A friend of mine came to check on me over the weekend. It had been ages without seeing each other. And, like any other reunion after such a long time, we had a wonderful time reminiscing about days gone by. Ours was not only a session to reflect on the past, we also talked in detail about the future prospect of our village and beyond. Although it was an exciting get-together there were also couple of issues that really bothered me.
More than anything else I was troubled by the fact that he has decided to give Botswana his back – in a literal sense. He has decided to settle the other side of the moon, in America. And narrating this development, I could tell that he had reached a personal milestone. America, according to him, is now his first home. He has basically abandoned his hometown of Kanye. Why he has opted for America consumed much of our conversation. In this instalment I wish to share crucial issues that emerged from the friendly chat with my self-imposed exiled colleague.
My friend left Botswana under government scholarship to study in Canada. Then, things were going north for my country; we had money. I mean serious monies, obviously, generated from diamond sales. Contrary to experiences elsewhere in many other developing countries, especially in Africa, our education system was functional as was the whole public service.
Teachers were rewarded well. They had relatively decent working conditions.
A teacher then could buy a brand new car without having to worry about tomorrow. They were, effectively, proud of their profession. And the community accorded them the much needed respect so that they can effectively discharge their duties. And this sense of professionalism was not only limited to the teaching profession. The public service in general was a place to be for many locals. Merit was the chief determining factor when it came to progression. We were, in fact, an exemplary case of good governance in public service for many other developing countries. Things were really going our way.
Upon finishing his studies, my friend did consider coming back home.
But he chose to stay, initially, to work for few years – meant to acquire much needed experience. It was a wise move. But as time went by he found himself a partner and, sooner than expected, he was a married man. Before he knew it he had two kids to support. That was the end of his dream of coming back home. Up to that point in our conversation I found nothing wrong with why he will stay overseas, rather than coming home. The good part of his stay in America was that all the time he was proud to tell anyone who cared to listen about his roots. He was proud of Botswana. And that gave him the glimmer of hope that one day he will come back to Kanye.
That hope, however, was shuttered when things started going pear shape for our country in the late 1990s. A shift in approach by the new captains meant that the country abandoned everything and anything that distinguished it from many others in the continent. We started to give undue power to politicians, thereby limiting those of civil servants – especially at the key ministries of Finance and Development Planning and, to some extent, Local Government and Lands. At Finance it was clear the priority was about development. Equally, Local Government brought services to end users.
It was meant to gather challenges affecting people and in turn provide solutions that best addressed identified challenges. The rise of politicians in the late 1990s effectively changed policy direction and overall governance of this place. With that everything started to go south.
By the mid 2000s, it was clear that my friend was never going to come home. Botswana was a country under siege. We had reached rock bottom as a people. Problems were emanating from all sides with far reaching implications for our society. A growing culture of corruption and impunity was taking shape in our public service. Sad, the leadership opted to look the other way. Consequently, we have as a country joined a league of failed states. You do not to look far to appreciate the sorry state in which we find ourselves as a country. The education system is in a mess. Not only are students failing at a historic level, the infrastructure is also failing.
This failure, unfortunately, is man made. Who can forget the Shakawe Senior Secondary mess in which millions were wasted on buildings without mere brick force? All that we could get was an apology from senior official of the Chinese company building the school. On top of that apology, we were refunded money that was meant to buy brick force! Welcome to the new Botswana.
And this is precisely why my friend find it hard to come back home. He cannot risk the future of his kids by getting them through our declining education system. He feels sorry for teachers who are expected to deliver under the current regime, one that does not acknowledge the centrality of teachers in the future of our country. He also cannot understand the paralysis that has engulfed us as a people. To him, we pretend that things are ok! And he cannot for a second allow himself and his kids to suffer under such a set up.
I took time after he left to appreciate his contentions about the current Botswana. Indeed, I shared similar sentiments with him. We are a country at crossroads. Sadly, the political leadership in charge of the republic seem not bothered that things are getting out of control. They appear to condone corruption. They come across far removed from everyday worries of many Batswana. But they need to face reality and start with much needed reforms by bringing back pride to our teachers. They need to restore trust among public servants. With those modest reforms, I am certain my friend will come back home and help make Botswana what our founding fathers envisaged many years ago.