In a Saturday afternoon when he felt light-hearted enough to entertain the crowd by breaking out of presidential character and dancing to a pre-recorded party song as well as acknowledging two of his nicknames (‘Lekgoanyana’ and ‘Tshetha’), President Ian Khama also felt comfortable enough speed-addressing charges that he is a dictator.
Although he never actually delved into the substance of the such charges, he made a quite interesting point.
“The opposition will not tell you about the successes of the government; all they ever do is tell lies and attack me, calling me a dictator. I must be the only dictator to be judged the number one ruler in Africa ÔÇô I don’t know about being the number one dictator,” Khama said.
The president is indeed doing very well in political beauty contests on the continent. Last year, he was, alongside Mauritius’ prime minister, Dr Navin Ramgoolam, named Africa’s best performing leader in the Africa Leadership Index by the Nation Media Group of Kenya. In the same month, the Positive Peace Index and Global Peace Index, graded Botswana among the best governed and most peaceful nations. Botswana was placed first in Africa and 41 in the world in good governance and 32nd out of 162 countries in the most peaceful index. This year, a week before President Barack Obama hosted the first ever US-Africa Leaders Summit at the White House, Gallup released a poll in which Khama emerged as the second best performing leader in Sub-Saharan Africa. The best in the poll was Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali who scored 86 percent to Khama’s 81 percent.
The president is also getting very good press internationally. An online South African publication called Daily Maverick has written that “Khama has overseen Botswana’s consolidation of its position as one of Africa’s best-governed countries, with impressive economic and development indicators.” A prominent blogger named Laurene Powell Jobs says that “Khama is a bold and thoughtful leader, part of a new generation of African leaders who are seeking not to extract or exploit their nations’ natural resources but rather to preserve them for the benefit of all citizens, including those yet to be born.”
Although Khama places a high premium on international rankings and praise, he didn’t quote examples from his political career to counter the charge that he is a dictator. For its part, the opposition has maintained that research organisations that conduct these polls are distorting Botswana’s reality. The argument that the Botswana Congress Party has made is that these organisations rely on GDP and inflation levels. This view hews close to that expressed by some leading economists who contend that GDP is a poor indicator of socio-economic well-being. They further contend that economic growth (which GDP measures) and prosperity are two very different things. First used during the Second World War, the GDP matrix was used by countries that needed to know what their economies were capable of producing so they knew how much financial effort they could put into the war. Over decades, GDP came to be identified with economic progress which is something that its originators never intended.
Botswana and Japan would be one the most suitable examples to illustrate the latter point. Botswana has experienced exponential economic growth in the last several years but has one of the highest rates of geographic concentrations of income inequality in the world. In what has become known as the Lost Decade, Japan’s GDP stagnated in the 1990s and remained sluggish even after those 10 years, largely because of the global slowdown in 2000. That notwithstanding, the country scores better than industrialised peers like the United States and Canada in health and education.
Khama’s statement comes three months after the two of his predecessors expressed grave misgivings about his style of administration. At the funeral of the former Umbrella for Democratic Change Deputy President, Gomolemo Motswaledi, many could not believe their ears when former president, Sir Ketumile Masire, criticised Khama. Never once mentioning him by name, the former president lamented what Botswana has become under Khama’s leadership. Khama’s predecessor, Festus Mogae, was even more blunt, speaking bitterly about the tangle of pathology that characterises present-day Botswana. While also not mentioning Khama by name, Mogae told an American TV channel in Tanzania that “the current regime doesn’t respect the rule of law” and that the country is “regressing” on the gains it has made following independence from the British.
As in previous elections, the BDP campaigned on its record but in the particular case of Khama, that makes for some awkwardness because he has to associate himself with the legacy of two past presidents who have publicly distanced themselves from the way he conducts political business.
“We have a solid record of successful development programmes,” Khama said at the BDP rally.
Earlier he had sought to dismiss the opposition’s criticism that the BDP government is corrupt by pointing out that it was none other than that same government that formed the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC).
“Who established DCEC? Wasn’t it us?” asked Khama and getting the right answers from an enthusiastic crowd decked out in party colours. “If we wanted to be corrupt and loot state coffers, we wouldn’t have established DCEC.”
He was associating himself with the legacy of Masire who established DCEC during whose administration.
While Mogae may believe that the “current regime has no respect for the rule of law”, Khama told the BDP rally that “we are guided by the law, by our constitution.”
Outside BDP forums, the president has also been able to passively immunise himself against charges that he is a dictator by actively precipitating a situation where he firmly retains the upper hand. One private newspaper staple is of editorial comments that make the charge that Khama is a dictator. However, in at least two instances when he has made surprise early-morning visits to newsrooms of as many newspapers and offered an interview, those supposed to be asking the tough questions they do in their editorials only found themselves sniffing Khama’s crown.
This year’s high-stakes election has prompted the president to not only come out of his shell but to talk about issues he has been known to avoid ÔÇô like his race. Speaking about tourism, Khama who, through his mother is half-white, said that he knows that people call him “Lekgoanyana” ÔÇô white person, and “Tshetha” which is reference to the lightness of his skin.
“… le ha ba mpitsa ‘Lekgoanyana’. Ee ke ‘Tshetha’,” he said to the amusement of his audience.