Saturday, January 22, 2022

Corruption threatens to contaminate the president’s otherwise admirable poverty eradication legacy

Trying to please a journalist is never a path to political success.

And for that as always I hardly ever expect the President to take my advice.

By now one can confidently guess that the President is aware that among his inner circle and indeed within his cabinet, there are people who have commercially profited by dropping his name.

The strategy is often to threaten civil servants or browbeat potential partners into fear and ultimately submission by saying how unhappy the President will be if things are not done in a particular way.

This can only be done by people who are clever enough to know that in a quintessentially American way, access is power.

It is in the President’s interest to bring this to an end.

Like many Batswana, some of us have no burning desires to be seen around running after the President.

But this is not to say we wish to be viewed as any less of Batswana or any less patriotic than those forever chanting his name.

In South Africa there is a similar problem.

Hangers-on are cashing in on President Jacob Zuma’s name, including routinely creating false impressions that he has privately sanctioned various decisions.

Perhaps signaling the extent of the problem, the South African government says they want to make name dropping a criminal offence.

One struggles in vain to see how just enforceable that can be because many incidents of these name dropping happen in the confines of private conversations.

The solution rests with that person whose name is being comercialised to stand up and publicly tell everybody, not just those privileged enough to plausibly invoke his name that he will take offence with anybody who dares to utilise his name in their commercial dealings.

This is what I think President Ian Khama should do.

An acquaintance of mine who was in government during the time of Sir Seretse Khama tells me that using the President’s name to cut deals for one’s self did not start today with people hanging around the current President.

The scourge is almost as old as the republic itself, he tells me.

Realising how uncontrollable the scourge was becoming, some voices within Sir Seretse’s entourage advised the founding president to publicly ban invoking his name to make private deals, fight political battles or settle scores.

Always clear-sighted, Seretse Khama obliged and picked a moment to make it known that his name would henceforth cease to be a deal maker.

The occasion was the official opening of Tsholetsa House; the original headquarters of the Botswana Democratic Party as the party once was.

There is public resentment at perceptions that President Khama has chosen to disengage in the face of clear acts of corruption by certain people closest to him.

This has attracted a label that somehow the president has a soft spot for corruption when especially it is practiced by those close to him.

The more uncharitable would even go as far as to say the President may somehow be a beneficiary of these acts of ethical impropriety, which though not performed by his hand directly, might actually enjoy his blessings.

This cannot be right; not for the president and certainly not for the country.

The presidency, we have to always remind ourselves is an institution; backed by an infrastructure of laws, aides and state authority.

While it’s a force for good, it also is a powerful institution that can very easily be abused.

Which is why it has to be guarded.

And who can be the better and stronger guardian than that person occupying it at any given moment?

With only four years left before he leaves the stage, it may be time President Khams starts to make a reflection of what he wants his legacy to be.

By the look of things, he wants poverty eradication to occupy the most prized chair.

But bourgeoning corruption we have to point out, is also not far behind and increasingly forcing its way up.

Nobody wants a legacy of corruption attached to them eternally.

History rarely records people for the good they did but.

Rather it is ruthless in recording and cataloguing their failure.

Fighting poverty is an inherently morally good thing to do.

Eradicating it, if it gets to happen will be an even greater achievement.

Much more rewarding to the President will be if he is remembered for it.

Unfortunately things are not often so clear cut.

Which is why President Khama should not feign surprise when years to come he is remembered not for exorcising poverty from the earth but for failing to fight corruption.

And for that reason the president should become more proactive in efforts to disentangle himself from those unethically profiteering from an association they have with him.

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