Saturday, May 30, 2020

Botswana’s 2 Years of False Hope, Bleak and Blurred Future

1 April 2018 marked the end of Ian Khama’s era and the beginning of Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi’s  (MEKM) reign. A perfectly crafted succession plan designed (by the late Professor Lawrence Schlemmer) both to engender BDP hegemony and to give the successor at the end every 10 year, a head-start of about 18 months ahead of next election. Though the baton exchange fitted the script, it was not long before the storm brewed with Ian Khama feeling betrayed by a man he accused of insincerity, dishonor and deceit.

Few months after assuming the reins of power, he went on a rampage reversing the decisions of his predecessor, which triggered a backlash that gradually morphed into irreconcilable differences and ultimately a complete fallout. MEKM spent time deputizing a principal whom it turned out later they neither shared values nor leadership style but pretended to passionately follow and defend only to change when president, becoming emboldened and retributive. Though BDP suffered a debilitating split that bore BPF – instigated by Ian Khama, MEKM was already in charge of a  powerful state machinery through which he warded off a formidable threat posed by  UDC coalition and BPF.1 April 2020 marks 2 years of MEKM’s uninterrupted rule, 6 months since he became president after a disputed and controversial outcome which he won on technicalities in the courts.

It is against this backdrop of this monumental timeline that his scoresheet is scrutinized to determine whether there are any concrete prospects of success and if any thus far. After staving off the Khama/UDC axis, by any means necessary, he is now firmly behind the steering wheel with unfettered powers bestowed on him by the constitution, he has a perfect chance to implement his party manifesto and to be judged on his abilities as he marshals his forces to his promised land. Faced with daunting challenges and unprecedented pressure during election campaigns, he tripped, stumbled, faltered and mis-stepped but never fell as he was caught wanting in many fronts including not taking kindly to competition (both intra and inter party), academic dishonesty and plagiarism of Barack Obama 2008 speech.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer“At the height of presidential debates blatantly and unapologetically told untruths on national television regarding his self-proclaimed sycophancy. He therefore started his full five year term compromised and limping, however Batswana, a forgiving nation gave him the benefit of doubt, akin to giving a person a long rope to hang himself.BDP promised to make an electric car expected to generate over 100 thousand jobs and to review the constitution which was adopted since independence (from British protection in 1966) among others.

2020 started off with some semblance of action with a flamboyant display of a somewhat ramshackle makeshift electric motor but then the episode quickly and quietly died. As the reality was starting to sink, the administration began to give contradicting statements on the role of government in job creation, in the end it became clear that jobs are neither a priority nor among what government considers its roles. Botswana with high unemployment rates, high crime rates, without concrete plans to create or facilitate job opportunities, continuing job losses and the impending economic meltdown catapulted by Coronavirus and other economic shocks, the future looks bleak, blurred and precarious, a situation too ghastly to contemplate. Corona pandemic has forced unprecedented lockdowns the world over and recently the president went into isolation following his visit to Namibia for the inauguration of President Hage Geingob. The erratic and wobbly Vice President in his acting capacity announced travel strictures that were implemented with immediate effect. This led to many people who were already traveling to be quarantined, a very clumsy situation conjured up when government was overwhelmed by logistical challenges that led to many people crowding and further exposed to the risk of Coronavirus infection. The situation became so messy and led to a court case in which government was ordered to observe social distancing and respect for human rights in quarantining people, further compounding the country’s financial woes. Botswana has not yet announced economic stimulus strategies that would help cushion the effects of Coronavirus on the economy and with a thinly diversified economic base that has weak manufacturing sector and minimal production capacity, recession may be looming. 

The 2-year MEKM administration is yet to record notable positives in its scorecard, but as events are unfolding this may be a farfetched dream. With the advent of Coronavirus it is difficult to expect much in the short and medium terms, possibly up to next election. There are no concrete plans to positively impact the lives of the ordinary people and business will surely take a knock from the impending world economic meltdown, which will prove even more disastrous to Botswana. Both the state of nation address (SONA) and the budget speech carried no glimpse of hope, in fact lately the government has shown signs of financial distress when school sports and long planned projects were put on hold.Botswana’s economy has been reliant largely on diamond, tourism and fledgling financial markets, all of which are susceptible to the vagaries of economic swings, luxuries that are usually shelved when the economy sneezes.

The last thing Botswana needed to steer clear of the turbulence is a president and leadership with questionable character, lacking in fortitude, resilience and least inclusive (of the opposition), a president who violates his own travel strictures resulting in his isolation at the critical hour of dire need for all hands to be on the deck is nothing short of an adolescent who goes to all night party when the family is in bereavement, only to lock themselves up in a room during funeral, very unfortunate and worrying. Never before has Botswana been a caricature of its leadership like now; dishonesty and impersonation is fast becoming fashionable, celebrated and even rewarded. Kleptocracy has become even more pronounced and cherished and these are the telling signs of our time.

*Moncho K Moncho is a BCP activist

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.