It is difficult to think of a political figure more qualified to speak on matters of national importance than former President Sir Ketumile Masire.
It is natural that these days Sir Ketumile does not speak for its own sake.
For a greater time he keeps his views to himself.
He is particularly sensitive to accusations of meddling and intrusion which in the past he has had to face on a number of occasions.
But still he remains an irrepressible, free spirited soul.
The few instances that he goes public, he is always trying to be a peacemaker, a unifier of sorts.
He avoids stepping on anybody’s toes.
Because for most of the time all the work that he does is behind the scenes, in the rare moments that he opens his mouth in public everybody feels duty bound to pay attention.
Such was the case on Friday when he delivered a speech at the funeral of the late opposition leader Gomolemo Motswaledi.
The former president sees himself as the custodian of Botswana’s founding virtues and ideals.
Before his speech on Friday Sir Ketumile had kept quiet for rather too long, not because he had not been┬á awake to simmering public concerns on the state of our democracy, but because he did not want to answer to charges of wanting to rule from the grave.
Now approaching 90, Sir Ketumile knows that time is not on his side.
He does not want to go to the grave with a heavy heart in the knowledge that things might have turned out better had he spoken out his mind.
I am confident the speech that Sir Ketumile delivered at Gomolemo Motswaledi’s funeral on Friday will take off a heavy burden of guilt and even complicit from the old man’s shoulders.
Though in every manner a tribute to the ideals for which his departed friend stood for, the speech is in equal measure a call for comprehensive realignment of our politics.
To the politically uninitiated, Masire’s speech will not for the first be dismissed as the rantings of a man who never successfully reconciled himself to a life in retirement after eighteen years as the head of state.
To some sections of the increasingly intolerant bands that control the party that he founded, he will be dismissed as a grumpy and intrusive old man who has not accepted that he is no longer in power.
That would be grossly incorrect as it would be unfortunate.
For Sir Ketumile the speech that he delivered in Serowe is a fulfillment of an obligatory sense of duty that has been so much a part of literally his entire life.
He views himself ÔÇô and he is wholly correct ÔÇô as the country’s only remaining voice of reason.
As Botswana’s foremost iminence grise, if he does not speak out against matters eating at the fabric of the republic that he toiled to create, who then will?
From the beginning to the end, the speech was laden with painful lamentations of a visionary who has lived too long to witness the project he started go up in smokes.
For a country plunged into an abyss of gloom and leadership vacuum, the speech could not have come at a more opportune time.
For a country consumed by polarity and ever more institutionalized corruption, the speech has once again offered hope.
For him at least, Sir Ketumile will as a result of that speech ultimately leave this world with his conscience clean and his reputation intact.
There is not much left for us to ask of him.
It should by itself provide a worldly compensation to him to know that with that speech he has now comprehensively played his part -┬á in both active duty and also in retirement.
But what really did Sir Ketumile have to say in that speech?
In every aspect the speech was a lecture on the basics of democracy.
He reminded us that at a time when all of Africa was going a different route, he and the others that founded this republic chose to establish a multiparty democracy.
He reminded┬á those in power that they are not necessarily the cleverest among all of us.
He said those in power today will be in opposition tomorrow.
And those in opposition today will be in power tomorrow.
Such, he said is in the nature of democracy.
It was a speech calling for tolerance and restraint. A people denied room for dissent will resort to revolution. He did not think that was the best option available to Botswana.
Democracy, he reminded all of us did not come naturally to Botswana.
It was an outcome of deliberate efforts by those involved.
It┬á pains Sir Ketumile that a lot is being done to roll back Botswana’s achievements in establishing herself as a doyen of democracy.
According to Masire, ostracizing and excluding political opponents is not the best way to manage a democracy. For a man of his experience he knows what he is talking about
It is telling to note that he deliberately chose not to mention anybody by name.
But still there is no prize for guessing who the suspects are.
As a country we have witnessed an erosion of the virtues of selflessness that defined the epochs of Masire and his generation of political pioneers like Seretse Khama, Goareng Mosinyi and Moutlakgola Ngwako.
Today’s leaders do things because there is something in it for them.
As Masire so succinctly put it, people do things out of a sense of self-promotion rather than public duty.
Today’s crop of leaders feigns patriotism during the day and sleep with the country’s enemies at night.
They┬á call on ordinary citizens to tighten their belts because there is no money, while they themselves are not wearing any.
They pretend to be against corruption while they are its chief beneficiaries.
They claim to be clean while the government they lead is riveted by sleaze at the hands of their friends and allies who are the most virulently corrupt this country has ever had to contend with.
We should be grateful that this country still has people like Masire who are brave enough to speak out during these difficult times.