Sunday, September 27, 2020

I thought this is what democracy means

There is a battle ragging. It is as much a debate on ideas as it is a battle on the semantics of words. It is the battle that cannot evade a linguist, whether armchair or corpus-based.
For one, I am convinced that there are national ideals which should be preserved regardless of political parties. They are matters of national greatness ÔÇô too great to be left in the palms of politicians whose principal preoccupation is to impress and woo voters. In the battle of ideas and words two terms have defined the battlefield.

These are democracy and patriotism. For instance, the BMD politicians have argued vehemently that they left the BDP because there was a lack of internal democracy in the party.

Those on the BDP side have argued repeatedly that the departed BMD men and women are good riddance for they lacked discipline and had an insatiable appetite for positions. I can hear the bullfrog voice of the big man questioning: Ke mang yo o sa rateng maemo? The undeniable fact is that the BMD formation has eaten away at the BDP core forcing it to regroup and hopefully introspect.
What has amazed me though as events unfold is how the BDP has fielded some of its weakest men to defend it. Why didn’t they earlier use razor sharp minds of persons such as Lesang Magang and others, to give their fight a bit of bite ÔÇô not that Mr Magang would be able to defend the indefensible.

The battle for the democracy term has been waged by His Excellency from the onset. He has already declared that there can be no democracy without discipline, something which led me to place his argument in a syllogism: There can be no democracy without discipline; There can be no discipline without punishment; Therefore there can be no democracy without punishment, that is, in the view of His Excellency.

I seem to understand democracy differently though. Its etymology, i.e. history of its origin, is to be found in the Greek word demokratia constituted by demos meaning the people and kratia meaning power or rule. I understand it to mean that leaders are chosen by the people ÔÇô that people decide on who should lead them or represent them. The voter is supreme while the elected is inferior.
This is important as Reinhold Niebuhr has pointed out that “man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary”. The right to choose representatives may so far be taken for granted since nationally we elect some of our councillors and MPs.

However, this is not true for the presidency since apart from the 1000 that nominate him, he is elected by less than a 100 MPs. In this country the right to elect a president has not been extended to the electorate. It would appear that voters elect the president by proxyÔÇô a proxy which though in the hands of MPs, was never granted to the MPs by the voters.

The right to elect the president is critical since the one who occupies the presidency wields much power and responsibility and as the constitution declares is “not [be] obliged to follow the advice tendered by any other person or authority”.

Now, in a democracy that should concern us. Power and responsibility aside, in a democracy people must choose those who lead them either as a country, town/village or council. But it is not just the presidency, there is much undemocratic rule going on in the country currently.
There are nominated councillors who make it to the council without the vote of the electorate. There are also MPs who are nominated into parliament. Such MPs bear a deceptive name: specially elected as if they were elected by the voters.

They were in fact appointed. Such MPs may end up as ministers with unimaginable powers and privilege when they were not elected by the voters into parliament. The sad thing is precisely this: the appointed MP is called into parliament (unelected by the people) by the president who himself has been unelected by the people. Batswana should find this state of affairs very undemocratic and troubling indeed.

Currently, our weakness as a country is that there are too many people who should be elected, but are instead appointed. That diminishes our democratic credentials and claim.

But democracy doesn’t only deal with voting. It also deals with the right of people to information. Information in government hands must be understood as public information since the government exists primarily to serve the public interest. The sooner the right to information act is implemented the better.

Another term which has defined the battled ground is patriotic. The adjective patriotic refers to having the love of one’s country. We have the Greeks to thank for this word, as well, as it is derived from patriotes meaning “of one’s fathers”. The word comes from the Greek term patris meaning “fatherland”. The private media in particular has been accused of being unpatriotic by some MPs and a few BDP operatives.

The attack is simple. If you express anything negative against the country, then you are unpatriotic. Now, here is the problem: what qualifies as negative material against the country? The best answer is: it depends on who is speaking. Anything from attacking lack of delivery to the awarding of tenders to friends and family all may qualify as unpatriotic.

What the critics don’t appreciate is that there is no one in Botswana who monopolizes the love of the fatherland. I am yet to see a Motswana who is unpatriotic. All Batswana from all political divides are patriotic ÔÇô the country is loved by all. Those who work for this country through private enterprises are no less patriotic than those who work in the civil service. This thing of “I love the country more than you” is really insulting and irritating.

Batswana of different persuasions should be able to have intelligent debates without those who can’t respond to the arguments playing the patriotic card. One is increasingly suspicious that patriotism is becoming a sick euphemism for excessive love for the ruling party.

There must certainly be space for divergent views. The words of the national anthem are right: “this land of ours is a gift from God; an inheritance from our forefathers”. All Batswana must claim the country and defend it the best way they know how. Some will prove patriotic by exposing injustice, corruption, and ignorance that occurs at national and local levels.

Some will prove to be patriotic by reading news on radio and television while others will do so by alleviating poverty and ignorance.


Read this week's paper

Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.