A pastor called Seretse Khama Ian Khama had a baptism of “fire!” when he returned to his favourite sermon on alcohol, quoting prodigiously from the Book of Alcohol Levick ÔÇô you may want to scrap, smelt and mold the last three letters into ‘y’.
“I note that Scotland has introduced a minimum unit price on alcohol with the intention to reduce alcohol related deaths and hospital admissions,” preached Khama on his Facebook wall on May 3, neglecting to light both ends of his sentences with the customary “Fire!” combustion. “I commend Scotland for being the first country to embark upon this initiative. It has always been a great concern for me when people lose their lives due to circumstances that could be avoided. Life is so precious, and the loss thereof is always traumatic for loved ones.”
Khama went on to justify the introduction of the alcohol levy because it was an attempt “to try to combat the high volume of alcohol consumed in this country, to curb deaths, destruction, carnage on our roads, family feuds and suffering, it is a long list.” He was constantly asked to reduce or cancel the levy, he revealed, but steadfastly refused because “any means that give easier access to alcohol would translate into more lives lost and more alcohol related medical conditions.”
In a not-too-distant past when the cloak-and-mostly-dagger Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) was under the command of a certain pain merchant called Colonel Isaac Kgosi, nobody (not one single soul) would have dared trash-talk President Lieutenant General Khama – but times, they are changing. Some of the commentary challenged the validity of his reasoning as well as the effectiveness and motivation for the levy on a substantive, reasoned basis.
“In economics, we say alcohol has a price inelastic demand,” wrote Commentator 1 in one of the more articulate and well-reasoned posts. “This is so because of the nature of the good and people who drink. If alcohol prices surge, evidence has shown that substitution effects sets in, so that alcohol drinkers reduce their grocery basket in order to retain the same quantity of alcohol they were consuming prior to the levy. This is the nature of the product we call alcohol. The substitution effects resulting from the levy have far-reaching consequences as it means families do not consume enough meals with nutrition etc.”
Received wisdom (which the latter expresses with “but l believe you were let down by your economic advisors”) is that Khama was failed by technocrats in the civil service when the reality is that he instead chose to base his policy making on intuition. He persistently rejected such advice and in one case, two advisors from the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Permanent Secretary and her deputy, went to OP in 2008 to explain to Khama how the alcohol levy would set off an adverse domino effect in the national economy. As the Deputy PS went into a detailed economic analysis, explaining that the levy would affect even teetotalers, Khama is said to have turned to the PS and asked sarcastically: “Monna yo, o bodipa?” To him, sound technical reasoning against a position he has taken is a sign of insubordination.
Commentator 2 also raised a very pertinent issue that Khama has never wanted to even acknowledge: “But then people resorted to drugs after you hiked alcohol prices. So next time u do something consider the positives and negatives it can come along with. And do consultations … Now our youth have embarked on hard drugs and it’s hard to take them out.”
Another set of commentators wanted Khama to address allegations that the Alcohol Levy Fund was looted ÔÇô just like the National Petroleum Fund. At this point, there is no hard evidence that that has happened but if the NPF, which is established by law, could be so easily looted, there is reason to suspect that worse could have happened with the Alcohol Levy Fund, which was established not by law by mere presidential command. That point is expressed in the following Facebookese: “… is thr any public audited report of the Alchol levy where can we find it ….kana its classified jus wnt to know. if funds of statutorily established body could be embezzled, what about those of one established by someone implicated in the embezzling of the latter?” At least one commentator implicated Khama personally: “Tota keng osa bue nnete gore alcohol Levy e agile Mosu Palace.” [Why can’t you just tell the truth by revealing that the alcohol levy was used to build Mosu Palace?] The latter is Khama’s multi-million pula private residence in the village of Mosu.
However, not everyone wants to engage on a substantive basis ÔÇô some just wanted to celebrate their new-found freedom of speech by ridiculing the former president in crude and sarcastic language. The point about such freedom is actually made in explicit terms: “At last re free to speak in our free country we have been scared for such a long time….. Gontse gole botlhoko okare renna mo lefatsheng LA batho… Ore sutlile tota motho wa modimo nna hela koo Sis boy anne Tautona”; “O ne o re busa ka boganka, re tlo santse re go bolella tshele,you don’t have the presidential power,nor will you ever bully this country again”; “Ever since 1st April most of us are breathing fresh air of freedom…10 years of hell in our motherland the land that used tobe full of opportunities took one person to destruct that now Khete le le tona has to clean up the whole mess”; and “Hahaha, your bootlickers lied to u, ppl never loved u, they feared your security company called diss. You are trying too hard to remain relevant, pls enjoy your retirement and keep your peace we really don’t miss your opinion cos u long failed the nation.” Some of the sarcastic commentary asked why Khama allowed DIS to kill people if he values life as he claims and wondered why there was no levy for corruption ÔÇô which, under him, rose by 5.8 percent according to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank.
When the former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Sheny Shenaaz El-halabi, came to Khama’s defence (“Harmful use of alcohol is a known risk factor for non-communicable diseases and can be prevented. The alcohol levy is one of the many strategies that need to be implemented together to see results. Botswana has always been commended for this Levy”), someone tried to shut her down by associating her with the corruption in the ministry.
While they are in the minority, there are those who counsel against insulting a former president and elderly person: “To All of You Making Fun of Motsadi and speak as you wish, throw insults i will say this: CHARITU BEGINS AT HOME. O tsaya gore o tlhapaola motsadi kante o maswafatsa botshelo jwa gago. Where is Setho? You all have parents and you cannot say what you say here to your parents right? Tlotla Mmaago le Rraago and we all know ka setswana mogolo mong le mong ke motsadi wa rona.”
The comment “I think it’s best you keep quiet, you were the worst president we have had, the only thing I remember with your rule is corruption and high unemployment” got the highest number (936 and counting) of likes.
However, what most of the commentators don’t seem to realise is that the just-ended session of parliament amended the Cybercrime and Computer-related Crimes Act, adding more penalties. Khama, who signed the bill into law, can invoke provisions of this Act to sue for defamation. It is unlikely though that he would do that because the intrusive nature of the discovery process would compel him to reveal details that he clearly wants to keep under wraps.