Monday, June 1, 2020

In peace and in war, security agencies should be weaved to sing from Human Rights hymn book

It is very important that in times of uncertainty such as what Botswana and indeed the world is going through, ordinary people are able to count on the professionalism of their security services to win the day. A few democratic countries where the civilian population has a seamless relationship with security services include India, United Kingdom, United States and Israel. Men and women of uniform in those countries are held in both awe and admiration. When the country is hit by any disaster, it is always the security services that make up the bulk of first responders.

They are the first to arrive and the last to leave scene; saving the most vulnerable including by making and serving them warm meals. Unless in very rare circumstances such as in riots, security services never use force against their own people.In short security agencies should never see their people as enemies. Civilian population return the favour with affection and adoration of the security services. And affection of security services by the civilian population goes way beyond absence of just ill will.It means an innate feeling of attachment that often translates into a desire to see success of these agencies beyond the battlefield.It looks like in Botswana we are not there yet. And we should ask ourselves why not.The media shares a portion of the blame in fueling a vigilante-like scrutiny of the armed forces by the public.There is a consensus that a Head of State needs the powers given Mokgweetsi Masisi by the State of Emergency.Long before parliament met to debate the State of Emergency, President Mokgweetsi Masisi had gone at length to say he “would not trample, abuse or obviate anybody’s rights” on account of State of Emergency.He said all the powers given to him would be used by the state machinery to fight Covid-19.

It would be an ignominious somersault were he to abandon his word hardly a week after the start of State of Emergency.Measured against his ambitions to build a society predicated on the rule oflaw, that would truly be reckless.President Masisi still has a long way before he wins many people’s trust.He still has an interest in proving that he is a responsible and trustworthyleader.Of course that would include government paying its workers all dues negotiated, agreed and promised long before covid-19. Vovid-19 should not bean excuse for holding backs dues long agreed.This pandemic, and also the State of Emergency provide a glorious opportunity for him to win all the people that still doubt his sincerity. Covid-19 can easily make Masisi a president of consequence.Leaders often shape their times and era. But in equal measure leaders are often shaped by circumstances.But as it were, depending on how everything pans up over the next few weeks,it might also become an opportunity for doubters to say “we told you so.”Those are the stuck vulnerabilities with which Masisi enters the covid-19 battlefield. He is a man on a cliff; as a result of the scale of ravages caused bycovid-19. But also a result of political baggage that have always been there, long before covid-19.

Based solely on rationality, it is very unlikely that he could risk his political capital with such a huge price to pay.But politicians never cease to surprise.The good thing for him is that Batswana are ready to give him all the benefit of doubt he requires.In the end this is really Masisi’s show. And only he can make or break it.He might use that benefit of doubt wisely. Or squander it. Either a prize or a price awaits him depending on what choices he makes. Across the globe politics in power are already facing public reprisals from their handling ofcoivid-19. Others may yet lose power from the backlash emanating from covid-19.That is how high the stakes are. Reports of police excesses persist, even though upon scrutiny some such reports look more like thumb-sucking. But still calls for restraint are in order. State of Emergency needs to be looked at in its entirety. However generous one wants to be – and Batswana have generally been generous- the regulations as recently published play into the hands of skeptics.

Ostensibly they were drafted to give law some teeth and with that create fear that government means business, and that anybody caught on the wrong side of the law would be summarily dealt with.That applies to those clauses and sections dealing with fighting the spread of fake news. Botswana Police say anybody caught disseminating information deemed”offensive and degrading” to leadership.That is heretic. This is like a script adopted from a typical tin pot African dictatorship of the mid-1960s. Fighting fake news should be a priority no matter how the leadership feels.The police and other security services read these laws and they decipher a world created with them in mind to rule with an iron fist. This establishes in them an imaginary world of “us against them.”To make matters worse the drip-drip allegations of overreach and possible abuse by state agencies make for an unwelcome distraction.

Add to that the frenzy of confusion spread by social media on such things like abuse in procurement and you have a perfect storm of total suspicion of ordinary citizens against the state.That is not what a democracy should nurture. All these will live on long after coronavirus has been defeated and gone.They will lead to soil the reputation of the president, including undermining achievements during his tenure and beyond – including his legacy.

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.