President Festus Mogae’s recent cabinet reshuffle has been largely perceived by many commentators as a cautious balancing act aimed at establishing rapprochement between the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) factions, which were previously armed to the teeth and poised to wreak calamitous paralysis and stagnation in their party.
The fact that the media, political analysts and casual observers underscore the issue of belligerent factions as the essence of the balancing act effectively obscures the tough reality of African politics that Mogae is dispassionately grappling with. This is the stark reality of fear of poverty which fuels and sustains political factionalism.
In other words, toxic factionalism is hugely a manifestation or function of the institutionalised “politics of the stomach”.
However, some of the people Mogae has brought into cabinet are not materially poor. But their gargantuan appetite for power and culturised self-importance have made it difficult for Mogae to dispense with them.
Because of his compassionate nature, humility and enormous experience both as an administrator and politician, he appreciates that occasionally personal interests of political opportunists should, unfortunately, prevail over the national interests, so as to prevent catastrophic political storms.
He’s aware that the rampant self-indulgence and acquisitive propensities of the elite explain why ruling parties and the opposition in Africa tend to attract dangerous men and women of low morality.
We should readily admit that the powerful effects of the “politics of the belly” means that even though a semblance of unity and stability appears to have been restored in the BDP, factionalism as a significant function of “personal survival politics” would remain a permanent feature of our politics even during Vice President Ian Khama’s impending presidency.
In fact, Khama, who dubs greedy politicians “vultures”, has prematurely succumbed to the latter’s “money politics.”
He inescapably collaborated with Mogae in appointing some desperate politicians whose political survival has severely undermined political morality and lowered some people’s confidence in our politics.
Although “money politics” would enable Khama to keep his grip on the grovelling politicians, in the long term, especially during periods of economic drought, this disturbingly immoral practice could cripple the country.
Unless the Botswana constitution is amended to enable the president, who is checked by oversight mechanisms, to select competent and morally upright people in and outside of parliament, Khama too would remain a victim of the “politics of vulturism”.
But if any leader in the opposition were to take over the state presidency, he too would unavoidably appoint cabinet ministers on the basis of the intractable dictates of the powerful but silly stomachs of opportunists.
Where the misrule of the stomach prevails, those who badly want cabinet posts don’t listen to social conscience.
The desires of the crafty gluttonous stomachs powerfully undermine positive values such as meritocracy, personal efficiency and good governance.
This truth is significant and should be accentuated: every time the commanding stomach emasculates politicians, even an intelligent and decent president would fail to measure up to high expectations.
The enormous corruptive influence of the stomach causes disciples to lose moral discipline. And the stomachs of mediocre African politicians care very little about the future generations precisely because, for politicians who have been damagingly overpowered by the stomach, the present, and not the future, is the most important aspect of their time.
President Mogae is experiencing deep anxiety.
He is a helpless hostage to the “politics of self-maintenance”.
He harbours feelings of frustration and guilt because, deep down, he knows that his cabinet reshuffle has been controversially scampered by the whims and caprices of the stomach.
Whereas many Batswana expected him to infuse patriotic performers in his cabinet, men and women who can produce the much needed political and economic revolution; the marauding sycophants profusely begged him not to abandon them so that they could escape poverty and its horrible consequences.
Some are in mentally excruciating debts and feel their total elimination from cabinet could exacerbate their plight.
The parsimonious Mogae knows that some members of cabinet were supposed to be dropped, and that some of the ministries shouldn’t have been created for sheer political expediency.
But the irresistible catch-22 situation is such that if he only does the needful, the party may experience destabilisation and lose elections.
Recently, Edward Robert revealed a problem that profoundly worries Mogae.
The latter expressed his concern at the Africa-Germany Summit held in Accra, Ghana: “Somebody who gets into politics to earn a living can be dangerous. When they lose, they would hold grudges and even want to harm those who defeated them.” Mogae’s sentiments find support in the celebrated work of Semou Gueye (1999) who asserts that in Africa, economic and political exchanges are based on the despicable zero-sum mentality.
This means that for an African to succeed, others should fail.
And those who fail find it difficult to accept defeat because they’ve no confidence in and respect for the winner.
They resort to violent factional aggression and sabotage development and progress.
Mogae finds this offending reality of African politics insurmountable for it is the surest way to keep himself and the BDP in power. He knows well enough that the self-seekers can make or dangerously break him. Consequently, partisan juxtaposition, “tactful compromise” or the “politics of appeasement” form an indelible mark of Botswana/African political culture.
Sometimes it is difficult to blame African politicians for using the party apparatus to rape the state and irresponsibly milk it dry.
These are people who genuinely see politics as a chicken that lays golden eggs. They habitually enter politics for the wrong reasons: the insatiable love for money, power and attendant trappings.
In developed democracy, it is the rich people, supported by powerful interests, who enter politics mostly for the purpose of reaching self-actualisation through patriotic service. If they lose elections or retire, they have the option to engage in other professional pursuits.
In Africa, once you lose or retire, poverty may throw you into jail or life of nothingness and personal crises.
Once they’re out of politics, many local politicians experience rapid physical and intellectual deterioration, social humiliation, and premature death. Many of them have tried to run businesses, but business illiteracy and harsh competitive shakeout have caused them to collapse.
Thus, they’ve no viable options except to remain dependent on the ruling party for survival. Hence some may lose elections as ministers and desperately opt for council seats.
And some have resorted to poem praising sycophancy to appease the President and Vice President.
Not long ago, Assistant Minister Olifant Mfa extraordinarily recited a poem extolling and flattering Mogae and Khama.
Previously, vintage Mfa was so contemptuously vocal that he shockingly and opportunistically warned the entire polity that once Mogae, the democrat, exits the presidency, basic human rights and freedoms would tragically disappear overnight.
We can obliterate the “politics of the belly” by raising the standards for politicians, and rewarding those who measure up to our expectations.
One way to achieve this is to enhance the level of political awareness and sensitivity of the electorate so that they can demand giant results from politicians.
And in order to compel the latter to deliver on their promises, rigorous systems of internal controls and supervisory measures should be imposed on political parties, MPs’ bureaus and parliament.
We should also establish oversight mechanisms to ensure that politicians and senior government officials are people of high moral rectitude.