Saturday, November 28, 2020

Identity politics still rife in Botswana

President Mokgweetsi Masisi came into power promising Constitutional Review. In that he was absolutely right. And for a while was the most enduring evidence of his political acumen. Indeed, there is acute need for more liberal Constitutional Reforms. These will include giving parliament more explicit powers. And making members of parliament more insulated from political party machinery that currently makes it hard for them to perform their constitutional mandate. For true reforms to happen they have to be preceded by genuine dialogue across the nation.

Government and the governing party will have a big role to play in all these reforms. But they must embrace all opinions. And desist from behaving like they have a monopoly ion truth – as they so often do on other things. Tribal divisions in Botswana remain. More than fifty years after independence, many tribes in Botswana feel deeply marginalized. Such tribes are genuinely worried for their languages, histories and cultures. They want all those recognized. People should never be denied to practice their customs., simply because those customs form intricate part of their being.

At the moment many languages in Botswana are getting extinct because they are neither officially recognized nor taught in schools. This might easily be termed cultural genocide. These tribes are increasingly getting resentful of some bigger tribes recognized by the laws of the country in many facets and manifestations. In contrast, so-called bigger tribes continue to exude open triumphantilism – obviously an outcome of contentment that their supremacist instincts continue to be recognised. Tribalism in Botswana, like elsewhere in Africa is a problem that political leadership feel very uncomfortable talking about, even as it is clear a majority of them are tribalists or are at the very least often happy, willing and ready to use it to further their political fortunes.

One way to further entrench tribal divisions and related strife would be to pretend they do not exist. There are many in Botswana who say for unity, the Constitution should not be touched, because as they say it has served Botswana well. They forget that, such Constitutional longevity is a result of sacrifices made by smaller tribes, which sacrifices cannot, crucially be guaranteed going forward. In Botswana, as is the case elsewhere, the elite are by far the biggest culprits when it comes to stoking ethno-cultural divisions. In the past the elite have managed to opportunistically resuscitate these tribal tensions every time they were not happy about something within their economic clusters, only for them to go back to their economic classes when their demands were met, appeased or placated. This has left the lower classes in the lurch – with tribal grievances simmering unattended.

In short, the poor have always been a fallback position of the rich when it comes to tribal politics. Tribal minorities need to be given land rights. At the moment these tribes are not recognised neither through districts of their own nor land boards of their own. There is for example Ngwato Land Board, Rolong Land Board, Kweneng Land Board etc.But within these tribal territories their vast swaths of lands that house deeply unhappy people. Many people do not call for Constitutional Reforms lightly. It means a lot to them. They are well aware of the structural risks such reforms pose to the entire truss that is the nation.

A closer observation of Botswana’s social media terrain reveals that hate speech is growing. In no small measure, tribal inequality has a role to play. The Constitutional Reforms promised by Masisi are for many an art of state building. Any further deferment of those amount to delay of nation-building. Failure to address such issues has in other places often led to political instability and unrest. Botswana can still dodge the bullet.

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