There is no question that ever since he arrived on the scene, Ian Khama has been flapping around for a big idea with which to wrap himself and his presidency. He has not had any luck.
Over the last two years, the disruption caused by the ruling party split and the momentary resurgence by the Botswana Movement for Democracy provided an excuse for the president’s inertia.
But that alibi is no more.
The President has got to go back to work and prove to all of us just what he stands for. Crucially, time is not on his side.
The biggest challenge facing President Khama is to answer the question of just what he wants his legacy to be. At the end of it all, just what will he show the world for the period 2008-2018 when he controlled anything and everything inside Botswana?
The President arrived on the picture promising to get his BDP at least 70% of the popular share. Under his watch things got worse. In the 2009 polls, the party could only get 52%, the worst performance in its history.
Not only did the share of the popular vote ebb even deeper, the party experienced the first split in its 50 year existence.
A member of the inner circle tells me that the BDP split continues to haunt the President as if it only happened a few days ago. The recovery that has since happened has not assuaged his inner feelings of guilt. The President worries that no matter what he does, history will be unkind to him. He will forever be judged by the split as well as the party’s sliding share of the popular vote.
In a way, Khama is right to take personal responsibility for the split. It was more an outcome of his intransigence than the provocation he no doubt suffered at the hands of some hard-line ideologues that used to loom large over the party.
Forget about the macho stereotypes we are often treated to on Botswana Television; these two factors have conspired to spawn a president consumed by self-doubt, insecurity and corrosive levels of inferiority complex. He is thus held to ransom, unable to break free from a deep-seated psychological fear of failure.
Except for an air of fear and suspicion wrought by the dreaded underhand tactics of his intelligence services, Khama has at least up to now failed to create and mould an era that could be said to be truly his. In a big way he still crawls under the shadow of his predecessors, most notably his political nemesis, Sir Ketumile Masire, who was much more successful than all of Botswana’s Presidents in giving the country an enduring shape.
More than once a Member of Parliament has lamented to me how Masire has become a forgotten even abandoned former President. Nothing is further from the truth!
While Masire’s successors had strenuously wanted to wander away from the big man’s political shadow, it is something they have not been able to do.
Masire does not need anybody’s acknowledgement. The contours of his handcrafted image, his idealized shape, his very own creation of a Botswana he wanted continue to loom large. For a great politician that he was, there can be no greater reward than an enduring and inescapable legacy like Masire’s.
Unless things turn for good, the same will not be said a few months after Khama has left the Presidency, much less twenty years later as is the case with Sir Ketumile.
For a president who often touted as beeing entirely in charge such as is the case with Khama, this could not be more surprising. The flat-footedness and insecurity that we see in today’s president, notwithstanding the man’s outstanding personal popularity and an overwhelming simple majority in parliament, are in no small measure a result of a failure to exorcise Masire’s political ghost from the State House.
┬áKhama’s most ardent admirers are not content with him being remembered as a president who introduced backyard gardens much less as a President who gave out the largest number of blankets to old folks in the countryside.
Khama takes keen interest in people’s daily lives, or so he pretends.
And he allocates more than half of his time crisscrossing the country greeting and listening to citizens ÔÇô a very commendable thing to do especially coming after ten years of an intellectual, detached president who had to be dragged literally screaming before he could address a single Kgotla meeting. But by themselves walkabouts are hardly enough especially coming from a man who bolted into the scene promising to be a Father Christmas incarnate of some sort.
Khama arrived into office promising to overhaul the public service. Yet as recently as last week the country was dumbstruck by gross acts of incompetence as the health service had all but run out of life-saving HIV drugs.
The quality of the public education has stridently worsened as has the country’s industrial relations.
For a man who came into office waving a wild card of delivery, efficiency and dignity, such negligence is barely a great yardstick of achievement one wants to be measured with.
From his early years as President the floundering economy was an acceptable alibi for failure and incompetence. But not anymore! Now people are able to see through deceit. The use of economy as a scapegoat for all evils in government is now all of a sudden viewed as an unpardonable misuse of spin on the part of government. Added to all that is a creeping feeling that the president’s honeymoon has run for rather too long. He now has to be subjected to the same standards that apply to all other politicians.
Early indications are that the opposition will in the next few months regroup after shedding what was for the greater part unwanted dreg within their ranks.
President Khama remains very popular, but he is way below the exalted figure that he was in 2008. Where he was in the past immortalized, now people look at him as an ordinary politician who applies double standards and effectively lacks evenhandedness.
Many have watched with utter shock the atrocious incompetence that the civil service has degenerated into under Khama. But that is just half the story. The President has effectively divided the country into two nations.
There is that one side which he leads as a chief priest where cronyism, corruption and favoritism are gleefully accepted, encouraged and even rewarded.
Then there is the other side where even the smallest of transgressions is brutally punished with the cruelest vindictiveness imaginable. This is a side that knows no mercy from the top.
Nobody is saying President Khama will lose a General Election in 2014.
Victory is guaranteed. But what matters is having secured that victory, what will he do with it?
The last few years have not been encouraging. It has more often felt like a grope in the dark.