In an edition of Sunday Standard newspaper, Spencer Mogapi in his Watchdog column, penned an article entitled, “The end of exceptionalism ÔÇô how Botswana became just another African country” (04/08/2013), that painted a somewhat bleak picture of current developments in our republic. I couldn’t ignore it because I have also in the past raised concerns about the state of our republic in terms of how we manage our economy.
I sometimes think Spencer is an alarmist ÔÇô a kind of dooms day prophet, hell-bent to deny the wonderful things that this country has achieved in a short space of time since its independence in 1966. Listen to this: “As Batswana we have spent a lifetime being conditioned to the fact that we were different and indeed much better than other Africans. We were in Africa but not of Africa; we were the least corrupt country on the continent, there was no ethnic strife, poverty was at its lowest and for a greater part of the post independence era, the economy grew at a double digit rate, resulting in swollen foreign reserves that had overnight become the envy of the world. It was the story of rags to riches”. He going further, “Today, of course, everybody ÔÇô apart from those who think it’s now their turn to eat – broadly accept that we are just like the rest of the club”.
In short, Spencer was just repeating what we have always been saying: Botswana is just another African country. The exceptionalism which used to distinguish us from the rest of the black Africa has come to an end. After all, we are just like our cousins elsewhere in this Dark Continent. The only difference between most of us and Spencer is the intensity with which he describes events that point towards decline of this once successful country.
Two separate events last week provided a fertile ground for this instalment. I should point out from the onset that those events also echoed what Spencer and others have been saying about the rot that have since come to characterise living experience of majority of our citizens. First, newspapers and radio stations were awash with stories about poor service delivery particularly in the public sector in the past week. As an illustrative point, The Point programme on Gabzfm discussed acute shortages of drugs in most health facilities across the country. Interestingly, the producers of this programme did send a number of reporters to go and confirm claims of medical shortages across various health posts from Gaborone to Maun. However, before concerning ourselves with what they discovered on the ground an unusual development came to surface. The Assistant Health Minister came out gun blazing noting that any nurse who would send patients home under the excuse/pretext of shortage of drugs was to be fired. A minister taking accountability, I guess? Unfortunately for the minister, random surveys done by Gabzfm reporters did confirm the validity of such claims carried by numerous newspapers and radio stations: our health facilities were on a sick bed largely on account of shortage of medication!
The second incident relates to a chance meeting I had with an illegal immigrant from the north of our borders. He has been here since 2006 and calls this place a second home. I asked him what has been his impression about our country since he came here. He hesitated at first but opened up after a couple of drinks. Botswana to him remains a model country ÔÇô (yes in relative terms). Yes he has observed dramatic changes in the way we conduct business but he was not yet ready to swap it for another place. Despite his positive impressions he did confess that there was something worrisome taking place with a potential to damage our country.
In particular, he talked at length about how corruption has visibly increased; police, land or immigration officials, among many others demanding brides on daily basis to provide service. This was not the case when he arrived here, but the practise has since institutionalised beyond comprehension. He was lost of any words on how this could be the case in such a short space of time. All he could do was describe the situation to me and hope that others could provide an explanation as to why that could happen particularly in this country.
Although both incidents were separate, they were in some way related. They both talked about the rot that has since come to characterise the living experience of most Batswana and other visitors. I couldn’t agree more with our northern visitor on the increasing levels of corruption that afflict our public service. To be honest, international institutions continue to rank Botswana the least corrupt country in Africa. This has been the case for a considerable period of time and should continue to be so in the foreseeable future. I say so because there is no way I can see Somalia or DR Congo surpassing us in those rankings any time soon. Sadly, this is a case of a student topping a terrible class – nothing much to celebrate, if you get what I mean.
What we need to celebrate though as a country is that we crafted solid institutions at independence when majority of our counterparts in the continent preferred a shoddy job. For instance, we resisted Africanisation of our public service when the same was trendy in the 1960s and 1970s. Rather, we focussed on building a professional public service guided by values of service.
Driving those reforms were a visionary leadership; yes visionary in its outlook and selfless in serving the citizens. This is how we avoided corruption. Now that corruption is here as evidenced by continued lack of drugs in hospitals and related acts in other ministries what should we do as a people?
Perhaps we need more alarmists to avoid calamity that has consumed many African states. But more than anything else we need able leadership that we make the fight against corruption its primary focus. The last thing we want is a leadership, which think it is now its turn to eat!