In a non-frivolous, non-social media sense, President Ian Khama has a complicated relationship with democracy. However, he has a job that requires him to deliver speeches extolling its virtues. He has as complicated a relationship with reading and has publicly spoken about his lack of enthusiasm for books with two different newspapers that share a name in as many continents.
“I’m an outdoor person, so you won’t find me sitting down reading a book,” he told the Guardian of London, repeating what he had earlier told the Botswana Guardian in a different form.
Interestingly, the last state-of-the-nation address that he made a fortnight ago compelled him to speak about libraries.
“Madam Speaker, our libraries are knowledge centres for citizen empowerment and community development,” said Khama, effectively endorsing an activity he has repudiated.
The president’s revelation about his relationship with books, which are a great source of knowledge, was also revealing about the extent to which he is media-savvy. As president, Khama is the most supreme champion for education and should never talk it down in his public statements. There are young people who look up to him as a role model and even if he doesn’t read, the last thing he should ever allow himself to do is to publicly communicate the message that reading is not important. Khama revealed similar media ineptitude by revealing details of a highly confidential conversation that he had with the Chinese Ambassador over the controversial Dalai Lama visit. In order to make for frank discussion, such high-level conversations are never revealed to the press, least of all by a head of state. Khama revealed the contents of that conversation in an interview with The Botswana Guardian. It is possible that as a result of that action, other diplomats are now more guarded when discussing bilateral issues with the president because they don’t know what might end on the front page of newspapers.
In one other respect, Khama’s dispassion for books is baffling given his foreign policy antics. Unlike his predecessors, he has inserted himself in complex international affairs like the political turmoil in Venezuela and the North Korea-United States stand-off. It is impossible to fully understand these issues from merely watching BBC or CNN, which tend to regurgitate state propaganda from the United States. One needs to consume information from both mainstream and alternative media sources in industrial quantities to understand why Venezuela’s economy is slumped against the ropes and why North Korea has a nuclear weapons development programme. Where does Khama who, by his own admission doesn’t read, get such information?
The president also tied himself in knots when he commended the Parliament Speaker, Gladys Kokorwe, for “your initiative of taking Parliament to the people.” This statement suggests that Khama is happy with parliament being taken to the people. However, he wouldn’t allow the former Leader of the Opposition, Dumelang Saleshando, to do the very same thing that he commended Kokorwe for doing.