Thursday, April 2, 2020

Dancing president misses the beat

Throughout his presidency, Festus Mogae has never managed to resist the beat of Shauriako. Some time ago, he decided that the “get down” dance was the best way he could physically respond to that song and there is plentiful photographic evidence to show that.

Far from the madding crowd, however, the president’s musical tastes run west ÔÇô that is supposing that his sound bite at his party’s national congress (that dramatically piqued the interest of both the local and international press) is anything to go by. Though Mogae’s tastes run west it is not country and western but jazz standards that he has a weakness for.

“I look forward in the next nine months to retirement and rest. I do so in the conviction that I did my best, like Frank Sinatra, I did it my way and like Tony Blair, I did what I thought was right,” Mogae said when he gave his final speech as Botswana Democratic Party in Molepolole last week.

Sinatra’s My Way is based on the lyrics of a French song called Comme D’habitude which means “as usual”. In a different context, Mogae spoke about nostalgia he felt on the occasion of his last address to the BDP as its leader. My Way would also feel Mogae with such nostalgia. The song was released in 1968 after a Hollywood songwriter called Paul Anka gave the French original new English lyrics. In the same year Mogae, who was working as a planning officer at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, married Barbara Modise. It was the beginning of a long journey that would take him to the World Bank, the office of the central bank governor, of vice president and finally of national president.

My Way’s first verse captures that journey quite succinctly:

And now, the end is here
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain I’ve lived a life that’s fullI traveled each and ev’ry highway And more, much more than this, I did it my way

The sedate, if somewhat melancholic orchestral accompaniment on Sinatra’s My Way excludes the possibility of Mogae doing his famed presidential get-down. What the president would be doing when the song plays, one supposes, is listening to the lyrics. Catchy though the song is, its lyrics necessarily make it inappropriate to define the presidency of someone who calls himself a democrat. The lyrics of the song, as the title suggests, are all about doing things one’s way and never having to say sorry. On that basis, the lyrics impose themselves badly on the message Mogae wanted to send across.

Here is an incriminating verse from My Way:

Regrets, I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway.

And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Now, that is a my-way-or-the-highway kind of person singing there but listen to what Mogae had to say at the congress about the way he does party business: “In the Botswana Democratic Party we have always operated as a team.” Is it possible for anyone, Third World presidents included, embody to two diametrically opposed traits at the same time? No way.

As a topic art and the presidency are rarely reflected upon but the three presidents that Botswana has so far have shown a deep and passionate interest in the arts.

Founding president Sir Seretse Khama shared a fondness for Calypso and jazz with his wife, Lady Khama. The latter is said to have been particularly keen on the music of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.

At the time of her death, Lady Khama was too old to go clubbing but had Satchmo’s Jazz Club at Gaborone West opened when she was still alive she may, for nostalgia’s sake, have wanted to check out the club named after her favourite musical idol.
Khama’s successor, Sir Ketumile Masire, was the guest speaker at the inaugural Botswana Music Union awards ceremony in 2005. The former president said that as a young boy he wanted to become a musician when he came of age but was strongly discouraged from doing that by his mother who felt that music was an unrewarding vocation. Masire named late folk song singer, Ratsie Setlhako, as his favourite musician.

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