he and his colleagues went to the Tsodilo Hills caves and tried to enter the feared caves. He said they walked in a few meters and found the going tough so they resorted to taking pictures of themselves at the entrance to the caves. I think he said they were carrying their guns at the time. Popular stories have it that Rre Khama goes into the caves alone disappearing for long periods, suggesting that he is very brave. In my view the bravery displayed by Rre Khama in entering caves that mere mortals avoid at all costs is not the bravery that Botswana needs. Rather Botswana needs bravery where a president can deliberately isolate himself in the arena of ideas from friends and advisers.

It is only when a president is capable of doing this that Botswana can widen its universe of ideas resulting in serious advances. A president who is brave enough to isolate himself from friends and advisers in the arena of ideas gives himself freedom to listen and to hear what his opponents and detractors have to say, for there is no law of ideas that says God gives brilliant ideas to only those who are friends and advisers of the president. Only a brave president can stand in front of public servants and say “We have had our differences, sometimes fundamental, but we have a shared responsibility to serve Botswana. In order to succeed in this development process we need to find a solution to our differences. We can only do this if we invest energy in understanding each other. Let us sit down and find each other”.

It is not a sign of bravery for a leader to retain a position that serves only to entrench a spirit of non-delivery in the public service, for it is going to cost a lot to change negative attitudes in future. Once the spirit of indifference is entrenched in the public service it is going to be difficult to get rid of it. I have in the past suggested that no corrupt person can trust a president of Botswana. I now wish to take this further to suggest that if close associates of a president never actually see Botswana move when they see a president then something is fundamentally wrong.

Corrupt people around a president can only be comfortable if they know that a president lacks the courage to move as Botswana. It is not a question of blackmail or patronage. It is an assurance on the part of the corrupt that they know the president lacks the courage to put it on the line. They only ever see him as an individual who wields state power against others, but they never see him as Botswana on the move. A president must be able to instill mistrust in his friends and advisers.

If they know that they trust him at all times, he becomes weak. In fact a president must inspire thoughts of murder in his close associates and friends. They must at some point think about killing him, because he represents something that is a threat to their corrupt thoughts. They must think about murdering him and then feel a cold sweat run down their spines because the thought suggests that they want to fight Botswana.

Effectively a president must not just be confident in exercise of executive power, the people around him must sometimes see Botswana move and feel its power, not his power. It is wrong for people around a president to only see the individual moving, they must see Botswana move. I have not worked with Rre Khama or interacted with him a lot, but on one occasion whilst I was assisting the contractor who was engaged to refurbish the State House I had a moment to observe him.

There was a conversation about some change being done on the building. He took part in the discussion very briefly and then kept quiet. I made a contribution and could sense a change in attitude, in his body language, that suggested that I had to keep quiet. In my view it is this ability to communicate effectively without saying too much that Botswana wants to see taking place between him and his close associates. They are just too comfortable around him. I also distinctly remember one time at the same site that he rode on his bicycle to come silently behind us. We only noticed he was there when Duke Masilo, who was standing a few meters from away, went to attend to him. He would have stood there and listened to us talk all sorts of things without us noticing. What this nation needs is not the physical silence or stealth of coming behind people without them noticing, but rather that an ideas or thought equivalent to be seen by his friends and advisers.

They must not be able to easily notice his presence in the ideas field. Such an attitude will allow him to listen to what Botswana says, or what his friends and advisers really think. The idea that a president must shut himself from listening to ideas from people who are not his associates or advisers means he cannot do the ideas equivalent of the physical stealth movement relative to his associates and advisers. He becomes weak.

I also remember that one time at the same site he was walking out of the gym room with the contractor’s employees and some public servants and I happened to be walking out of the dining area. He turned and walked towards me, but I could sense that he had intended to walk in a different direction. His posture suggested that he was annoyed by the instinctive reaction that had made him walk in the direction that I was coming from. I had a private laugh for I understood what had happened. Whilst I appreciate that a senior person may not want to be seen to have instinctively walked in a direction that he had not planned, it would be a grave error for a leader to kill his instinct to be directed to certain ideas. Those who believe in instinct know that it is hardly ever wrong.

A leader must therefore listen to his instinct in the ideas field. What I am suggesting is that I am yet to see Rre Khama display the qualities that I set above with people around him. They seem to be too comfortable and confident that they know how far he can go. They seem to be confident that he cannot hide himself from them such that when they look at him they see Botswana. Such a status can only be to his detriment. In my view there should be days when cabinet ministers and permanent secretaries come to a meeting with Rre Khama and see him change without him saying a word.

They should look at him and see him disappear and then the blue, black and white appear. It is only when he can achieve this transformation that he will be able to take this country forward. I have heard it said that cabinet ministers and permanent secretaries have gone around the country to explore the status of our education facilities and the causes of the recent dismal performances of our children.

The only way for Rre Khama to get the truth is for the ministers and permanent secretaries to look at him and see not Rre Khama but Botswana, and to know instinctively that this time Rre Khama is ready and willing to go to Batswana and say “These people have progressed throughout the public service, through whatever processes allowed them to get to the top.

They were there when the two year Junior Certificate program was introduced and practiced for ten years, producing half baked adults. It is the children of those half baked adults who are now failing. Not one of these people has come out to say this. They talk about facilities and employer employee relations. Why have they not deemed it fit to suggest that we made a mistake in the past and we are reaping the results of our past decisions?

They do so because they think they know I cannot move as Botswana. Well, we are going for elections soon, I want you to tell me if you agree with these people. If it means electing me out of office please feel free to do so. Botswana comes first” The morula tree under which the BDP was formed has titled in one direction. Two years ago the BDP proudly commemorated its fiftieth anniversary under the tree. They have cut the branches that were obstructing traffic due to the tilt, but the tree remains in its tilted position. If BMD was a branch that titled the BDP and was cut off, that has not corrected the tilt.

If entering ancient caves has some significance as regards bravery, likewise the tilt of the morula tree under which the BDP was formed must signify something. I will not be surprised if one of the BDP tenderpreneurs takes it upon himself to restore the tree, but such will be a futile exercise, the tilt is a message and it has been communicated.


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