It is an intuitive approach to life that when the chips are down and when a government appears dysfunctional because a number of its cabinet ministers are ignorant of their duties and responsibilities, we tend to miss those who we had earlier characterized as famed thieves and a bully squad startlingly bereft of intellectual depth. In other words, it is easy to be tempted by nostalgia, which is why the past always seems sweeter than the present.
A measure of this rotten nostalgia in Botswana is that the immediate past administration was a better devil than the current regime. This is symptomatic of low-effort thinking in politics that account for our belief that the generation of political heavyweights who passionately upheld the concept of public duty has long passed and in came venerated thieves. This would mean that the mob making up the current administration will also be considered to have been good after they left office.
It is widely held that in the previous administration, political advancement in terms of appointment to cabinet positions depended on some stupefying level of loyalty to the president hence the appointment of hooligans with no talent except for making mischief on behalf of the president.
An overriding conclusion was that there was no independent thinking, no seriousness or just a semblance of moderating pragmatism. Cabinet meetings resembled a parade of a team of adult mischief makers and an exhibition of talented adult hecklers. As a result, the public has lost respect for ministers of government. The upshot of this is that new cabinet ministers had to shoulder the burden of having to navigate the misadventure of being inexperienced.
Since voters now hold cabinet ministers in low esteem, exaggerated affection and defense of the president is seen as rampant sycophancy that results in ministers abdicating their responsibilities.
Yet, this was the hallmark of the immediate past administration, which we now seem to crave, wherein intellectually bereft cabinet ministers excelled at getting angry on behalf of the president. And for the very reason that the president disliked sharing the limelight with his crew, he made sure that his cabinet composed of people who occasionally forgot that they belong to the human race.
The lack of depth in the squad that passed as the executive branch of the government meant that President Dr Khama posed as a big beast, a ruthless Machiavellian who did a better job than the dancing crew that often tried to work hard but appeared out of depth.
So when current President Dr Masisi deviated from the norm of appointing small-minded delinquents to head government ministries, some of us felt relieved that we have been spared another installment of a circus crew.
So when the news space was filled up with frightening stories about allegations of widespread rigging at the polls and the ghastly prospects of the courts invalidating the vote and throwing the country into turmoil, we nevertheless drew some comfort from the quality of people who have benefited from an allegedly stolen election and constituting the executive branch.
We delighted in a cabinet made up of specialists and experts with solid background in finance, educational leadership, public administration, law, health, physical and chemical sciences, animal health, agricultural economics, computer hacking and of course various qualifications.
To add cherry on top and complete the jigsaw puzzle, these specialists were matched with ministerial portfolios to somewhat complete the jigsaw puzzle.
Many of us were filled with pride that instead of constituting an obedient cabinet and instead of appointing someone to cabinet for their lack of education, President Masisi surrounded himself with people of substance who have distinguished themselves before crossing over to politics.
Until COVID-19 pandemic laid bare their limitations especially their lack of experience in government operations, the predominantly youthful group was boisterous, impressive and a source of inspiration.
Their educational qualifications filled for their lack of governmental experience and for a while many were convinced that this was a cabinet notable for its intellectual value and youthful exuberance. It was not and isn’t a cabinet that has been appointed to do what it is told to but a cabinet of high principle, a mixture of intellect and oratorical genius.
Then came COVID-19, in particular, the order for people to stay home and the quarantining of those requiring to be placed in separate locations for obvious reasons.
Since a majority of us were locked down and because President Masisi was in quarantine, the show was left to the Vice President and cabinet ministers and on a daily basis Batswana watched in disbelief as ministers dished out contradictory, half-baked statements some of which bordered on negligence of duty or sabotage of government.
The daily briefings by the ministers intended to inform members of the public about government response to the devastating effects of the pandemic turned into a circus and revealed that President Masisi’s cabinet was remarkably decrepit in spite of their decent levels of education.
For a cumulative period of over a month, President Masisi’s absence evidently left a void in the lives of many. Even senior ministers with their rich experience fared badly and were generally out of sorts.
And when the Vice President stuttered in fright on television to fill in for the president, the public was thrown into a fit of anxiety and fear and wished for President Masisi to come out of quarantine for good or for worse.
The inconsistency, indecision, lack of internal consultation and cohesion that clearly demonstrated a holier than thou attitude and silo management of government departments told the story of a mediocre gang that managed to sell us a dummy.
Yet, this was their time to woo skeptics; to demonstrate that they are knowledgeable and can be counted on at critical times like this and that they are the best people qualified to navigate the perils that lay ahead.
Regrettably, the ministers not only failed to temporarily fill in for the confined and beleaguered president but also dismally failed the basics to knit together, show a brave face and give the impression of a government in control of a crisis.
Thus, president Masisi’s emergence from quarantine and subsequent appearance on Botswana television where he delivered a meek speech was met with some huge relief as though it was the return of a medicine man, a prodigal son.
It became evident that the nation had needed a leader and this was not because of our inherent reverence of the state president as the first citizen but simply because for a longer time the nation was griped with anxiety and fear and had stared into the void without any reassuring posture of confidence; any calming scripted speech and the comforting appearance of a stand-in regent.
In a way, the nation wished for radiant and confident leadership with the humility to empathize with people who were clearly nervous. In fact, the nation really did not need President Masisi in person. It is only that in his absence, no one really stood out to lead. It is said that when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice (Proverbs 29:2).
The implication of it all is that President Masisi must take a fresh look at his cabinet because Botswana deserves better. Botswana is faced with many unpredictable and potentially crippling vices that require intelligence, competence and broad-based knowledge to face head-on and restore confidence in the ability of government to shield its people from calamities.
President Masisi must not become delusional and nurse any mistaken believe that the approval rating for his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic to this point translates into public satisfaction with his administration’s overall performance. It is merely our innate humanness and a kind gesture to give credit where credit is due.
The hardest part which is usually about digging the economy out of a recession lay ahead and from what we witnessed this far things are looking gloomy mainly because the executive is timid talent, newbies who appear unfamiliar with the full scope of their responsibilities.
Granted they had to learn on the job but they also need to graduate fast or the president will have to call time on their employment seeing that he will be the biggest loser, the most distinguished face of the failure of government.
The brutal lesson we have to learn is that flat track bullies who prefer a soft life in picking fights with the opposition to do the bidding of the president, a nomadic wannabes and computer hackers are not what Botswana desperately needs.
The truth is that this lettered Cabinet has been an embarrassment to those who stayed longer in school and tend to give massive respect to a qualification.
In the end, an emphatic conclusion is that the cabinet urgently needs a shake up so that the President could have thoughtful, independent-minded people who take themselves and their responsibilities seriously.
Additionally, President Masisi must stop acting like an absent father and become more visible without necessarily turning himself into a street preacher.