Monday, June 1, 2020

If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it

Illinois, USA: By imploring His Excellency the President of Botswana, Dr Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi to rebuild Botswana, the Right Rev David Taote Mapitse is illuminating the extent of the deconstruction from which the country finds herself suffering because of poor leadership and short-sightedness. He could have not picked a more relevant passage than Nehemiah chapter two. Upon hearing of the massive destruction of Jerusalem, Nehemiah, the prophet, weeps and prays faithfully, even fasting for days. He begs a leave from his service to the king to return to the land of his ancestors [the city of Judah] to lead in the reconstruction of Jerusalem. His mission was to restore dignity to the graves desecrated by the fires. The Rev Mapitse’s sermon nudges His Excellency to get his hands dirty to rebuild Botswana. The Rev Mapitse enumerates a list of things gone wrong in Botswana society: high unemployment, stinking poverty, white-collar crimes, extreme violence against females, and of course, institutionalized corruption. The list is not exhaustive.

The President could be seen nodding his head and stretching a broad smile. The distance between understanding the message and working hard to reconstruct the Botswana that all of us dream of is as wide as it is a reality. While at it, as a fellow preacher, I dare push forward the Rev Mapitse’s sermon of reconstruction with the wisdom by Apostle Paul when he beseeches the Corinthians to keep good character to overcome temptation from corruption. In the very direct tone he is known for, Paul says in chapter 15, verse 33 of the first book to the Corinthians; “Do not be deceived, bad company corrupts good character.” (English Standard Bible) In short, President Masisi’s agenda to combat and defeat corruption so that his government can give a dignified livelihood to every citizen whose resources had been emasculated by the few hands of members of the inner circle since independence is overzealously ambitious, but not an impossible mission.

To accomplish the agenda, the president should surround himself with men and women of impeccable integrity, who will not think twice about cracking a whip on the wrongdoers and who will not demonstrate favouritism. The president took an oath to serve and uphold the laws of the land, to make sure they are upheld without fear or favour. He cannot afford to be selective in identifying who is involved in this corruption. The stories as reported in the mass media about the looting are depressing to many of us who have struggled perennially to earn a living while fellow citizens born with silver spoons in their mouths have been taking away from the poor without sparing kind thoughts. If President Masisi should do what Nehemiah did in Jerusalem, it would require him to whip close friends, sack relatives, punish the ruling party faithful and indiscriminately apply tough love across a rotten nation without letting anybody tie his hands to the back. He must be ready to look each of us in the eye and tell us that we belong in prison. This is not going to be an easy road for him to travel, but that is what cleaning up the rot means. And the good thing is that President Masisi needs no lecture from anyone, he knows what it takes.

The role of the Church

In my recently released book; Wrestling Botswana Back from Khama, it is clear that I am disenchanted with how the church has been fulfilling its praise and worship role toward the sitting government. The Church of Christ has been moribund, and I call out specific instances in which the Church waited on the regime to set an agenda and we played according to the secular rules dictated for us by the political leadership and public service officials. As the Church, we became obsessed with appeasing the master to be able to gain access to many things sponsored by the government. We abdicated our duty to safeguard the lives of fellow citizens and passed the buck to the private media, opposition politicians or the ruling party backbench. The Church muted its voice on rampant transgressions against human rights and, conveniently, we white-collar-strapped men endeared ourselves to the ruling elite to join its rank and file in parliament and council chambers. Issues of social justice were ignored by the Church in the midst of a moral abyss even naked eyes could see. The Church as an organized institution became a spill-over think-tank for the ruling elite and, in rare moments when those entrusted to preach or make bold pronouncements on our behalf were accorded the platforms; they did so with trepidation and sanitized the corruption where government officials and political leaders were involved.

But, in a democracy, there is a clear separation of powers between State and Church; we cannot afford another five years of the Church of Botswana (in the mould of the Church of England). The Christian leaders (African Instituted Churches, Evangelical Fellowship Botswana and Botswana Council of Churches) must reconfigure the purpose of our existence as commissioned servants to proclaim the truth to the ends of the world, no matter who is involved. The role that the Church can and should play in a democracy cannot be overemphasized because, if we had taken our duty seriously in the past, we would have remained the conscience of society that criticized the immorality that was happening, immorality which resulted in the disintegration of political organisations, disappearance of people under custody, unresolved, mysterious murders and so forth.

Ethics and Integrity Directorate

President Masisi underscored the varied socioeconomic challenges that he inherited from the previous administrations and clearly articulated how his government is going to put in place mechanisms that will respond to these problems. But to limit myself to the role of the church, given a powerful sermon, I am intrigued by the news that His Excellency shared with Batswana. In a bold testimony, President Masisi said:

Parliament has passed the law on the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities. To operationalize this law, the Ethics and Integrity Directorate is being established [as we speak]. In the same vein, I would like to reiterate that I am committed to the rule of law in this country, as that would enhance confidence and send message to all of us that the law must be abided [by] or face consequences of non-compliance.

The above quotation is the sweetest music to my ears. The above quotation is found under the sub-heading “Fighting Corruption” in the President’s speech. It is a bold testament of one with the determination to overcome what has held back the development of our nation. Corruption is cancerous, and those deeply involved and benefiting from corrupt and illicit ways are heartless but organized syndicates that can marshal hitmen to eliminate whoever is determined to frustrate their looting. I had ambivalent reactions to the boldness of this new president, who has been given a fresh mandate by the people, a democratic majority who decided to test him out. Certainly, President Masisi shows no fear for his life to declare war against corruption. But his statement still begs for those who share in his vision to ceaselessly pray for his life, and the Church represented by the powerful sermon rendered during the inauguration should make it a practical undertaking to dedicate special days of prayer as the nation builds up to the annual President’s Day Church Service. The place of the old English hymn; “Onward Christian Soldiers” couldn’t be better contextualized for this nation.

If the Church had taken its place in the previous administrations, issues of ethics and integrity would have been pushed forward by this institution as a moral regeneration cradle. But the Church has allowed herself to be the conduit through which blood-stained money is laundered, and flamboyant preachers have been harboured by fellow Christians in the abuse of a scripture; “Touch not my anointed…” I found myself asking who would likely occupy the directorship of this new agency charged with ensuring our morality is aligned to the laws of the land. I wondered to myself about the men and women who would help this leader charged with the execution of such a mammoth task and what they would bring to enhance the nation’s pulse in responding to the malady of these corruption cases. This directorate is not just another agency at which we shall flaunt our academic credentials and necessary work experience to be on staff. The success of the directorate is about the impeccable qualities that are scarce yet sought after by leaders. I am convinced the son of Edison and Precious means well to combat corruption.

Vultures

Truth be told, the praises and ululations that President Masisi is being showered with are nothing new. We did the same when Lieutenant General Ian Khama came into the presidency. One cannot help but remember that Khama himself used the term “vultures” to describe those he disparaged. Vultures don’t kill any prey. They wait for a mighty beast to kill, eat and leave the carcass. They come in droves to feast. They are lazy but enjoy free lunch. President Masisi should recognize all of us who don’t stand up tall to work hard to secure the posterity of our country, but are always waiting on the sidelines to pick up the crumbs or sometimes even fight hard to elbow out others to get the lion’s share. President Masisi should pay attention to such individuals, and when he picks them to make up his inner circle, he should do so knowing that they are opportunists who won’t stop until they benefit at a personal level. Such are the individuals who cannot be trusted to aid the president in his war against corruption. I reiterate the line by Paul; “don’t be deceived, bad company corrupts good character.”

Demigod

The only interest such individuals have is to make the leader a demigod. We felt the brunt of one strongman and moribund watchdog institutions. We cannot and should not praise you when you suffocate the Parliament and Judiciary as head of the Executive. At the end of the inauguration ceremony, there was a poignant mark of distinction by which the nation will and should grade you for the next five years. You demonstrated your respect for the other two branches of Westminster democracy by having the Chief Justice and Speaker flank your sides. This is commendable and those who love you genuinely and who are within earshot should keep whispering this reality. It may seem like a long time, but five years will flash by rather quickly, even faster in front of your eyes than for most of us. You have a clean slate and a score sheet against which your priorities will be measured. You must earn another five years after this term, and this will be determined by your execution of the National Transformation Strategy that you announced during your inauguration ceremony. But not everyone in your inner circle means well. Don’t be fooled. If the Son of God had in his inner circle a traitor and a denialist at the hour of need, how would we have fared? Trust God as you roll your sleeves to clean up the stinking rot of corruption in Botswana. 

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