Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Basic lessons that Khama should learn from Washington

In a little less than a month, the Americans will head to the polls to elect a president of their choice.

The race remains wide open, and from the look of things Barack Obama, who only four years ago rocked into the White House with approval rates sky high, may turn out to be a one term president.
For me, it is not important who becomes President of the United States.

When it comes to key issues that affect people outside America, the two contenders cannot be any closer.

They are like two sides of a same coin.

What I found more fascinating has been the thoroughness with which the entire electoral campaign has been covered in the media.

As part of the build-up to the election, there have been organized public debates; two so far during which contenders have been asked so difficult questions as to literally leave them to dry.
Personally, I have followed all the two presidential debates thus far, including the one by their running mates.

For us, the presidential debates should serve as an elementary lesson in democracy.
In two years, Botswana will also head to the polls.

It will be a dull, boring and predetermined process.

Just as he has steadfastly brushed aside all calls to subject himself to questions from the media, President Ian Khama will resist all attempts to get him to a public debate with his opponents.
The closest he would agree to it would be to delegate his deputy.

Over the last few years, President Khama has perfected the art of throwing words around to mean their opposite.

He would talk like Mahatma Gandhi and then go on to behave like a typical African despot.
Because of his success in hiding his true intention, President Khama always likes to pretend that whatever he does and says, the nation is behind him.

He never stops to use his popularity to hide his true intentions.

He stays away from public scrutiny because he does not want to break this false face of sainthood.

This week, he was waxing lyrical about democracy and good governance. But does he really know what those two entail? His actions on the ground belie his speech pronouncements.

If a leader of Obama’s quality and popularity is putting himself up for public scrutiny just why can’t Ian Khama, leader of a third world country who likes to pretend he is the most democratic man in the world do the same?

By resisting all attempts to subject himself to public scrutiny, Khama is inadvertently casting himself as an ordinary leader who is, in fact, acutely insecure and is dead worried that his true weaknesses might one day be exposed. Thus Khama’s contempt for the media is much more of a political strategy than an honest belief that the media are a group no good scoundrels.
There is no question that on other instances, Khama means well.

But democracy is much more than doling blankets donated by the Chinese and Indian business people.
It is about strengthening the institutions of governance and subjecting oneself to scrutiny such as Barack Obama has been doing over the last few weeks.

If the presidential debates in America can force the most powerful man on the planet to answer questions, who are we in Botswana to say our president is too important for that, unless we want to endorse unaccountability.

In a bizarre way, it seems we have a president who thinks Botswana is not yet ready for true democracy, that we can rely on him to capriciously give us that which he thinks we are ready for.
More than any of his predecessors, Khama has done a lot to entrench Botswana into the pedals of a one-party system.

Power is less prone to abuse when it is spread across many centres. But in our situation, Khama has centralised power and thus literally vanquished all other oversight institutions, including, for goodness sake, parliament and the judiciary.

Which is why he will not subject himself to a public debate similar to those that are happening in the United States.

In a space of three weeks, Barack Obama has subjected himself not to one, but three public debates with his challenger. And our president cannot even bring himself to hold one press conference in the fourteen years that he has been in politics.

In Botswana, people have been reduced to feeling like hostages. They are at the mercy of a president, instead of the other way round. Talk of accountability is all verbiage.

Barack Obama teaches our leaders here that moral authority cannot be enforced. It has nothing to do with how much power one has. Rather, it is a variable of the trust people are willing to give to their leader based on the leader’s honesty and trustworthiness.

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