It might sound silly to many people here but outside my home country of Zimbabwe, there is nowhere I had rather be than Botswana.
And it’s not that Botswana is better than my country or that, politics aside, my country is worse than Botswana.
The reason is very simple and it is just that Botswana has, in retrospect, something that we Zimbabweans never really had: the elusive thing called freedom, which the whole world struggles to capture, contain and give to citizens.
Botswana has more stability than most African countries, and that breeds continuity.
Botswana has been recognised for its good governance and democratic disposition. The country has received numerous awards almost all of which mention its resilience and adherence to democratic principles.
It must, of necessity, stay that way.
Botswana has been, literally, Africa’s diamond and those of us who have known no peace and grew up hiding from our own governments envy this country.
As an African citizen, my fondness for Botswana invites pride and affords me the opportunity to tell those outside Africa that the bad governments and presidents that are rampant on the continent are not an indication of Africans’ death wish.
Botswana and Nelson Mandela gave Africans deep pride because they proved that Africa is not the breeding ground for dictatorships.
When I crossed the border into Botswana as a political refugee, I exhaled and cried as I realised that I was now safe from my own government that wanted to do me harm.
But for a long time after my arrival in this country, I was afraid to be free ÔÇô force of habit. As a person who has never really enjoyed real freedom in a lifetime, I was unable to convince myself that it was alright to be free.
Why did I have to leave my country to be free elsewhere? We fought to liberate our country so that we could all be free and bestow on ourselves the dignity that all Africans deserve.
It is said that Zimbabweans do not necessarily love Botswana but have no choice but to be in Botswana, to exploit it and cause mayhem.
I hope in this small discussion here, we are able to discard of the popular explanation why we, now derogatorily christened Zimbos, with our alleged crime prone brothers and prostituting sisters, love Botswana so much and flock to this country legally and illegally.
In some quarters, there is appreciation for the legal economic refugees. In others, there is more appreciation for the illegal economic refugees.
I have watched this “love/hate” relationship for a while and the problem and the solution is not out of reach at all. WE are too close to be different.
As a young man, I directly and indirectly experienced the discrimination imposed on Africans by successive white regimes in Rhodesia, that was before we reclaimed our country and, after taking it “by force of arms”, restoring its rightful name of Zimbabwe. We then made it worse than any other colonial government ever did under any name.
Today, as I watch and follow the political and legal issues unfold in Botswana, I feel like a naked man who suddenly regains consciousness only to find himself being attended to and surrounded by an entire well-meaning population in the Main Mall.
Events in Botswana in the last several months have put Botswana’s democracy to the test and, although it is stumbling, it is holding up pretty well. I hope it doesn’t get any worse.
The unfolding saga within the ruling Botswana Democratic Party and the relationship between the ruling party and the opposition parties also offer an interesting analogy.
For, you see, in my country members of the opposition are labeled enemies not opponents and they get killed. In other countries, opposition parties are not allowed at all. So it is a spectacle that Batswana take for granted when their political leaders go toe to toe without fear.
However, having been a child brought up under oppression and one who witnessed the much anticipated transition from white rule to African majority rule, I squirm a little when I see certain things happening in Botswana for I am hit by d├®j├ávu.
I have seen it all before. All look so familiar, even the slow motion by which it is taking place.
That’s how we started too. Nice and slow and full of euphoria that we were now “ruling ourselves”. We were so full of it that we let those at the top remove from us a civil liberty here and a civil liberty there. We made excuses for the new African leadership when they changed the constitution to fit themselves at the expense of the people.
We applauded when those who had foresight were humiliated after they refused to be sucked into blinding euphoria but, instead, started talking about a notorious agricultural project called Animal Farm.
We watched as the ruling party, which once ruled by consensus, started to feast on its own leadership and the Dear Leader started making national policy alone from his bedroom and inflicting it on the nation without debate.
We made excuses on their behalf as they started to erode our freedoms in the name of national security, blaming apartheid South Africa.
We didn’t bat an eye when people started being incarcerated for treason because they had criticized the ruling party and its leader.
We paid little attention when panel beating the constitution started in earnest and did not stop to think that it took Americans well over 200 years to make 27 amendments to their Constitution yet Zimbabwe today already has 19 amendments in less than thirty years of its existence.
Every time the constitution was amended, we lost some liberties and the noose was tightened around our necks.
Every time we went to the polls, the people lost and the president won.
Today, it is against the law even for a pedestrian to keep moving in any direction as the presidential motorcade passes near you; you must stand still, with an expressionless face.
It is a crime to point at the president’s motorcade or to make any gesture and one is compelled to keep a neutral face as the motorcade passes. You cannot criticize the trinity: the president, the flag and the national anthem.
The security forces, especially the “dreaded” Central Intelligence Organisation, report to no one, and undertake what they call their duties without fear of reprisals because they are the president’s men.
Wiretaps, email and fax interceptions, and knocks on doors in the middle of night are just some of the things we harvested.
Now, seeing what is happening in Botswana, I am torn between welcoming Botswana to Africa, for Botswana has not lived Africa’s nightmares, and a fear that if Botswana falls, then what does Africa have left?
Botswana must not enter Africa because some countries are trying to leave Africa of old.
Botswana must stay where it is and spruce itself up because other countries want to come to it.
Call it Democracy 101.