I have, in the past, penned a few articles proclaiming that Botswana was headed towards a dictatorship.
The kernel of my argument has always been that the President-in-waiting exhibits an overt dictatorial disposition.
I cited relevant instances where such tendencies were flighted with impunity. On many occasions, I have been vilified for daring to challenge Vice President Khama’s management style, especially his compulsion for a command culture premised on absolute loyalty, whose euphemism is respect for people elected into positions of authority.
My presentations could have portrayed Khama as a ready-made dictator (a person born with the qualities of a dictator and raised to so become). My conclusions were, of course, derived from an analysis of Khama as an embodiment of a collection of the physical, mental, emotional and social characteristics. Whereas this mode of analysis may be flawed, it nonetheless helps to draw inferences and relates the individual with such qualities to a specific leadership style and, by extension, a form of government (in which the leader exercises absolute power). Agreeably, no individual is born a dictator. Dictators are groomed and perfected on a sustained basis and normally by people who are livid to a dictatorship, but who derive pleasure from cheering.
Although I made Khama the ultimate target of my criticism, I have come to appreciate that this is so only to the extent that he (Khama) has taken advantage of our laissez-faire attitude about life and long-term living. Our relentless praise of him as a born-leader makes us diffident followers who are eligible and willing to be harassed, roughed, bullied and tossed at will. Whereas Vice-President Khama deserves a good share of the criticism, it is my second opinion that the greatest, harshest, most ruthless and unforgiving criticism should be directed to the citizens of this country.
Batswana are gradually grooming a dictatorship, may be not for Khama’s presidency but we are certainly getting there. This mad march towards authoritarianism may have commenced much earlier but some presumably innocuous deals gave it unprecedented morale booster since the 1990s. When former President Quiet Masire mobilized support to amend the constitution in order to make it automatic for the Vice President to ascend to the presidency in the event the President becomes unavailable, most people sensed a good deal, especially for purposes of a smooth transition.
Unfortunately, the deal is beginning to haunt us. Tellingly, President Festus Mogae once threatened to dissolve Parliament if his preferred Vice President is not majority endorsed, and all chickened out and supported the President. This is an excellent foundation for a dictatorship and surely Mogae’s decision not to become a dictator was a result of his choice not to be one, but conditions were sufficiently ripe for a dictatorship. If Mogae chose not to become a dictator and if Khama also opts not to become one, (praise be to them) it does not follow that all future presidents will follow the same path. Someone may choose to take full advantage of the prevailing conditions (that are pro-dictatorship) and deliver us to hell.
Over the years, Batswana have become an absolute disgrace more especially in relation to self-reliance. Many Batswana consider that the government exists to provide livelihoods and, as such, people find it normal and acceptable that the government should be dictating terms on every aspect of our lives. They have instantly developed a phobia of decision-making. They despise taking charge of their own lives but instead have mortgaged their lives and amazingly prefer to live on food aid. They have forsaken self-development and self-worth. They beg for food and ideas. How amazing that they beg to be impoverished so that they are controlled and directed like opera singers.
The Botswana society is deeply religious in its respect for people in positions of authority, especially political leaders. We hero-worship them while also cultivating feelings of low-self esteem and uselessness amongst ourselves. We, therefore, crave for a savior, a leader with divine powers or at least a reflection of something like God, to deliver us to the Promised Land. We have virtually succumbed to the vagaries of authority of the individual rather than of state institutions. Under these circumstances, it is presumed only proper and suitable that the state should micromanage people’s lives, flip them at will while the people meekly oblige and, in some cases, clamor for more ill-treatment, abuse and bullying. And what more when we believe we can’t do anything for themselves or achieve anything on our own; that our only hope is a rude and boisterous government and some overzealous philanthropists who can save us from starvation by giving us mageu and expired yogurt at freedom squares.
These are distinct traits that feed and bring up dictators, because in the process of making decisions on our behalf, the leadership is at liberty to exercise arbitrary authority. Our blind respect and love for them reinforce their self-image and gives them the impression that they are bigger than the state and the collectivity of individuals; that Botswana will cease to exist the very moment they cease to rule, which is why Batswana prefer to be ruled by a son of an aristocrat no matter how inexperienced, rather than being ruled by a commoner with a cumulative and sustained record of experience and exceptional performance.
Let it be noted that in order for a ruler to be a dictator he/she does not have to violently overthrow a democratically elected government, neither does he/she got to be a merciless murderer. Contemporary dictators are generally gentle, civilized, and humane and less brutal.
They are merely repressive, fractious and simply manipulative. They are what may be termed constitutional dictators for they have been democratically elected in open and fair elections and are loved by many, though for reasons remotely concerned with quality leadership. Unlike the old breed of dictators, the twenty-first century dictators generally pass as the darlings of the nation. In contrast with the likes of Idi Amin and Pol Pot, today’s dictators are soft-spoken and do not normally threaten to literally swallow their opponents. Readers will recall that in the late 1990s the then US President Bill Clinton saluted Ugandan President Museveni as the leader of an African renaissance, the head of a new breed of African leaders and we are aware how this superficial image cultivated a holier than thou attitude within Museveni. In fact, when he became a darling of the Ugandans and the West, he also became increasingly hard-line, intolerant and self-opinionated. The rest is common knowledge. So the next time you think of pampering your leader, be cautious.
Botswana has very few safeguards to preserve our democracy.
Institutions established for this purpose are weak and essentially at the mercy of the rulers. The opposition parties and the civil society are disjointed, diseased and childish. The burden then rests with individuals to preserve our democracy. But our behaviors and attitudes of extreme tolerance, over-abundant respect, total and unquestioning loyalty and a forgiving and forgetful disposition are receptive to a dictatorship. I have heard people say that in Botswana most people have access to potable water and there is almost enough food for everyone. It is also argued that freedoms are guaranteed. It is then concluded that victims of dictatorships and extreme poverty often do not have basics or luxuries such as we have. In other words, there is not a slightest cause for concern. It is nevertheless my conviction that we are making dictators by canonizing the ideals of our leaders; by making it a taboo out of any contradiction of their views and awarding them a God-like status. The Zimbabweans committed this sickening miscalculation and are now paying a hefty price for their praise songs. They canonized Mugabe a saint even before he died. In all fairness, it is not Mugabe’s fault that Zimbabwe is a failed state, but theirs and they deserve not much sympathy.
When people shrink at the thought of simply questioning a leader’s point of view, when people become agitated by fair criticism leveled against their hero-political leaders, it is a recipe for disaster. When people pay for what they want and beg for what they need, they are doomed and deserve no sympathy.
I know a majority of the people would think it is a mad man’s observation to say that a State President is a public property, that people have the right to evade his/her personal life for he/she has no ‘right’ of privacy. Thus, a State President who places himself off limits automatically becomes a suspect. The openness of the presidential office and the incumbent is the best insurance that there will be fewer dark corners where sleaze, nepotism and fraud could breed and that public policy will be adequately ventilated before being approved. The opposite is dictatorship and is gradually taking shape in Botswana.
Our relentless pursuit of imaginary perfection and our determination to attend to urgent national challenges and most significantly, our compulsion for shortcut formulas are some of the ingredients for dictatorship. Certainly, the HIV/AIDS pandemic needs bold choices but such choices should not come to haunt us in the future. There have been calls for government to make HIV/AIDS test mandatory. Earlier on, some people have suggested that those who are HIV positive should be kept in solitary confinement so that they do not come into contact with those who are still clean, little falling short of calling for them to be culled as we normally do to contain the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease. Some people have in the past proposed that stray animals, especially those spotted within the road reserves along highways and within the perimeters of our cities/towns should be shot instantly, without any form of compensation for the owners.
Some have suggested that the Police should impound un-roadworthy vehicles and dump them at scrap yards for good to reduce road accidents. Yet more have argued in favour of a complete alcohol ban. Some are pleading with the government to ban the acquisition of fire arms for civilian usage. There are many instances where people, either out of desperation or due to sheer ignorance, opt for extreme views that if accepted could herald a phantom with devastating consequences. Irrationality makes people surrender to the impulses of those whom we have given power to govern. It, in a way, alerts boisterous rulers that we do not have a good sense of value for life, that we do not value our freedoms; that people are willing to swallow hook, line and sinker whatever the leadership parcel out.
Thus, Botswana’s future leaders may opt not to become dictators but their choices would be much against the run of play. Batswana have cultivated plenty conditions for a dictatorship to grow and flourish and it may be only a matter of time before someone takes full advantage of these encouraging conditions and deliver us to heathen, and when this comes to pass, we should not cry for sympathy. It has been said ‘if you think of yourselves as helpless and ineffectual, it is certain that you will create a despotic government to be your master. The wise despot therefore maintains among his subjects a popular sense that they are helpless and ineffectual’.