Thursday, September 24, 2020

Botswana catches the African disease

Allow me to preface my discussion with two acknowledgements.

First and foremost, this discussion is strictly based on my opinions that are in no way camouflaged as facts.

Secondly, readers may choose to dismiss the discussion as useless counterproductive intellectual commotion but the issues discussed shall trouble your conscience for the next decade and beyond. At first, it wasn’t a big deal for most people when the then Vice President Khama prevailed on the Office of the President to create additional posts for his preferred backup team handpicked from the Botswana Defense Force.

Most assumed that the VP wanted to have his people from the army to enable him to get settled in a completely unfamiliar vocation. Unfortunately, this trend has continued and has been institutionalized as the mode of operation in the government and at the rate at which soldiers are being roped into the civil service, it could be expected that in a few years time we will have more soldiers than civilians in the civil service.

It is very instructive that these serving military officers and retired generals are put in strategic positions in various organizations presumably to pollute key organs of the state with military style norms and values in an attempt to institutionalize military culture as state religion.

If president Khama preferred soldiers as his backup team, military officers heading government departments and parastatals may also get inclined to team up with their mates from the barracks. President Khama has also set up a team of serving and retired generals as his inner circle, his informal and formal advisors. And this again is instructive in revealing his ideological disposition.

His appointment of former generals to the Office of the President and key state agencies as well as a blatant and unapologetic preference for close friends and relatives shows what kind of a leader he is and where he sources his plans and policy proposals for a long term vision for the country.

These people are essentially president Khama’s ideologues, his public voice and image, his public opinions and political counselors so much that their thoughts and actions mirrors his. When Cabinet Minister Ramadeluka Seretse threatens that the killing of civilians by security agents would not end with Kalafatis’ killing, when Vice President Merafhe comments that one or two killings by state security agents shouldn’t be a concern, they necessarily speak on behalf of the President and in the absence of any rebuke, it can be ascertained that they spoke for him.

This in a way reveals President Khama’s inner being, precisely that he is not at all saddened by loss of life.

Before everything else, President Khama had planned to set himself apart from his predecessors partly through constituting his own team and this he achieved by pushing out former President Mogae’s team of technocrats.
A few years ago I postulated that ‘indications are that Khama will quickly initiate changes that will centralize power in the presidency office more than is the case now, in order to ensure absolute control of every aspect of government.

It seems Khama’s presidency will be built around the hands-on philosophy that requires government to be integrated and centrally coordinated’ (Sunday Standard, October 2006).

Central to his idea of constituting his own team was to have everything his own way. Away drifted all that crucial experience in governance but most significantly the purging of old hands who held the old Botswana so dear to their hearts marked the dawn of President Khama’s supremacy.

President Khama also initiated facial surgery on many existing programs without necessarily revising their contents. These cosmetic changes were initiated merely to craft his personalized Botswana by ensuring that every program bears his image. He wanted to be remembered for pioneering Ipelegeng and not merely inheriting Namola Leuba; he wanted to be associated with pioneering the graduate internship program not Tirelo Setshaba and so forth.

For once in many years Botswana’s future is crafted around the personality of a president rather than driven by a nations’ needs, aspirations and ideas that constitute long term development plans. But is there anything amiss in having a presidency over-peopled with military officers and close relatives?

Well experience from much of Africa under military rule makes the case too ghastly to contemplate. My immediate profound fears are that President Khama is setting up a trap for himself. As it is, President Khama’s inner circle is now a collection of smothered civilians and loyal soldiers. The few smothered civilians give the regime a civilian texture, in spite of the fact that they are exceptionally bellicose.

The soldiers who know very little on the business of democratic governance provide the regime with a hands-on ideology and act as a model of disciplined followership.

The smothered civilians and the trusted soldiers are only as good as the president but the soldiers wield power and give the president both personal and official authority. Under these circumstances, they are convinced that they are the backbone of Khama’s political life. This is not helped by President Khama’s continued poaching and overconfidence in the military officers for both administrative backup and political scheming.

Already, the military officers see themselves as an indispensable and fundamental component of President Khama’s political survival mostly because his presidency is crafted around military beliefs and practices.
Additionally, military officers are pretty much alive to the fact that their continued elevation to the headship of state institutions and elective office depends on Khama’s presidency.

This necessarily creates a web of political intrigue and satanic maneuvering, a complex scenario of virtual interdependence, a rare and frightening phenomenon similar to a pair of conjoined twins popularly known as Siamese twins that always defy scientific logic in attempts to separate them. This interdependence between President Khama and his loyalist soldiers and smothered civilians means that each party may not survive without the other. Thus, even when president Khama opts to step down on his own volition his allies may not accept it since the end of his presidency would constitute a direct threat to their group interests.

Therefore, it may come out that at the end of it all the decision to leave office is not going to be determined by the all too familiar constitutional provision limiting a president’s term in office. It may happen that his allies disapprove of this requirement and coerce him to stay longer or that he will be allowed to go only on condition that he is succeeded by one of their own in order to safe guard their group interests. Whichever way it ultimately unravels, these scenarios are too ghastly to figure out yet they are a real prospect. This mischievous game played itself out in Zimbabwe as President Robert Mugabe’s inner circle and guardians of his political life (the war veterans) held him to ransom.
As things are in Botswana the lance corporals and retired generals can’t wait for their turn to get plum jobs in the civil service. A precedent has been set and military officers should be licking their lips in anticipation for more jam and freebies.

In the unlikely event that their wish is not granted on a silver plate, they will likely intervene appropriately and anoint their own Rajoelina. Newspaper reports that some ex-soldiers have declared their readiness to kill for the president if Kwelagobe wins the Chairmanship of the BDP is a stark pointer.

Remember once they are in, it is not easy to get them out and now our friends in Zimbabwe and the war ravaged distant Africa are keenly waiting to welcome us into the true Africa we have avoided for so long, the Africa synonymous with vicious civil wars, systematic murder of opponents, indiscriminate rape of female species and institutionalized plunder.
Africa here we come!

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper

Masisi creates his own “deep state”?

The government enclave is discussing a new law that will expand the president’s overreach and make it easier for the Directorate of...