Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Can the real Mokgweetsi please stand up!

President Mokgweetsi Masisi likes to be seen as a man who is antithetical to everything that his predecessor stands for.

But a closer scrutiny reveals a picture of a star student who in public might despise the man but then privately admire what the man epitomizes.

This in the end makes the fight between the two men wholly phony and even a distraction.

Like Khama, Masisi likes to play to the gallery.

And while he pretends not to care about public mood, he is in reality obsessed about it, including the general aesthetics of his government.

The current president pays undue attention to what the ratings are saying about Botswana and thus about him.

That too was Khama pastime for the duration that he was president.

Like Khama, president Masisi likes to be in total control. And this has in differing levels led to both men trying to micromanage events including those over which they have no power.

Like Khama, President implores his aides to exude power and portray perceptions that they are in charge – even when reality pointed to a different direction.

Like Khama, president Masisi likes to overcome detractors with awe.

He achieves this by often coming up with elements of surprise against which opposition has no chance.

The current State of Emergency is an example. It was unnecessary, but he harnessed the future of the nation to it, and thus staked his reputation to a dangerous probability.

This demonstrates the extent to which like Khama he likes to stay next to political cliffs.

Like Khama the current president is often a victim of his deeply held prejudices and prefer4ences against whom he has no chance.

This is most apparent in his senior appointment in government but also in foreign services.

These appointments have seeds of his survival but also of his downfall.

The jury is still out.

The recent ATI furore is a result of both economic and social crisis.

It was clear when it lasted that government did not and was poorly equipped to deal with it.

And I can bet, we have not seen the last of ATI or some similar lone ranger with a resonating political message.

There is a feeling that Masisi is either losing touch or he is already out of touch.

That is the general feeling of the public – and it is totally unmistakable.

His press secretary writes elsewhere that if only people knew how hard Masisi is working for Botswana and wants good things for Botswana, and also how the president has brought international respect to Botswana and if only he could get the presidential clearance he craves to share more details with the public then people would stop complaining about the president. Clearly the press secretary doesn’t get it.

There is nothing wrong with the press secretary swearing fealty to the president, but what his attitude serves to do is to reinforces a growing public perception that the president and his cabinet are living in a bubble.  What the press secretary is saying is in my view not only counterproductive, it is also what in football parlance is called an own goal.

The country needs both impetus and new direction.

The question is how are those achieved. Some people have suggested a cabinet reshuffle without stating what skills are available on the backbench to add more firepower to cabinet.

A cabinet reshuffle would be ill-advised. It would be an overkill that does not guarantee results.

It would be like throwing red meat to an already emboldened opposition without achieving much for the nation.

A cabinet reshuffle coming barely seven months after a general election would further strengthen a narrative that Masisi does not know what he’s doing and that he really does not have a plan.

A cabinet reshuffle often changes the complexion of cabinet but never the personality of a president.

What the country needs is a change of substance. Showboating has run its course and its utility truly expended.

For now, it is clear that Masisi has been an astute student of Khama’s command and control way of doing things. With a few perfections, he has kept that style.

In the Botswana context a cabinet reshuffle does not often achieve political reinvention. This because it is never created for such because the president is given near obscene powers by the constitution to achieve any revival on his own if he has any imagination.

That constitutional arrangement extends from state to the party where a president has almost unassailable and near unaccountable control.

We saw that some years back when Gomolemo Motswaledi tried to challenge the powers of Ian Khama.

At the moment Masisi is really a victim of his own mixed signals and mixed messaging.

There is no question that politically he is on a backfoot.

It is a combination of factors. Coronavirus is one element – a very big one, but it is now being used as a cover for general ineptitude and incompetence.

The other is simply that people elected him with high hopes and owing partly to impatience, they feel he is not delivering – fast enough.

He campaigned on a ticket to fight corruption and the nation has really been gobsmacked at the exact opposite. The 2019 General election was also fought on getting the economy working for indigenous Batswana, instead we see non-indigenous Batswana being put on a pedestal, with clear approval from those the nation had high hopes.

This has already led to the public discounting a citizen economic law long before it is hatched. Talk of a law being stillborn.

The upshot of it is that many people feel shortchanged and frustrated.

To get back on track Masisi does not have to look far. There is certainly no need for spinning. And certainly no need for reshuffle.

Batswana know what they need. It is what they voted for in 2019.

Masisi can just re-read his campaign pledges and implement them. Or choose anything else at the cost of his political survival. The choice is his and it is a simple but stark choice.

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Sunday Standard August 2 – 8

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of August 2 - 8, 2020.