Monday, September 28, 2020

Khama, Mugabe and Ntuane

My honeymoon with Botswana president Ian Khama is not over and it won’t be for a very very long time to come.
Although he had a decade to prepare for his own presidency, I am sure he now finds himself beseeched by so much, both at home and abroad.

Needless to say, I am most impressed by Khama’s simple but effective move against Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.

I predicted as much about Ian Khama in my ‘Locusts Have No Kings’ article in The Sunday Standard of May 13, 2007 in which I said that Khama does not owe anything to the old despots of Africa “and that is why I am hopeful about his imminent presidency”.

I didn’t purport to know his political philosophy but pinned my hopes on the simple fact that Ian Khama is unfettered by old and outdated liberation war ideologies, retrogressive and meaningless camaraderie and has an opportunity to redirect African political history because he has a clean slate in the arena.
A BCP Central Committee member, writing from Australia, was less than complementary and wrote, among other things, that I was foolishly expecting things that would never happen owing to what he said is a collective responsibility within SADC.
“For Whande to have the slightest hope that Khama’s position towards Mugabe might be different from the rest of the SADC leaders is a big joke indeed,” wrote Mr Philip Bulawa.

Here we are today, only twelve months later, and Ian Khama has proved me right.
Khama has jolted SADC and his government is churning out weekly statements criticising Mugabe while other SADC leaders watch.

But, now, more and more leaders are denouncing Mugabe.
Khama went against the grain and caused other leaders to talk. He set an agenda totally different from other SADC leaders.

Today, Mugabe is no longer the sacred man he once was.
It took that phone call from Ian Khama to SADC Chairman, Levy Mwanawasa in Zambia, admitting that ‘we have a problem’ and demanding that something be done ‘about the situation in Zimbabwe’.

That phone call set a precedent in SADC and afforded South African President Thabo Mbeki an opportunity to display his moronic philosophy, inadequacy and cowardly approach in dealing with Africa’s problems.

Still further, other heads of state have suddenly found their tongues and voices as more and more now know where Zimbabwe is located.
Raila Odinga of Kenya has since been joined by Paul Kagame of Rwanda in openly denouncing Mugabe.

It was not a fluke either on the part of Botswana. Whereas governments used to ‘express concern’ over what was happening in Zimbabwe, now they place statements in newspapers condemning what is happening there, describing the current happenings as ‘disturbing’. (Sunday Standard, June 8, 2008).
Disturbingly, Odinga even alluded to military intervention.

To me, this is a clear indication that Ian Khama’s presidency is not going to condone dictator Robert Mugabe’s excesses, or anyone else’s for that matter. I believe this is what Botswana, and SADC, should have done since a long time ago. I do believe and hope that this kind of attitude will be maintained until Zimbabwe is forced into normalcy, until the region is liberated from being pulled back by a rogue and senile president in their midst.

At least Botswana is living up to its democracy by protecting democracy even beyond its own borders.

While the Khama administration pleases me well when it champions democracy outside its own borders, I feel very saddened and alarmed by some developments here at home.
Events surrounding the implementation of the Liquor Act, for example, do not auger well with Khama’s well meant intentions.

Sending people to bed, closing down peaceful music festivals and knocking on people’s doors at night telling them to shut off their radios and go to bed is hardly the stuff democracy is made of.

There are better ways of implementing the country’s laws and regulations, after passing and legislating laws that do not take any freedom, however minute, from the people. Any law that takes away something from a person’s individual rights is bound to be problematic, no matter how well-meaning. The key word is rights.

It has always been my hope that Botswana is the one to show the rest of Africa that a nation is stronger when its people enjoy unfettered rights and freedom.
It is true that the best governments are those that govern the least.

Then there is the unfortunate saga involving one of Botswana’s most brilliant young minds in the person of Specially Elected (Non Constituency) Member of Parliament, Botsalo Ntuane.
In my native Zimbabwe, non-constituency MPs are nothing more than Robert Mugabe’s stooges and praise singers who rubber stamp whatever Mugabe wants.

They are not expected to think independently or even just to think at all, but to add to the noise in praise of their benefactor and dear leader, thus cheating not only the people but parliament and the appointing president himself.

I was, therefore, fascinated to come across someone of Ntuane’s calibre who, along with his government, understood that being specially elected did not mean always agreeing with your ‘benefactor’ but to speak on behalf of the people of every constituency.

Specially elected means just that, specially elected.
There is a reason, a special reason, that visits on the individual, ‘forcing’ a president to put into parliament a special person, although not elected, who deserves to be there because of his qualities and dedication to public service.

You can imagine my disappointment when I read that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party had censured Ntuane and forced him to withdraw remarks he is said to have made to the people concerning the Liquor Regulations.
Forgive me, but I get a little jittery when a country like Botswana imitates the politics of Zimbabwe’s ZANU-PF. I have seen it before and watched it getting progressively worse and it scares me.

I am hoping that my hero won’t disappoint me because, if anything, Khama should have applauded Ntuane and took him on point blank on the verbal battlefield to vie for the minds of the people.
That is what I know about democracy, unless we take shortcuts like Robert Mugabe is doing up north.
This was an opportunity for President Khama to show more of himself and his tolerance of diverging opinion from within his own party instead of regarding Ntuane as a loose canon to be subdued and silenced.

But I am quite mindful of presidential aides, ministers and others who become too overzealous and misrepresent a president’s intentions in an effort to catch the President’s attention. I have lived through it and it terrifies me.
The Ntuane saga might have more to do with such overzealous presidential assistants than it has to do with President Khama himself.

If that is the case, then the aides did the President a disservice.
Silencing the likes of Ntuane leaves the BDP and, indeed, Botswana, poorer and would relegate this fine democratic state to the same level as Zimbabwe and other democratically defective dysfunctional African nations.

The BDP should let their people talk and, in turn, it should just answer them back, articulating their position.
When a party member behaves this way, it usually means that the party has not done a good job of informing the people, of listening. If people are well-informed, there is no reason or need to “protect” them by silencing voices in their midst.
I would like to hope that this is not what President Ian Khama stands for.

There is no one democracy for Africans and another for Europeans, Americans or, if you dare, for whites. We are in this together. Democracy is democracy and if we choose to embrace it, we should be cognizant of ‘pitfalls’, those things that Africans just won’t let go of.

Our presidents have the duty to consolidate and implement what we mean by ‘democracy’ and should not waste time redefining democracy as ‘African democracy’.

The likes of Mugabe are watching, and many people in Africa are also watching.

I hope Botswana won’t disappoint.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.