Monday, October 19, 2020

Is President Ian Khama delivering on his 2008 pledges?

In his inauguration speech, Khama quoted Mogae’s last State of the Nation Address in which the former president had stated that he had not allowed political expediency and the pursuit of populism to cloud his judgement and service to the nation as the road to political expediency and populism could be lined with lined with cheering crowds.

Mogae had warned that harsh punishment waited a nation that spent unwisely in pursuit of immediate gratification rather than sustainable development.

“These are indeed wise words, and I wish to identify myself with. On behalf of the nation, Rre Mogae I wish to thank you Rraetsho for all you have done, and we wish you all the best in your retirement. Please feel free to call on me at anytime to render advice on any issue, and I hope I too can call on you for the same” said Khama.

Once on the pedestal as the country’s president, did Khama honour his pledges?  He unfortunately did not. It became apparent that Khama allowed political expediency to cloud his judgement by throwing money at most of the economic problems that the country faced. Most of the projects he initiated proved unsustainable and failed to yield the desired results.

When the country faced its first ever biggest civil servants strike in 2011, Khama refused to engage his predecessors for wise counsel despite the negative economic impact the strike had. He further refused to engage striking workers’ unions opting instead to hold kgotla meetings in which he declared that the workers could go on strike for as long as they wished.

Khama is also reported to have snubbed intervention by his predecessors in a bid to chart an end to the strike. This is despite the pledge he had made to the effect that he had made to Mogae to call on him at anytime to render advice on any issue if need be.   

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) elders tried in vain to engage Khama during the strike as he opted to tour the countryside on a bonfiring voyage while the strike was bringing the economy down on its knees.

As if that was not enough, when his party faced an imminent split after the tumultuous Kanye congress in which his cronies lost all the elective positions, Khama snubbed the party elders who called on him to smoke the peace pipe to avoid an imminent split. It was under his watch that the BDP suffered its first ever split that led to the formation of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) that later joined forces with the Botswana National Front (BNF) and Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) to form the Umbrella for Democratic Change UDC) that nearly toppled the BDP’s uninterrupted rule since independence in 1966.

The handling of these two particular issues pointed clearly to a change of leadership despite his pledge that “change of leadership does not mean radical changes in the way we have been setting out our objectives as agreed upon by the ruling party and government for this nation. Our party has a manifesto that I signed onto and the government has a national development plan that I am also a party to. However, in the course of the incoming administration you may detect a change in style and special emphasis on a number of issues. This should not cause alarm or uncertainty. Afterall, changes should be seen in the context of that no two people are the same. However, the overall objectives remain the same”.

It was also during Khama presidency that Botswana adopted its roof top diplomacy that was not in sync with the position of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union on a lot of issues including a declaration that Botswana would arrest Sudan’s President Al Bashir if he dared set his foot in the country.

Botswana adopted a lone ranger position on Zimbabwe after Robert Mugabe refused to accept an election defeat. Although Botswana finally toned down and accepted a coalition government in Zimbabwe, relations between the two neighbouring states were already strained.

Often times when SADC and AU took a position on a particular issue, Botswana would have long pronounced its stance that was not in consonance with the consensus. When other heads of state attended international meetings, Khama opted to delegate such functions to his deputy.

He did not even attend the United Nations summits opting to instead attend conservation meetings. The tendency denied Botswana the opportunity to be heard at the international stage because its head of state was preoccupied elsewhere.

It was under Khama’s rule that poverty levels and unemployment soared to uncontrollable highs despite his pledge for improved economic diversification. Although he promised special emphasis on employment creation and poverty alleviation, programmes for the youth, health, housing and the fight against crime, not much has been so far achieved.

It is unlikely that much will be achieved in the remaining months of Khama’s presidency despite his acknowledgement that Botswana is no longer seen as the only beacon of success in Africa. Khama correctly acknowledged that a growing number of countries on the African continent had become stable, democratic and increasingly attractive for investors, tourists and like spirited people.

It was also during his presidency that he implemented the alcohol levy that has led to the dwindling profits of Sechaba Holdings, the parent company for both Kgalagadi Breweries and Botswana Breweries.

Despite his four Ds of Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline roadmap to which he later added another D for Disciplne, Botswana is quickly losing the democratic credentials that it was always known for.

Tourist arrival figures are reportedly on the decline since Khama’s ascension to the presidency.

Khama also comes across as the only president who has never held a local press conference in which the media interrogated his economic policies as well as his political agenda.

His disdain for the private press is unrivalled. Khama has never held a press conference save for interviews with select media houses which in all fairness failed to make him account for the many ills that the country is grappling with.

Although professing to be a democrat and believing in democratic ideals, it is under his watch that the judiciary is facing its worst crisis ever following the suspension of four High Court judges for allegedly receiving housing allowances while occupying institutional houses.

Corruption is also reportedly rearing its ugly head under his watch. Some of his cronies linked to serious acts of corruption have not been taken to task and are still holding office despite the chilling allegations.

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