Member of Parliament Akanyang Magama has been attracting the ire of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party.
In an unusually sensible motion from the opposition benches, Magama has called for the direct election of the President.
Magama rightly complains that, while we like to shower ourselves with praises of being Africa’s oldest democracy, we are still to be allowed to elect our Head of State.
It is a source of irony that many dictatorships are ahead of us in as far as trusting their people to at least go to the polls and pretend to be electing a president.
In another different tone, Magama’s motion also lands a devastating blow to Botswana’s inherently undemocratic arrangement of automatic succession.
As is to be expected, the BDP is incensed. We should not be surprised.
We have been down this road before.
Clad in their customary prejudice, the BDP is doing everything to read insincere motives into what are otherwise noble sentiments made by Akanyang Magama.
Eager to endear themselves to the arriving Emperor, some of the BDP MPs are already saying Magama is driven, not by principle, but by his perceived hatred for Ian Khama, the BDP icon who will become the State President in a few weeks’ time. To them, Magama is only expressing his obsession to spoil their party.
It’s all very silly.
Thankfully, the BDP’s superficial gasps to discredit this particular motion will not stick.
However one looks at it, Akanyang Magama’s motion puts back on the spot important issues surrounding Botswana’s over-hyped democratic credentials. He is forcing the BDP to square up to a debate they know they cannot win ÔÇô a debate that also threatens to reignite their internal differences.
It is quite clear that for all their weaknesses, the BNF is beginning to clamour for the days long gone by when they could imaginatively influence the course of national debate.
True to their character, and keeping in line with their past attitude to suggestions for reform, the BDP will sneer at his suggestions, taking turns to say they (suggestions for reforms) belong in the gutters.
It’s very much a BDP way of doing things.
The BDP likes to treat people like animated toys.
That attitude is the enduring patronizing contempt that has stood the test of time.
It is in the nature of the ruling party to think that ordinary people are not clever enough to take important decisions for themselves, hence they think ordinary people are not sophisticated enough to be allowed to elect the Head of State.
Magama should not be daunted. He should soldier on.
In the days gone when the BNF was a relevant part of our political establishment, they called on the ruling party to reduce the voting age from 21 to 18 years.
The BNF also begged the BDP to introduce an autonomous office to run the elections.
The then President Ketumile Masire laughed his lungs out, ridiculing for such apparently outlandish dreams.
That was before Masire was forced to face reality and implement BNF suggestions in the process claiming the reforms as his.
The same can happen again. Given the immense popularity of Ian Khama, who will soon become State President, direct election of the President actually favours the BDP.
By being gracious as to adopt the reform, not only will they enhance Botswana’s democratic credentials, they will also potentially enjoy a much greater legitimate leverage over opposition.
Already, Botswana is blessed with a constituency based electoral system.
Constituency based system is the only known system that takes into account the concerns of the governed.
It is a system that encourages a direct interaction between politicians and their voters.
Democracy is meaningful only as far as it is designed that all decision making organs are able to factor in people’s views.
Yet for all its strengths, Botswana’s electoral system has one enduring blight, a terrible oversight that kills all sense from our goodwill; that is the absence of a directly elected President.
It is a missing link that literally belittles all our past achievements as a democracy.
Even Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who we like to point at as the latter day outpost of raw African dictatorship, is elected directly by the people; forget about his perennial rigging of elections.
President Festus Mogae and his predecessor, Sir Ketumile Masire, like to point out that our President is elected by members of parliament who are themselves directly elected by the people. That is not good enough.
That is an exercise in dilution of democracy. It’s a kind of some contamination.
The end result is that democracy ÔÇô the very will of the people – is itself undermined so much so that it ends up losing its very meaning.
Today, people feel no direct connection to their president because, to start with, they do not even understand how he rose to become their President.
Lest we forget, Mogae became president of Botswana all as a result of Masire’s fancy foot works.
With due respect to these two men, we are in the current mess directly because of their abiding whims to use this country as a test tube for their eccentric experiments.
Khama should show grace and embrace democracy!