Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Khama’s one signature achievement faces jeopardy

Without a comprehensive policy, the President’s Day Competitions remain President Ian Khama’s pet project and their future appears to be uncertain. The matter is shot through with irony.

The situation could have changed had parliament adopted a motion by an opposition MP but that didn’t happen. During the winter session, the Gaborone Central MP, Dr. Phenyo Butale, tabled a motion that called on the government to develop a policy for the creative and performing arts. Not only did Khama’s party (the Botswana Democratic Party) throw the motion out, a close associate of the president (Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Thapelo Olopeng) poured scorn on the mover of the motion with hurtful personal comments. In opposing the motion, Olopeng said that his ministry was already putting together such policy. However, Sunday Standard learns from good sources that the minister misrepresented facts because no such policy is being put together.

As Khama steps down in five months, he would be concerned about his legacy and if anything can be counted as a success, it is the President’s Day Competitions through which the cultures of some tribes were given national exposure for the very first time. In his last state-of-the-nation address to parliament last Monday, Khama said that the competitions are a key programme in pursuit of the goal to promote Botswana’s diverse cultural heritage.
“Participation levels in the Competitions have grown from 3,274 in 2008 to 18,971 this year. The number of categories in which artists compete has at the same time increased from 25 to 58 this year. This growth has resulted in the prize money awarded to artists also rising from P1 million to P4.6 million over the same period,” he said.
Tribe-wise, the coverage is far from adequate but the Competitions are a step in the right direction and have great potential.

However, their success has been limited with sources saying that ironically, the president himself is to blame because he has not been receptive to ideas to improve a programme he has been known to micromanage. The cultural fare on offer is very popular both here at home and abroad – someone says that when he was a student in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, fellow students (most of them white) would stay up all night watching the reruns of the traditional dance competitions on Btv. One possibility this raises is that if the ministry coordinated well enough with that of tourism and trade, the Competitions can be given a robust market structure.

However, there is no guarantee that the Competitions will continue in the future because the policy that Butale proposed is not in place. Such policy would have provided protection for the competitions and ensured their survival. Whatever their merit, the competitions were a presidential pet project and the incoming president may not be that enthusiastic about arts and crafts. Car-spinning could well replace borankana as a presidential pet project. Last year at a car-spinning contest in Gaborone, Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi offered himself up as a self-inflicted-injury candidate by jumping into a “Gusheshe” (BMW 325) and spinning around with a youthful daredevil from Mafikeng.

A Botswana Daily News with the headline “Masisi burns tyre” quotes the future president as promising event organisers “that he would appeal to financiers to assist in developing the sport.” This is pure speculation but car-spinning may become a presidential pet project after Khama steps down. If that happens, the Competitions would lose their shine. Then again, that may not happen but the absence of a creative and performing arts policy bodes ill for their future.



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