Monday, June 24, 2024

Great statesmen retire; despots want to continue through backdoor influence!!

On leaving office, many African presidents are confronted with the dilemma of what to do with what remained of a life which had, to that point, been characterized by positional power and privilege. This is even more a daunting task for those who retire from the presidency at a relatively young age and/or those who have limited intellectual compass to commit their energies to writing their memoirs or engage in academia by becoming ambassadors of lifelong learning.

For many, many years the image of African presidents was that of life presidents who could even be pushed in wheelchairs to their offices due to their advanced age. But this has significantly changed as many of the newer crops voluntarily exit from presidential power. Nonetheless, while many formally leave the presidency office, they mostly continue to play a critical role in the affairs of the country on the grounds that they are required to guide the new generation of political leaders to continue consolidating democratic practice and/or that they were still very young to retire and take on idle life.

In many ways a good number of African presidents who take on the title of ‘former presidents’ are in actual fact still in charge and continue to rule from the grave. They cannot therefore be used as role models for democratic Africa. Many of them come out as embittered former presidents who were/are reluctant to step aside hence their decision to continue their public service duties in a different capacity.

Outgoing Botswana president Dr Khama has revealed that he is merely leaving his post as President of the Republic of Botswana and that he will continue to play a role in the affairs of the country by among others championing the country’s national Vision 2036. He revealed that he was going to be the Champion of Vision 2036 upon leaving the presidency. It has also been rumoured that outgoing President Dr Khama will be the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Chief campaigner in the 2019 General Elections.

The sum of these seemingly innocuous decisions to task a former president with critical responsibilities is to ensure that he remains an influential player in our national space presumably because he is too young and still has a lot to offer to the nation. That the BDP want their campaign to be led by yesterday’s strong man is not my borne of contention for that is their family to run and run it the way they see it fit. However, my beef is that by merely leaving the presidency and then immediately assuming high profile national responsibilities that allow him to continue to exert unlimited and decisive influence and control on critical policy issues, outgoing President Dr Khama is in actual fact not going anywhere.

Outgoing president Dr Khama’s decision to continue in a different capacity begs the question on the extent to which former presidents must leave the presidency office. African democracy is very fragile and care must be taken to avoid creating fertile conditions that offer excuses for former presidents to cling on power albeit in a less direct way. At the risk of being too simplistic yet pragmatic, the Badge of Courage holds the view that it would be more desirable that outgoing African presidents completely retire as in departing from public service duties and domestic politics so that they do not compete for attention and reverence with their successors.

One of the greatest men ever to lead America – one of the greatest nations in the world – left the presidency at the age of 55 years ÔÇô a teenager in political circles. Perhaps if Barack Obama were an African president he would have reminded the world that he still had half a century of time to serve his people. However, Barack Obama of the Americas straight away departed from the commanding heights of the American national politics and this in spite of his successor’s questionable legitimacy that presented a valid excuse to go for another term.

Mr Obama was widely respected even by his rabid detractors in the Republican Party. He was professorial and had an international image that gave him moral claim to post-presidency bragging and direct interference in his successor’s administration. Nonetheless, Mr Obama decided to slither into obscurity in order to give his successor the space to exercise his prerogatives. This has meant that Barack Obama has become even more popular than he was during his presidency. Because he has chosen to be nowhere near state power and because his successor is frequently in the news for the wrong reasons, many Americans and indeed peoples of the world miss Barack ÔÇô that magnanimous, eminent and purposeful Black guy who entered the annals of history.

At the time former president Mr Festus Mogae retired, many Batswana were seemingly fed up with him and openly mocked him for being useless and as well as being in the pockets of his deputy, Dr Khama, then Vice President. But since his departure from the presidency, Batswana had come to miss their former leader mainly because while intervening in the national debate, he has largely kept out of active party politics that are inherently controversial, vulgar and divisive.

Like his predecessor, Festus Mogae became an elder statesman and a symbol of the entire nation. His approval ratings shot to new heights largely because he stayed above the fray and away from the partisan political arena. His absence made Batswana’s hearts to grow nostalgic hence Festus Mogae became widely admired for grace in spite of the countless scandals he presided over.

Generally, former presidents who choose to be active in partisan politics and public service duties that are characterized by cruel social inequalities and poor service delivery risk antagonizing a large section of citizens. Our public space is vulgar, abusive and has no respect for former presidents who refuse to enjoy a rosy image away from the political hullabaloo or who refuse to keep a healthy distance from domestic politics.

Outgoing President Dr Khama’s decision to continue his public service duties is likely to backfire. While the decision strongly presents him as a typical African leader who is reluctant to completely step down, his (re)deployment as the Champion of Vision 2036; the face of the Presidential Housing Appeal and so forth means that Dr Khama who has been in the political limelight for over 20 years wishes to continue to wield power and influence and be at the centre of attention.

Outgoing president Dr Khama certainly cannot comprehend life without positional power and privileged access into the cash box. Additionally and quite fundamentally, the outgoing president’s decision to continue with his public service duties reveals his worst fears ÔÇô that he cannot lay any moral claim as a respected statesman who could be engaged in international and regional assignments aimed at promoting peace and good governance. He has damaged his international image by his loafing behaviour on the international stage. This attitude means that outgoing president Dr Khama lacks the tactical nous for engagement and cannot play any constructive role even at the regional level. The outgoing president terribly lacks the wherewithal to foray onto the continental and international arena hence he prefers engagement with those who laugh when he humiliate them.

In sum, the decision by outgoing President Dr Khama to continue his public service duties and retain some considerable measure of influence through the backdoor is likely to damage his reputation by confirming fears by his critics that he is a typical African despot who cannot fathom life after retirement in spite of his documented wealth. It simply confirms our long held opinion that President Dr Khama was never going to readily and entirely surrender the captaincy of the ship. Withdrawal from a life of prominence and importance was never going to be one of his options at end of his mandatory two terms. The decision boldly confirms that indeed Dr Khama is a duplicate of a life president ÔÇô a doppelganger.               

In so far as it concerns the presidency of the republic of Botswana, the decision by the state to grant him his wishes to remain at the centre stage is likely to emaciate Mr Masisi’s presidency and render his administration virtually paralyzed. The decision further raises questions about Botswana’s commitment to democratic practices. As the continent’s torchbearer on democratic practice, albeit a fading one, Botswana is expected to do much better than permits an ex-president to rule from the grave.

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