In the middle of proceedings at the launch of Daniel Kwelagobe as parliamentary candidate for Molepolole sometime last year, the entire marquee, all of a sudden, went wild with ululations and chants of Festo. There was total euphoria. Everyone leapt to their feet in awe. Excitement clouded the audience. The atmosphere left me all goose bumped while the scenario left me goo-goo eyed. Former President of both the BDP and the country, Festus Mogae had just entered the tent unannounced, much to the delight and surprise of many who had thronged Molepolole to witness Kwelagobe’s launch. Mogae walked in through the back entrance of the marquee waltzing down the aisle to the top table greeting those within his reach. Everytime he shook someone’s hand he would bow down his head. When his hand was free from the shakes, he would punch the air shouting the Tsholetsa slogan. I pierced him with my misty eyes in great admiration until he was seated. Mogae got a rapturous welcome befitting a respectable statesman. I felt infatuated.
As if reading my mind, Botsalo Ntuane took to the podium and told Rre Mogae how we terribly miss him and that the more we see him the more we get to really miss him. I concur and can brazenly declare that I miss Rre Mogae and his time as President of our Republic. Though Mogae’s reign had its down sides, when I compare situations of then and now, I am tempted to use the maxim, better the devil you know. I mean, who would have ever thought Mogae’s departure would usher in total erosion on our civil liberties. It never dawned upon us that the introduction of, honestly unnecessary security agencies would turn out to legitimize harassment and killing of citizens with such impunity. For so many years we have always had good times at the famous Big Tree in Maun during year-end holidays. It has become a tradition that every festive season people bring with them cooler boxes and enjoy their drinks by the river banks at The Big Tree. This year armed soldiers and police officers made sure to ruin our good times as they went around ordering people to spill their drinks on the ground. Common sense would dictate that since the place is used for social gatherings, people should be allowed to have their drinks while the local government authority provides dust bins and takes responsibility of ensuring the place stays clean. Are they all so dull not to know we are there as domestic tourists and as such we expect some hospitality? It would seem all they could care about was to please someone who hates alcohol consumption at the expense of our leisure.
Ever since Mogae left, foreigners are deported willy-nilly without explanations, all thanks to some silly piece of legislation in our constitution. Nowadays if you have anything personal against a foreigner all you need is to claim they have insulted the president. The poor foreigner would not be given a chance to contest your lies in a court of law as they would be expeditiously declared persona non grata without being given the opportunity to defend the allegations brought against them.
During Mogae’s presidency, imbibers and revelers were never denigrated and punished so harshly. When Mogae was still president, people talked on their phones freely without the fear of espionage and intrusion on their private lives. When he was still president, decisions, programs and interventions were associated with the government whereas nowadays all programs are named after and solely associated with the president, a sign that we are in the era of one-man rule. It’s no longer about government but rather the president.
It is disheartening to note that since Mogae left, BDP has turned into KFC. Before you salivate, by KFC I do not refer to the chicken outlet but rather the Khama Fan Club (KFC) for that is exactly what the BDP has since become.
During Mogae’s tenure, our country was never gripped by so much fear and mistrust among the citizenry and BDP had a central committee that provided leadership guidance without fear or favour. He came across as someone who never fooled himself into thinking he had the monopoly of leadership acumen. Mogae never behaved as though he was the only person who loved this country.
Mogae, unlike other leaders, led this country through consultation with relevant authorities and it was clear he had no phobia for advice. When he erred, he was ready to admit. Infact I remember at some point when he said he was not infallible. This is the man we always accused of globe trotting when infact he was doing what a State President ought to do. He interacted with world leaders trying to put Botswana on the world map. For all the trips he undertook overseas, Mogae travelled in his capacity as the President of the Republic of Botswana and not as a Committee Member of some private organization.
I miss Mogae for he dedicated his energies into the fight against HIV/AIDS and not the boondoggle that the Ministry of Trade and Industry is busy engaged in as they try to shut down the alcohol industry. I miss Mogae because he was accessible to the private media and as such we could hear his thoughts and aspirations for the country. This is the man who stayed for ten years in the dilapidated State House infested with ants. This is the same gentleman who was reluctant to purchase himself a new fleet of presidential cars, aeroplane and caravans even when his transportation put his life at risk.
This is the man who freely mingled with the corporate world and danced to Shauriako. I trust I am not the only one missing Mogae because every year on the occasion of Botswana’s Independence Day; Mogae would invite people, journalists included, to dine and wine with him at the State House. I miss Mogae because, while he was President, I could, without fear, criticize him when I thought he was not serving my interests well. Without fear, I wrote that he was not speaking for me (Mmegi, April 21, 2006) when he wrote a letter congratulating Mugabe on the occasion of Zimbabwe’s independence. He had said he was congratulating Mugabe on behalf of Batswana and I distanced myself from his statement, without fear. Truth be told, nowadays our government claims to espouse principles of democracy yet even the blind can see we have become prisoners in our motherland.
I miss Mogae because his departure brought in so many changes in our country that we never anticipated. I miss Mogae because, like all of us, he made his mistakes but was ready to accommodate alternative views. This Oxford educated man was indeed a true statesman. Not only do I miss Rre Mogae, I also respect him for he left before his reputation was besmirched.