Sunday, October 17, 2021

Botswana adopts Mobuto-style disciplinary method at controversial school

Having named a Gaborone street after Mobuto Sese Seko was visual evidence of how well Botswana had embraced the former and now deceased Zairean dictator. It was fated, perhaps, that at one point the government would adopt the odious methods that Mobuto used to keep order in a country to which he was, to all intents and purposes, an emperor.

The accounts differ but there is one constant: at 19, Mobuto was booted out of missionary school for disciplinary problems. One account is that he burglarized a mission library, the other is that he threw ink at a Belgian schoolmaster. Whatever the case, the result was that in 1948, JosephÔÇÉDesire Mobutu was conscripted into the army of colonial Belgian Congo.

 Years later, when he held the rank of Lieutenant General, Mobuto toppled the president of independent Congo (Kinshasa) in a military coup and renamed the country Zaire. Personally, he acquired a new name – Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga. In a country equivalent in size to Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland combined, only one legal party, the Popular Revolutionary Movement, was allowed. For a while, students and churchmen were the real opposition but in response to protests by students at Kinshasa University, Mobuto took a leaf out of his own personal book. To instill discipline in the students, he closed down the university and had the entire student body conscripted into the army.

In 1997, Mobuto would himself be toppled by Laurent-Desire Kabila who restored the country’s name to Congo (Kinshasa) and ruled for only two years before he was assassinated. In protest of the vice chancellorship of Professor Thabo Fako, a University of Botswana lecturer, Professor John Makgala, lamented the “Zaireization” of UB management in an academic paper that he authored last year. Another thing that is being Zaireized are disciplinary processes at the troubled Goodhope Senior Secondary School. For a long time now, the school has been experiencing severe discipline problems and a result, posted the worst results in the BGCSE examinations. Last year, Midweek Sun quoted some male students as complaining about a student-level gender separation policy that made it impossible for them to hook up with female students and sate their sexual appetite. They wondered whether they were expected to sleep with female teachers. In the current session of parliament, area MP, Kgosi Lotlamoreng suggested that in order to deal with the indiscipline, Goodhope SSS should be turned into a girls’ school by transferring the boys away.

The students have not exactly been conscripted into the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) but a disciplinary process not entirely dissimilar to the one that the Belgians used on Mobuto in 1948 and that Mobuto himself would use on students in 1969 has been put in place at Goodhope SSS. Under the instruction of BDF officers from the nearby Rakhuna base, students are roused out of sleep at three morning and made to do military exercises to instill discipline in them.

Interestingly, the military-style “boot camps” happen months after another African leader with a really long name – President Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama – told mourners at the funeral of former President Sir Ketumile Masire, about the value of military-style discipline. At a memorial service that was held at UB the previous day, a young man had referred to Masire as his “homeboy” and revealed that he was so close to the late president that he could barge into his bedroom without knocking on the door. Khama recoiled with horror when he heard this testimony and expressed his disapproval the following morning when he eulogized Masire in Kanye. Khama asked, in jest but to make a substantive point, that the Masire family should surrender the young man to him so that he can take him through basic army training to teach him discipline.

In one telling respect, the Goodhope SSS is a vote of no-confidence in the more conventional guidance and counselling processes. The boot camp could expose the government to serious (and costly) legal jeopardy if students are injured during physical exercises.

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