Sunday, September 27, 2020

Batswana distrust and fear their Government

In early March 2010, the Botswana security forces announced that an explosive device (a bomb) was discovered within meters from the Office of the President.

Naturally, such an announcement should have caused people to scurry for safety. In a country characterized by a culture of peace and tranquility, a country that has never been to war even with itself, an announcement about the discovery of a ‘bomb’, at the Office of the President for that matter, should instinctively trouble citizens and cause them to immediately demand tighter security for the nation and around the President in particular. However, instead of scurrying for their safety, citizens preferred to risk their lives by flocking to the scene of discovery to see the ‘bomb’ for themselves.
Some observers argued that the reason why people wanted to get closer to the scene is not because they wanted to confirm the presence of the ‘bomb’ but, rather, because Batswana are not generally security conscious due to decades of uninterrupted peace.

This perspective is convincing. However, it is my view that this behavior goes beyond ignorance about ‘bombs’ or security matters to a more fundamental issue of distrust of government.
This widespread doubt about such a serious matter just goes to show how citizens view their government ÔÇô a government that has an inveterate habit for lying and deceiving its people. I personally thought I had no reason to doubt the announcement about the strange discovery until it homed to me that we have an evil leadership in every respect and then I remembered it has been said that in order to keep people together and make them support ghostly initiatives, make them fear for their lives.

I then remembered that government intends to construct a mini military camp in the State House, that it has been reported that for security reasons, government intends to relocate private homes presently within a kilometer radius from the State House.
Still I couldn’t believe that our leaders could go to such extent to lie with impunity to drum support for unpopular and unjustified projects. It then occurred to me that we have a state president who is overly sensitive about his security than the security of the nation.

Was this ‘bomb’ story meant to legitimize firm security for the president which, by extension, will result in further erosion of civil liberties? Was it meant to legitimize spying on citizens? When you read the Botswana Police Services statement that ‘there will be limits to what information may be divulged’ the erstwhile lazy mind starts to wander too far and you conclude that if you ever believed their ‘bomb’ story, you are truly a superior moron.

Suppression and management of information, the George W. Bush style, is an evil way to con people. Cynicism and suspicion about government real intentions is a key element in distrust and is generally precipitated by a government that has become synonymous with lies and treachery; an intrusive government that spend too much money on security.

Cynicism and skepticism about government intentions points to a disturbing trend which implies that overall fear of and hostility towards government is deepening as government continues to interfere too much into people’s lives. Distrust of government in Botswana is largely born out of the fact that government often tends to overstep its bound and often distorts facts towards one extreme in pursuance of its security agenda. The widespread doubt about such a serious matter just goes to show how citizens view their government ÔÇô a ‘dandy’ government that can no longer be trusted because of its inveterate habit for lying and deceiving its people.

Widespread distrust of government feeds off the perception that things aren’t okay, that Botswana citizens are beginning to wake up and see the political leadership for who they are – hyenas guarding sheep. Citizens are beginning to realize that too much trust is what had made it possible for the leadership to control and manipulate us into supporting ill-advised initiatives like subversion of personal freedoms under the pretext of creating a self-respecting and disciplined society. It no longer takes a genius to realize how much we have been lied to and swindled by our leadership.

The real reasons of many of their programs are finally beginning to come to light. Forget about moral regeneration, forget about the anti-alcohol crusade, and forget about discipline, they have a hidden agenda. The war on indiscipline and moral decay is at the heart of an underlying hunger to control us by prescribing how we should live our lives. Vice President Merafhe revealed their true intentions when he said that they will use military methods to get people toe the line for absolute compliance. There has been a lot of insinuation that there must be no criticism of the state president and that we are to support him right or wrong or else one is branded unpatriotic and an enemy of the state. Now even gullible people like me who readily believed that the ‘bomb’ story was true, are convinced beyond doubt that the whole thing could have been brilliantly orchestrated to justify excessive expenditure on the security sector.
In the land of the peaceful and free, people place a premium on choice and are wary of a government that inspects people’s pants; a government that always peeps into our coffee mugs to confirm the content; a government that intends to breath-test everyone whose breath is not mint-scented.

Thus, public distrust and suspicion of information released by the government is an informal way of protesting and a spontaneous way to let the leadership know that we can no longer follow them to death. It signals a very difficult and tense period in relations between the citizens and their government.

Citizens suspect that President Khama’s regime is not doing enough to propel the national economy to greater heights because they are pre-occupied with mini skirts, protruding panties and the identities of those we speak to in our mobile phones. No wonder that citizens believe that other countries, including those that are poorer than Botswana, are doing exceptionally well to minimize the harsh effects of the global recession on the ordinary man. Nevertheless, this public cynicism and suspicion was inevitable given the reckless manner with which the presidency handled national crises of varying proportions.
At the height of public outcry against the killing of suspects and innocent by-standers by security personnel, the presidency kept quiet only mumbling to issue threats to sue the Sunday Standard for linking one of such killing to the President.

Whereas the President has vowed to root out corruption particularly in the public service, when reports suggest that his cousin who is a minister of state may be helping himself to the national treasury, the president elects to care not an inch, possibly insinuating that people are jealous of his cousin as they are of him. Now would you trust someone who is in every way deceitful and perfidious as a serial offender; someone who claim to loath misuse of public resources but had always used the same resources for personal gain even when advised not to do so by credible state institutions? When a leadership no longer represents the people, they should no longer be trusted or else we will be either naïve or just pretty stupid. Unfortunately, full blown distrust of government and the leadership in particular, kills national hope and optimism.

It breeds pessimism and makes people lose any hope that anything positive could ever come out of this wicked administration. Distrust breeds tension which by and large constitutes an obstacle to prosperity. For instance, even government sincere push to sensitize people about H1N1 flu is dismissed as a hoax despite that a number of people have been diagnosed with the disease.

Citizens suspect that the government is up to their usual tricks to make a case for some fraudulent or even lethal vaccinations. When members of our family, relatives and friends die from AIDS and most of us could bear testimony to the pandemic, people still casually dismiss crucial communication from the government on suspicion that official caution is laced with sinister motives and should be received with reservations. This is pretty dangerous because it implies that people are prepared to take risks than take heed of genuine warning from the authorities.

Precisely, the confidence of the public in the leadership to do what is good for the nation has considerably waned due to a combination of factors discussed above. More significantly, there is fear and panic that the country is in the wrong hands. The fears and panic may be over-exaggerated of course but are not entirely misplaced given the unfolding scenarios, be it deceit, institutionalized lying, intimidation, use of intemperate and unrefined language or thievery.
By the way does Minister Ramadeluka Seretse have evidence that cell phone and electronic mails are being intercepted by phone hackers and not the DIS, as everyone suspects, or was he just doing what they know best ÔÇô misleading the nation?

The Minister must substantiate his assertion or withdraw this delinquent statement. The central strand of my thesis is not whether the ‘bomb’ story was real or just a hoax. The core of my concern is that this unprecedented negative public reaction to such a potentially serious matter, flavored with undisguised doubts as it was, points to a far bigger and calamitous problem of tense relations between the ruling elites and the rest of the citizenry.
This emerging trend does not in any way advance the image of the president as the chief executive of the country. The president must therefore be worried and take it upon himself to restore confidence of the public in the leadership, state institutions and security agencies. The president must also, as a matter of utmost urgency, prevail upon his Vice President to tone down or at least have someone think for him before making himself heard.

His abrasive, arrogant and boisterous language that so often borders on gangster logic and unlimited contempt of everyone including himself is hurting the nation. ‘A government afraid of its people is a democracy; citizens afraid of their government is tyranny’ -Thomas Jefferson.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.