Sunday, January 29, 2023

Five names proposed to replace ‘Botswana’

Broadcasting live from Gaborone, this is Radio Interior news at 7 p.m., I am Aloe-Vera Legaga. President Mpho Xiaoping has praised the national soccer team for qualifying for the 2042 World Cup in Lesotho. They were speaking at a luncheon hosted by the Interior Football Association in honour of the team. President Xiaoping said that as head of state and a football fan themselves, they were delighted that Interior has qualified for the World Cup for the first time in history.  Interior qualified two weeks ago when it beat Zimbabwe 16-1 in a game that was played at the Nelson Chamisa Stadium in Harare. The luncheon was held at the Pilane International Convention Centre in the Matsieng District this afternoon… The Interior Energy Regulatory Authority has rejected an application by the Interior Power Corporation for yet another tariff hike…”

As you can tell, that is a news bulletin from the future, a future that has been proposed by the Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Review of the Constitution of Botswana.  One too many people who are only geopolitically but not culturally Tswana have long complained about the “Botswana” name being discriminatory. Some of those people got an opportunity to officialise their grievances over this name before the Commission, which was chaired by former Chief Justice, Maruping Dibotelo. While some suggested that there should be a comprehensive consultative process to elicit proposals for a new name, others proposed renaming of the country as follows; Southern Central Africa, Shashe, Kalaharia Republic, Kgalagadi/Kalahari and Interior. While it didn’t provide reasons as it did for some other issues, the Commission recommended to the government that “Botswana” should be retained. Interestingly, the name-change issue came up in the early 2000s when Botswana was developing its national brand under what was then called the Botswana Export Development and Investment Authority. 

An uncommonly domineering man in the Brand Leadership Team whose star would shine even brighter in 2008 when Ian Khama ascended the presidency proposed that Botswana should be renamed “Okavango.” His rationale was that the Okavango Delta was better known than Botswana itself. The Team shot down the proposal. On a lighter note, a prose comedy column in a local newspaper has proposed, tongue in cheek, that Botswana should be renamed “Last Minute” because just about everybody in the country, including the current president, tends to do everything at the very last minute. “Botswana” is an improvement on “Bechuanaland”, the name with which European travellers referred to vast territory that was dominated by Batswana tribes. They really wanted to say “Batswanaland” and ended up codifying their mispronunciation of the name. Following the 1885 Berlin Conference during which western powers carved up Sub-Saharan Africa amongst themselves, Britain was apportioned Bechuanaland and renamed it Bechuanaland Protectorate.

At independence in 1966, Bechuanaland Protectorate became “Botswana” and some have been keen to stress that among those who proposed that name was a Moyei man, Motsamai Mpho, who went to become a towering opposition figure. At this particular historical epoch, the cultural rights movement had yet to gain traction and while some non-Tswana people agitated for cultural rights, such campaign was not systematic and sustained as would be the case a decade later.  The Dibotelo Report says that “Kgalagadi” had been proposed for the new colony in 1895 but was rejected by Dikgosi Khama III of Bangwato, Sechele I of Bakwena and Bathoen I of Bangwaketse. The reason was that they associated that name with inferiority in a tribal caste system they had helped perpetuate. The Report also takes issue with the “discriminatory” naming of some districts and institutions – like Kgatleng and Kgatleng Land Board.

“Views were expressed that the distribution of resources is biased towards tribes that are recognised in terms of the Tribal Territories Act to the detriment of the other tribes which are not recognised in the Act. This, it is contended, has given rise to unequal development within the tribal territories and across the country,” it says.

To right this wrong, the Report recommends the renaming of tribal territories: Central Tribal Region for Ngwato territory, Ngami Tribal Region for Tawana territory, Matsieng for Kgatleng, Kobokwe-Dithejwane for Kweneng, Mmakgodumo-Kgwakgwe for Ngwaketse, Ngotwane-Baratani for Gamalete, Borwa Botlhaba-Moshaweng for Tlokweng and Borwa for Barolong Farms. That is context in which the luncheon for the Interior national football team would be hosted in the Matsieng District.  President Mpho Xiaoping represents an unlikely scenario: “The Commission recommends that children born to Motswana and non-Motswana parents and children born to a single non-citizen mother in Botswana, holding dual citizenship, should not be permitted to occupy offices of Member of Parliament, Cabinet Minister, Vice President and President, and should be barred from joining disciplined forces.”

If Mpho is born to a Motswana and a Chinese national and holds dual citizenship, s/he wouldn’t qualify to occupy presidential office. If the rumour is true, the latter recommendation would sound a death knell for the Khama political dynasty. Even in the upper echelons of the Government Enclave and rarefied social circles of Extension 5, Botswana’s first elite enclave, there is very strong belief that the children of the founding president, Sir Seretse Khama, hold dual (Botswana and British) citizenship. While a student in the United Kingdom, Khama married a white English woman, Ruth Williams – later Lady Ruth Khama. The second born, Ian, became Botswana’s fourth president and the second commander of the Botswana Defence Force. His younger brother, Tshekedi, is the current Member of Parliament for Serowe North and is said to be eyeing the presidency of the Botswana Patriotic Front, which Khama founded after leaving the ruling Botswana Democratic Party.

Khama is currently locked in a bitter battle with his successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who will have the final say in the crafting of a white paper from the Dibotelo Report. If Masisi’s plan is to make it impossible for a Khama to become president, it is likely he would adopt the recommendation that outlaws occupancy of presidential office by people who hold dual citizenship. With resources at its disposal, the government could easily find out whether Tshekedi holds British citizenship. The likelier scenario is official sanction of the use of “they” within the broader scheme of LGBTQI rights articulated for people who fall within this category. The Commission recommends that “intersex” as a category of gender should be included in the constitution and that the Births and Deaths Registration Act should be amended “to provide for delayed selection of gender marks for intersex people until the individual is fully developed to choose their gender mark.”

In one respect and as is already happening in the west, that could bring about official use of gender-neutral pronouns like their”, “they”and “them” by non-binary people who feel they don’t fit perfectly into the boy or girl box.

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