Saturday, April 4, 2020

Khama and intellectuals should pull together

Vice president Ian Khama is a stone’s throw away from the helm. He needs all and sundry, including his critics, to run society effectively.

But Khama and the intellectuals, especially those at the University of Botswana, come across as if they don’t need each other. They’re not moving in tandem due to rigid mindsets, mutual mistrust and adversarial politics. They can’t maintain focus on the bigger picture as they don’t realise that notwithstanding ideological differences, it’s imperative that they should support each other and unleash a positive revolution in our polity.

Botswana may experience opposition from its neighbours which would necessitate concerted counter-measures here at home. Our relationship with some of our neighbours might get difficult, particularly if Botswana ultimately decides to accommodate the US military, Africom. Some SADC states have already indicated that the regional body has formerly adopted a position against hosting the Africom. But Botswana, which hopes to reap some dividends from the Africom, says it’s unaware of such a resolution.

Another potential source of trepidation is that already South Africa is surreptitiously trying to exclude Botswana from the benefits of the 2010 World Cup. And given some sentiments that Khama once expressed against the ANC government, he should expect his detractors in South Africa to be suspicious of him and put a spoke in his wheels. At one point, Khama opined that Botswana needed a strong army, as he thought the ANC government was likely to fail to empower the Blacks. He thought such failure had the potential to trigger violent internecine clashes which were bound to trickle into Botswana. Some ANC militants haven’t forgotten Khama’s statement. Unless they abandon their grudge, they may intelligently sabotage his government. It’s clear that some of our neighbours wouldn’t like to see an economically and politically strong Botswana. So, Khama needs to work creatively with local intellectuals and other stakeholders to protect Botswana from any challenges it may encounter.

Khama and the intellectuals have two choices: to continue to work at cross-purposes and destroy each other for political expediency, or empower each other for Botswana. They should be persuaded to reconcile their differences and manage their relationship wisely. If they escalate political and social conflicts, we stand to lose a great deal. And if Khama is not yet convinced that he needs to establish a smart partnership with local intellectuals, he would need foreign intellectuals to serve his government as consultants. Such intellectual dependence may have tragic consequences.

As of now, Khama is insurmountably popular. But one great superman can’t make a country. Khama should use his popularity to secure the cooperation of a wide cross section of the populace to achieve Botswana’s huge ambitions in Vision 2016. He should be flexible and allow the intellectuals and other development activists to influence him positively. He should display strong adaptive capacities. Rigidity and stereotypical thinking hinder leaders from exploiting obvious opportunities.
Local intellectuals have scathingly criticised Khama because of the way they perceive him. This criticism might intensify once he becomes president.

Khama has also decided to distance himself from his detractors at UB. In the past, several attempts were made to invite him to officiate at some events organised by UB, but he declined the invitations, citing busy schedules as an excuse. Ostensibly, part of his reluctance to attend was inspired by his perception of UB academics. Hence, many Batswana were shocked to see Khama at the recent UB graduation ceremony. Some genuinely believe president Festus Mogae diplomatically prevailed over him to attend.

I repeat; the artificial divisive wedge between Khama and our intellectuals is a hindrance to development and progress. They should radically change their approach. Khama is about to become university chancellor. Even if he decides not to take up this position, he and the UB people still need to pull together to develop the university, and turn Botswana into a phenomenal success.

Khama and the intellectuals shouldn’t allow personal differences or emotionalism to stop them from collaborating and doing grand glorious things for Botswana. As privileged citizens and pathfinders, they should always be progressive in outlook. They should constructively ponder on the effects of their actions on the lives of the wretched of the earth and posterity.
But it’s patent that to the extent that Khama and the UB intellectuals don’t understand each other, there will be no rapprochement. The problem is that many intellectuals have already rigidly labelled him a dictator who is destined to disastrously ruin Botswana.

Psychologists call this the catastrophising fallacy. Apparently, Khama has also irreconcilably succumbed to the fallacy that intellectuals specialise in criticising him because they despise and hate him. This toxic mutual blame wastes time and energy. It prevents mutual intellectual pollination between Khama and the UB academics. Both Khama and the intellectuals have a limited time on the planet. They should discard destructive attitudes and fully unleash their potentials, and leave Botswana much better than they found it.

For a significant mindset transformation to come to pass, Khama and the intellectuals should interact more often at formal and informal levels. In particular, the two sides should devise a mutually beneficial modus operandi based on authentic comradeship and patriotism. As of now, the intellectuals over-use the obsolete and futile “assault method” which causes Khama to recoil, keep quiet and ignore the “noise makers”. The latter should accept that whether they like it or not, Khama has become an institution. He has been socially and politically manufactured by our institutional apparatuses, and we should influence him to use his immense power constructively. If the intellectuals genuinely want to help in the development of Botswana, they should secure his cooperation and not perpetually behave as if they’re hell-bent on bashing and discrediting him. Unless attitudinal change occurs, the UB intellectuals are likely to be marginalized by Khama’s government. Such an eventuality could produce fatalism and paralysis in local academia and impede development.

But Khama should also realise that he’s currently sitting on gold. Botswana has now produced so many educated and wise people who attended some of the best universities in the world. Many of our top-notch thinkers are under-utilised because of our dysfunctional politics of factionalism. Botswana will gain tremendously once we all subordinate our sectarian interests to our national interests, and allow our best people to serve us with passion. If Khama doesn’t shift gears and accommodate the best people, we may end up losing them to countries which are willing to put them to good use.

Our intellectuals have depicted intellectual chauvinism by contemptuously questioning Khama’s educational credentials. Intellectual humility requires that we only think of how best we can combine our collective wisdom to achieve our goals. A mark of solid intellectual maturity is the ability to recognise that you can always learn a lot even from people with inferior educational achievements. Evidently, many factors other than formal education contribute to leadership effectiveness. Hence, some highly educated people are not successful leaders.

In conclusion, the enormous potential that Khama and our intellectuals possess can only produce a positive revolution if they shift gears and comradely accommodate each other according to the principle of friendly and harmonious collaboration.