Thursday, July 16, 2020

Botswana: the case of African miracle turned disaster?

In 2006, I authored an essay, titled “Botswana under siege”, which, apparently, offended some people at the government enclave as was evidenced by their naked threats aimed at silencing their critics. The Office of the Vice President in particular made it categorically clear that Batswana should be cautious about some characters that stoop to advocate violence and lawlessness in our society.In my subsequent response to the government’s misguided verbal tirade against my person, in an article titled “Critics are not enemies of the State,” I pleaded with the leadership to not allow temper to get the better of them. Whereas every member of the society has a responsibility to conduct and handle themselves in a manner befitting a civilized being of the twenty-first century, the political leadership and the mandarins are, by virtue of their positions in the society, called on to exhibit near flawless exemplary behavior.

But recent utterances attributed to members of the Executive and, in particular, to His Excellency the President of the Republic of Botswana, are very disappointing and unstatemanly. Mogae’s constant display of an aggressive and reckless confrontational attitude with honorable members of the National Assembly is not Presidential at all. It is very unfortunate and embarrassing that the President has a penchant for the use of cowboy language and an unbridled exhibition of political intolerance. The choice of dirty words with the intention to ridicule, humiliate and demean his colleagues in Parliament is now his trademark, but his desecration of Parliament should counts as one of the lowest trends in his presidency. Obviously, we all get angry now and then but the ability to control and manage emotions is a fundamental aspect of one’s graduation from the animal kingdom.

My essay, “Critics are not enemies of the State”, commented that if those in authority constantly brag about their powers to implement their proposals (at the time my focus was limited to the proposed liquor regulations) against public will, that was tantamount to declaring war on citizens, which invariably calls on citizens to adopt a proactive, radical and uncompromising approach in their relations with the government. I cautioned the government, the Executive to be precise, against their inveterate knack for arrogance, a bully attitude and a craving for picking up fights with the Legislature and the general public at will. Perhaps it is true that things always have got to get worse before they get any better. In exactly the same fashion, Minister Motsumi vowed to veto the people’s voice and proceed with her auctioning of Air Botswana.

Trampling on the rule of law is quickly getting institutionalized.

Certainly, present day Botswana is struggling with a ramshackle democracy that is ever sinking deeper into dictatorship. Our global ranking as an African miracle is changing reference for an African miracle-turned-disaster. Mogae’s government has subverted and continues to subvert democracy by making sure that only he and his deputy determine the future of the country.

Citizens have no meaningful say in significant decisions about the future of their country and a few who attempt to beat the silence trap are threatened, marginalized and branded saboteurs and un-castrated young male goats.

President Mogae’s comments are indicative that the Executive will stop at nothing to orchestrate devious schemes to silence the maverick MPs and take Botswana back to the sad days when MPs were literally as submissive as neutered tom cats. When Mogae chipped that MPs were behaving like young un-castrated male goats, he was in actual fact wallowing in nostalgia; unable to conceal his longing for old days when MPs hardly scrutinized proposed legislation. Thus, the President clearly gropes for permanently entrenched ignorance, docility and submissiveness among his flock, yet Vision 2016 espouses a future Botswana that would be free and democratic; a society where information on the operations of the government is freely available to citizens; a future Botswana modeled on a culture of transparency and accountability.

Unfortunately, indications are that we are headed in the opposite direction of the 2016 national dream.
It is very shameful and embarrassing that the noble journey the people of Botswana has set for themselves is being derailed into oblivion by the people tasked to oversee our arrival to the dreamland. The younger generation will definitely mutter obscene curses about how we (their parents, sisters and brothers) facilitated the demise of democracy by remaining emotionless when the leadership messed up the country. They will certainly wish we burn in hell or that we get brutally raped by evil creatures for our silence and inaction.
Whereas we can confidently apportion blame and argue that Mogae has unfortunately been a disaster and an embarrassment as a President, we hardly can justify our existence on mother earth as a proactive flock. Our conspicuous silence and inaction in the face of this vicious onslaught against democracy make us accomplices. Assistant Minister Mfa advised us to speak out against injustices while we can still do so.

Of course we didn’t take him serious enough and we are soon to pay a heavy price for our dismissive and over-abundant carefree attitude.

On account of recent developments triggered by the melodramatic privatization of Air Botswana, we can no longer claim that we didn’t know why, in the previous year, President Mogae and his deputy were caught up in the re-employment of the PEEPA’s Chief Executive.

We cannot claim not to know why government handpicked Nico Czypionka to head the Business Economic Advisory Council, and, of course, why the chap sprang up to mumble that the Executive must reign supreme in the conduct of government business. One can now discern a web of conspiracy of lies, reckless maneuvers of facts and information in the mortgaging of our little beautiful Botswana to incorrigible money launderers called international consultants and investors. And, surely, we now know why President Mogae is angry at the MPs, which has nothing to do with defiance but everything to do with the MPs willingness and determination to ensure that government business is transacted in an orderly fashion. The President is annoyed that the MPs’ outspokenness is exposing the Executive’s multitude of sins and lies in the overall conduct of government business.

I have always subscribed to the philosophy that the fantasism of a generation of docile, timid and submissive citizens cannot be transmitted to the second or the third generations. The changing context of our economic, social and political frameworks dictates that we constantly redefine our roles in relation to the envisaged future of our country. We have been told that man, by nature, is a political animal that keeps reinventing itself to be in a diligent position to adequately and proficiently respond to crucial challenges of life. It seems to me that Batswana are coming of age, however belatedly, and acknowledge that the leadership does not necessarily possess the Wisdom of Solomon to make critical decisions on their own, while we follow submissively. Citizens are starting to appreciate that the leadership can err (which is human) and have to be told so point blank.

Perhaps this marks the beginning of an end in the political transformation of Botswana ÔÇô the end of paternalism and rule by Executive whim. Yet far from being the beginning of defiance, it is the beginning of a minimum programme of constructive engagement; the dawn of an era where proposed laws and government deals are subjected to critical and thorough examination. Yes, the end of the era where a charming bruiser would govern on instinct, drawing on his considerable charisma to do things unilaterally. The new era requires leaders capable of acting but also having good ideas in their heads. In a democracy you got to listen, be curious and show interest in lifelong learning. So far, MPs’ concerns are cogently argued and even Minister Skelemani did concur that MPs’ concerns with respect to the Intelligence Bill were sound.

MPs have vowed to take the bull by the horns in the next session of Parliament. Ordinary members of the public should join the fray and assist MPs in their endeavor to instill a sense of accountability in the Executive. For those who do not wish to be counted by history as a failed generation of half human, half apes, we are rather pressed for time to stop this mad rush backward. When Zimbabwe Archbishop Pius Ncube offered himself to stand in front of blazing guns during planned mass protests, he was not too eager to die soon but he was compelled by existing circumstances in Zimbabwe. He wished to make a contribution to halt the total disintegration of his beloved country. There are numerous peaceful ways to contribute to the social, economic betterment of the country. Political groups have contributed immensely in this regard but of course their efforts may be obliterated by their tendency to politicize every aspect of our lives. This may tend to malign other role players who may have chosen to be apolitical, with a pronounced dislike for politicking. Under such circumstances, other civic groups are called upon to fill this vacuum and provide a breeding place for activism of those not interested in classical politics of ancient Greece and Rome.

Over the years, the church in Botswana has become increasingly irrelevant, economically and politically, largely owing to its propensity to confine itself to the life and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Bible. Instead of seeking to empower their congregations to speak and act for the good of the country, the church in Botswana has embarrassingly chosen to promote submission to secular authority, only too happy to sing conservative hymns and collect contributions in the form of money and other material gifts for their (mostly) expatriate pastors.

Of late, members of the Executive have been positioning themselves strategically within these churches, perhaps hoping to be ordained (as) priests to amplify their influence and permanently entrench religious intoxication so that the masses continue to unquestioningly submit to authority.
Thus, the church in Botswana cannot define its responsibility as the conscience of the nation as is the case in other societies.

It has no desire to meaningfully confront the state and identify with the masses in their struggle against poverty and assault on democracy and our pride.

Whereas in other countries the church serves as an alternative voice by making government accountable and responsive, in Botswana the church seems to be an affiliate of the government, with a very strong interface between the two by way of same functionaries operating back and forth between these two institutions.

A critical and thorough self-appraisal will reveal that the church’ contribution towards an open, democratic and accountable Botswana is horribly negligible.

The church cannot claim to be offering any form of protection and support in its role of a shepherd looking after a flock.

I am hereby challenging the church in Botswana to start mobilizing society to speak and act for a just society, by consciously embracing small amounts of political theology in their teaching without necessarily abandoning their immediate mandate to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was once arrested by the agents of the apartheid regime for holding a service to commemorate those who died for the liberation of South Africa. He was later released unharmed ÔÇô I mean by the agents of a very savage regime.

Is it inconceivable for the church to organize a national night vigil at the gardens in front of the Parliament building a night before Parliament convenes for the next session?

Is it impossible to organize prayer sessions to solemnly request the Almighty to guide his flock during these difficult times and also ask the Most High to give our leadership spiritual guidance? Such peaceful activities would not offend anyone neither would they be against any prescribed law in Botswana.

With the other institutions of the civil society conspicuously silent, fragmented and supposedly irrelevant, student movements should be a source of hope.

Yet in Botswana the student movement is parochial, fragile and largely exists only in embryonic form. They are essentially inward looking and appear to be controlled and directed by the desires of their bellies. Yet the advantages of their education and their indisputable concentration in schools, colleges and the university should give them the edge over other similar groupings. Their access to Paulo Freire and other philosopher’s writings on education and liberation and their general intellectual capacity should inspire them to greater political activism in their endeavor to contribute to the social, economic and political development of the country. This is not a call for the young lions and lionesses to destroy school property or boycott classes but rather a challenge for them to show some reasonable level of curiosity and interest as well as to actively take part in community and national activities.

All other civic organizations should thoroughly review their mandate in relation to the social, economic and political growth of Botswana’s institutions of democracy. Such organizations as Kamanakao, Lentswe la Batswapong, Pitso ya Batswana, Re teng and so forth should conceive themselves as being relevant beyond the narrow confines of the immediate interests of their individual members. Those that are stuck to the past should endeavor to re-write their constitutions to incorporate provisions for a radical approach to national issues. Organizations that are customarily associated with resistance and the struggle for social justice such as teacher organizations, women’s groups and such other social movements should immediately wake up from their slumber so that they are heard and seen. They should note that history would not take a kinder view of them for their dead silence on issues that really matter. It is shameful and hurting to note that unionists in Botswana are some of the most conformist in the globe. This is the time to make a roll call and perhaps assess whether the various institutions of the civil society in Botswana can live up to the expectations of their individual members beyond mere advocacy for paid maternity leave and parking space for staff. It is an opportune time for them to rise to the occasion, grow in stature and become vocal on major national issues. It is an imperative clarion call.

But most importantly, individual members of the society should assess their worth, the rationale for their existence on mother earth other than merely bequeathing the nation with brutes, merciless rapists and beauty queens that they mother and father. For far too long this nation has been groping for hope; silently wishing for divine intervention; praying (with less planning) that our beautiful Botswana will become more prosperous, peaceful and truly democratic.

It is ridiculous that we seem to be content with infinite dreaming without meaningful action to make the dream a reality.

We have tended to derive pleasure from chiding political parties and civic groups for being disjointed and worthless, hence we omit to re-examine ourselves, to pinch ourselves to become a little vocal and relevant to the demand of modern living.


Read this week's paper

Sunday Standard July 12 – 18

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 12 - 18, 2020.