Let me be very blunt about it; I have a strong feeling that much more than all the Presidents Botswana has had, by far Ian Khama has the greatest potential to make the biggest difference to the course of our nation’s history.
But then, put side by side with those Presidents, he also has the greatest potential to blow it and bring about the most horrible results that could easily deliver us back to pre-independence ways of subsistence.
For him, the stakes and pressure to succeed are much higher than all his predecessors, and he knows it.
Even the BDP faithful are already muttering that, God forbid, should Khama fail hell will break loose.
The worst thing is that nobody will forgive or accept Khama’s failures.
Khama has thrived on a superhuman image and everyone expects him to live and deliver according to that image.
With Khama, the absolute incarnate the BDP has ever come up with, the party knows so well that in the case of failure, there does not exist a believable alternative that can be marketed plausibly to replace him and help them continue with their march of political domination.
For them, excited as they are about his arrival, it is also a crunch time.
Khama’s failure as president could see the BDP slide down and ultimately crumble.
There is so much pressure for Khama to succeed that, when reality finally weighs in, we could see him making some of the most childish, schoolboy mistakes we never expected even from Festus Mogae.
That is a reality the President has to contend with.
The irony is that all of it has been self-inflicted; a result of deliberately whipped up expectations created by the superhuman image that Ian Khama has worked so hard to bring about himself.
Much has been made of Khama’s potentially populist maneuvers.
He has done little to allay such fears.
Not long ago, I had a discussion with a University of Botswana academic who left me struck by his candour and troubled by the high prospects of his gloomy assertions coming true.
“For the first time in our history, this nation is going to see all those foreign reserves we have been talking about coming home to be put to use,” he said as a matter of fact.
I wondered just what all that money would be used for when we currently cannot spend a tiny fraction of it for lack of implementing capacity.
“To pay salaries,” the confident academic replied as a matter of fact.
It would be galling were Khama to go that route.
At all cost, the President should avoid throwing money at problems.
Through and through, Ian Khama has been depicted as a person who, rather than work at finding lasting and sustainable solutions to problems, would instead prefer to buy his way out.
It is also not a secret that popular as he is, many people still have a profoundly low regard of his intellectual and economic competence. (I am not worried about that because we had an intellectual for a president and look at what progress we made).
But the point is that, because much has been said about Khama’s discomforting potential to veer the populist route (and I dare add dictatorship), Khama should be careful not to turn his tenure as President into a self fulfilling prophecy of a randomly spending populist.
The recent years have seen the national problems become not just multiple but also more complex.
Under Khama, these problems are sure set to increase, not just in scale but also in complexity and intricacy. Expectations are also set to rise, spurred by a superhuman image that Khama has so arduously cultivated and nurtured over the years.
Besieged with such hard facts, the most natural temptation would be to throw caution out through the window and start spending his way out of problems.
Now that would be the beginning of real trouble.
Through and through, prudence, economic caution and austerity have been the hallmarks of Botswana’s survival.
To prove the university academic wrong, Khama should accept, as a ground rule, that when it comes to economic management, there is no plausible reason for an abrupt departure from carefulness and prudence that have brought this nation so much success.
Swiftly embracing populist contradictions and economic U-turns to the tried and tested policies would, I am afraid, confirm what critics have universally been flaunting (without much evidence though) that Khama is a populist par excellence.
Granted, as a leader of a political party, his first duty would be to ensure that his party remains in power. But the survival of the country is much more important and cannot be compromised, however high the stakes could be for Khama’s party.
The concern expressed by the university academic of Khama bringing home the reserves for a spending spree is shared by many people.
It is a result of the fact that Khama’s fan club, who are usually seen dancing around him and keeping everyone else away, do not themselves have a properly grounded grasp of economic issues.
There is a fear among many people that this fan club may want to incite the president to take extraordinarily bizarre steps (of using more money and less brain) to solve national problems.
Unless the President gets really good people to surround himself with, his tenure may turn out to be both an economic and political disaster.
Those fears may well be unfounded, but he is advised to start allaying them.
This column first appeared on 02 March 2008, (a month before Khama became State President).