Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Botswana’s painful journey into Africa

When reading the papers and listening to news over the past couple of days, I was reminded of something great that happened to this nation around this time last year. A novel plea was advanced by a certain individual who has played his part [rightly or wrongly] when it comes to defining the political destiny of our republic. I wish as a nation we could have paid more attention to his appeal.

In his second and last response to the State of the Nation address delivered by President Ian Khama on the 7th of November 2011, then Leader of Opposition in parliament, Hon. Botsalo Ntuane, drew the nation’s attention to the works of a leading social scientist by the name Francis Fukuyama. In his seminal work, The Origins of Political Order, Fukuyama challenges other liberal democracies to emulate Denmark because it represents an ideal society. Denmark represents this model country given its success in many areas ÔÇô a stable, peaceful, prosperous, inclusive and honest society.┬á The road to Denmark is premised on three key factors namely; the rule of law, accountable government and a functioning state. This is the kind of society that Ntuane wanted Botswana to emulate in his address before parliament.

To be fair, as a country we have made great strides in almost five decades of self-rule. We started with nothing. Despite the inauspicious beginnings, we made rapid progress, and thus, surpassed most developing countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa in socio-economic and political considerations. In short, we have been a relatively good model country for other developing countries to follow. Sadly, Ntuane’s road to Denmark seems to be a far-fetched dream for our republic.

What then account for this sceptical outlook for our nation? Events over the past couple of months, as reported in both print and electronic media, suggest that rather than going forward towards Denmark we are in fact regressing at an alarming pace. For us as a nation, things seem to be falling apart. Indeed, we have started a long journey to nowhere, or to be precise, into Africa. And in the process, we are fast losing sparkle to guide others in our so called ‘dark’ continent.

The sad reality is that a journey into Africa requires little effort on the part of those in charge of the republic ÔÇô lack of accountability, disregard for rule of law, and so on. Zimbabwe is a best illustration in this regard. But getting out of that situation is often a mammoth task that calls for collective effort by the new leadership and the citizenry at large. It is always a taxing endeavour with far reaching implications for the entire population. And it is usually painful for the poor who constitute majority of the population.

Get me right, I am not a prophet of doom. Nor do I want to create unnecessary panic on the part of our people. Rather, as a nation we should be more concerned about the growing incidences of corruption and mismanagement that have come to define the way business is conducted in our economy, especially in public corporations. Undeniably, such ills are the very foundations that have paralysed formerly successful or potentially rich economies in the continent such the DRC. Add to that, the indifference that is often displayed by the political leadership in addressing such issues doesn’t help the situation ÔÇô in fact they are actually the architects of this horrendous reality.

Such a screenplay is surely reaching our shores. The past weeks have seen the BDC debacle once again dominating media in the country. At the centre of the story has been how our current Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Mr. Kenneth Matambo, tried in vain to protect senior management of the corporation engaged in dubious deals with questionable investors. According to the Parliamentary Special Select Committee of Inquiry report, the Minister allowed a Chinese glass company to get away with fraud by misleading and hiding information from the corporation’s board.

The company in question, we are told, lacked experience in glass manufacturing business. Not only that, the company also charged more than double the price of its more experienced competitor for setting up the plant in Palapye. He was at the time the corporation’s MD.

In his current position, Mr Matambo has also tried to protect BDC management at all costs. For instance, the minister dismissed a number of board members a day before senior management members who were implicated in dirty deals were to appear before a disciplinary panel. Undoubtedly, one can read the minister’s action as a clearly orchestrated effort on his part to stall the process. Indeed, the disciplinary hearing never materialised, thereby allowing a tainted senior management team to continue running the corporation.

What came out very disappointing from the Parliamentary Special Select Committee of Inquiry report is the revelation that the highest office in the land did get to know about the BDC shenanigans. Mmegi (9th November, 2012) states that President Ian Khama was briefed about the rot at the corporation but ignored the warnings. And the warnings were not coming from just anybody. The messenger here was a member of the board ÔÇôwho was later expelled from his position. Considering the amount of money spent on the project [half a billion pula] one would have expected the president to have taken drastic action by now to address the ills compromising effective running of the corporation. Such action would have been immediate withdrawal of Matambo from cabinet by the president if he can’t do it on his own volition. Honestly, how can we entrust someone faced with such allegations with our national purse? And this is not the first time that the minister is accused of engaging in questionable deals.

As citizens we should demand accountability from those running our nation’s affairs. We are connected in many ways so much that if they fail we all get affected. I thought the words of economist, Joseph Stiglitz, are instructive here: “The top 1 per cent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 per cent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 per cent eventually do learn. Too Late.”

Sadly, we seem not to realise how we are connected. But the indifference and lack of ethical leadership on the part of those in charge of our republic will only heighten the pace of our journey into Africa. And as a result, the road to Denmark will remain a mirage.

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