Sunday, April 11, 2021

Critics are not enemies of the state! Part 2

Realizing that the war against the virus was far from being won, government moved a step further and adopted some hard line measures such as compulsory testing for patients visiting public health facilities. I also noted that these new measures, while helpful, are failing to halt the scourge, a thing that might compel the government to institute more strict and uncompromising measures. The basis of my submission was that the government has an inveterate knack for shortcut measures to address persistent challenges.

My speculation was also informed by India’s experience and tussle with an explosive population in the mid-1970s. As a way to control the explosive population, the then Government of India ordered police officers and health workers to travel to villages to sterilize men, who then hid in sugar cane plantations to avoid vasectomies. The government also instructed teachers to coerce fathers of students to sterilize if they wanted their kids to continue with their education. China legislated a one-child per household policy to contain a spiraling population. These were desperate measures instituted by desperate governments. Botswana’s political leadership has repeatedly warned that the country might go bust if stringent measures are not taken to contain the HIV crisis. Mine was an honest assessment. When representatives of our desperate government tell us that after drinking alcohol we hate the condom or we do not wear it properly, is it not a clue of where we might be headed?

In criticizing Khama, there is not the slightest intention to embarrass him as some of his praise singers argue. The sole intention of such criticism is to reveal his limitations that he may not be aware of (his self-serving advisors would not dare help him in this regard) and point out to him that, given these limitations, he must, by necessity, surround himself with credible and high performing professionals who are proactive, creative and inspiring; not some strange characters always willing and ready to lick his boots. In all fairness, Khama’s over-confidence image needs close checks, particularly by technocrats around him, for he hardly gives audience to distant voices. As such, it is necessary to have individuals who can at times be professionally arrogant and disciplined so as to be in a position to defy ill-advised instructions from his office. Economic mismanagement starts when powerful politicians unduly interfere in matters relating to the operations of specialized and proficient economic institutions.

It has been shown that Khama has not acquired sufficient experience to run the country largely because he hardly participates in parliamentary debates and because he does not head a government ministry and that he prefers using personal authority to address national problems in piece-meal fashion. Khama must, therefore offset these limitations through a deliberate process of radical and critical self-review for meaningful personal transformation and image renewal. I want to believe that the people of Botswana are not averse to having a president or leader, in any capacity, who is a product of farm gate intellectualism for as so long as that leader acknowledges his/her limitations and institutes deliberate measures to counter the limitations. The Americans were once proud of their peanut farmer President Jimmy Carter, a graduate of a naval academy. The Kenyans were happy with their former primary school teacher, Daniel Arap Moi, the self-declared professor of (dirty) politics. It would, therefore, seem that academics and intellectuals are not welcome in politics, especially African politics. Sample how the likes of Nkrumah of Ghana, Nyerere of Tanzania, Kenyatta of Kenya, and Obote of Uganda and to some extent, Mogae of Botswana were sabotaged in preference for brutes like Idi Amin and so forth.

Perhaps this is why academics and intellectuals believe that society is anti-intellectual and prefers populist figures. Before George W. Bush was elected President of the USA, Kitty Kelly, in her thrashy book ‘The Family: The Real story of the Bush Dynasty’ made some very damaging revelations about George W. Bush and his ability to use his head. She revealed that George W. was academically idle and often a horrendously drunk party animal that enjoyed cocaine. She wrote that George W. has ‘absolutely no intellectual curiosity about anything. He wasn’t interested in ideas or books or causes. He didn’t read the newspapers; He didn’t watch the news; He has no concept of complex issues…He is a simple minded zealot and God help us all – he is now the guy with his finger on the button.’ She said the chap was not only a hypocrite and a bully, but a shifty stupid one, too. And the people of the United States of America voted for him, nonetheless.

It is interesting that Khama is addressing kgotla meetings and it is reported that in the evenings he sits around a fire with some village elders. This is helpful in that people will get to appreciate Khama as an open-minded and down to earth leader, not the tyrant portrayed by his critics. In one of my writings – We Miss our President- I reasoned that, people in the rural areas need to be motivated by the President so that they appreciate their abilities and the limits of government relief schemes. I have repeatedly said that problems afflicting our rural people need presidential leadership. Thus, Khama’s initiatives are worth the costs and are indicative of a leader willing to listen to constructive criticism, and therefore, subjects himself to the fundamental ideals of critical self-renewal. It does not matter whether they accept that their newly found love for the rural people is a result of criticism. In fact, we do not need their confessions.
In conclusion, allow me to reiterate that our relentless constructive and insult-free criticism should not make us enemies, not least of the highest offices in the country. In the same lines, the Offices of the President and the Vice-President should not allow temper to get the better of them. Those who are entrusted with the authority to ward off or deflect criticism and, sometimes, deliberately mislead the public should exercise extreme care so as not to give credence to a strongly held view that the Vice-President is above criticism, and give credence to the concept that those who do criticize him are doomed. Such persons must remain sober and focused in order to protect and maintain the prestige and authority of the office. They must know that their bile utterances and writings are, by extension, those of their bosses.

For example, the strongly worded letter from the VP’s office rebuking the Finance Permanent Secretary for challenging Khama was not written by Khama himself but Khama takes the flak for its bad taste. It is my guess that Khama himself wouldn’t have stooped so low as to chastise such a credible senior government officer in the manner his Private Secretary did. Quite clearly, Press Secretaries are beginning to behave like Hollywood stars who crave extreme publicity at every opportunity in a way that ultimately harms the people they are supposed to protect. Mindful of this, it is crucial that such secretaries should be tamed or, at least, leashed so that they do not continue to soil the credibility of the persons they seek to protect. Their conduct or misconduct makes it easy for critics to do their job.


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