As President Festus Mogae stands before the nation tomorrow to deliver what by all intents and purposes will be his last most important report card, we can not resist the temptation to cast the eye back on the wide expanse he has thus far traveled with the nation.
As the man prepares to give his last State of the Nation Address we feel it is that time for all of us (including those of us who have never really been enamoured by his leadership style) to look back if only to heal the wounds caused by our differences with him, savour the moments we shared in his vision and crucially look ahead with hope that his successors will have the courage to take a leaf from his book and also leave office inside the time frame currently dictated by the laws of the land.
Even as in many different ways we wrestle with a number of near insurmountable difficulties as a nation, the hope of better things to come, especially under the stewardship and assistance of Mogae’s hand picked successor, seems enough to spur us on.
Ten years on, Mogae leaves office March next year.
We look back and sigh with relief at the realisation that, the bumps notwithstanding, so much turned up all right for us as a nation.
It has been a decade of progress, pain and uncertainty.
So difficult the route we traversed seemed at times that elsewhere the weaker minded would have easily opted for arms.
Though to some of us he often came across as the most divisive thing to ever happen to Botswana (as when he clumsily supported Ian Khama against PHK Kedikilwe) Mogae’s departure brings home the personal sacrifices and career threatening risks he took early on in his tenure to reign in tribal supremacists who held tight to the ancient beliefs that their tribes were more senior than others. At least on the issue of tribalism, our country is indisputably better off at the close of Mogae’s reign than it was at the beginning of it. Of course, a lot still has to be done, but we can afford a smile in the belief that our county is no longer a hostage to the old tradition of tribal superiority.
It is thanks largely to him that our nation did not go up in flames as flares of tribal hatred threatened to incinerate us early on in his term.
We savour the realization that, thanks largely to his efforts, the wide-eyed threat of HIV/AIDS that threatened to annihilate us was stopped in its tracks.
Explicitly, the war has not yet been won, but achievements are there for even the blind to see.
Of course, it is a matter of debate whether the nation is better off as he departs than when he arrived.
But then like every one of us, Mogae made mistakes; some of them really big as to be unpardonable ÔÇô as when, in a moment of utter madness, he allowed his deputy to go on sabbatical leave a few months after taking office.
Though not a plausible enough an excuse, it can be said that he had to learn the ropes without the luxury of time on his side.
Also, unlike Quett Masire and Seretse Khama before him, Mogae came at a time when the nation had become much more enlightened, more discerning and, naturally, more demanding.
However one looks at Mogae’s presidency, what is not debatable is that for years to come his stay in office will have an overwhelmly enormous impact on the destiny of this country.
Personally, I did not agree with him on many, many issues.
But I get misty-eyed when I think of the fact that here was an ordinary man, working against extraordinary difficulties, from an ordinary background and less privileged upbringing, who against all odds worked his way up to occupy the highest office in the land.
That feeling alone often drove me to soften my criticism of him, even as it frequently turned out I was vehemently determined to raise the bars of expectation against him given his almost unmatched intellect, his formidable experience and unquestionable capabilities.
Of course, things could have turned out better and much more differently had he not chosen to reward many of his pals in cabinet with crucial portfolios for most of his rein.
As we listen to his speech tomorrow, back in our minds we have to accept that mistakes have been made.
We have to pardon him, as we live in the eternal hope – some kind of vague assurance – that what has happened has happened and that as we go forward, the future will be better than the past.
After all, as far as I can recall the man never laid any claims to infallibility.
Strange as it may seem, we should take strength from the assurance (vague as it could be) that under Khama, tomorrow will better than today.