There used to be a time when Batswana had a sublime certainty about their place on earth and also about their future in it. Not anymore. Today the country is running straight towards a cliff. And everybody, including the Head of State is at wits end – unable or should we say helpless to do anything about it. What is happening is totally damaging to Botswana’s international reputation as well as to the county’s ability to attract investors.
The country’s image abroad is being irreparably soiled. To many Batswana of any goodwill the country is no longer recognizable. Outsiders are asking in hushed tones; “Is what we hear true? Just where did you guys lose it?” The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime has been beaten to a pulp. It has become a captured agency. There is nothing that it stands for any longer. At best those engaged in destroying the organisation think they are protecting themselves. At worst they think they can fix it later. In both instances they are dead wrong. It remains a mystery why the president believes he can ignore or ride out the groundswell of discontent and public disapproval building against him. A lot of ruling party voters I have talked to feel terribly let down by a man they once believed would be a little short of a messiah. In the meantime the nation watches in silent aghast as public institutions – one after the other are eaten up by fear of who is next. The church, that paragon of moral authority has been mute as has been other civic organisations.
Everybody is taking cover. There is virtue in silence, everybody seems to have reached a conclusion. They are all wrong. We will be saved or be doomed on the basis of what we do with corruption. This too applies to the Mokgweetsi Masisi presidency. He will succeed or fail based on what his views are on the DCEC. All the swirling madness there could stop in a matter of a seconds if the president wanted it to. The trouble though is that the president too is immersed and enmeshed in the fiasco so much so that fewer and fewer people are now willing or able to give him benefit of doubt. There are no two ways about it. At stake is the survival of his government. If he calls off the madness those closest to him inside government could end up wearing the orange overalls in jail.
In short, corruption investigations have reached the president’s inner circle. And this explains his un-statesmanlike response to it all. He has thrown the good men to the dogs and allowed the hunters to become the hunted. The public is losing trust in the president’s personal integrity. But it is something he can still reverse. Or at the very least show that he regrets things turned out so woefully bad. To achieve that he needs to demonstrate that he is in charge of his government. And that he knows where he wants to take the country.
Walking back on his electoral promises with cheek in tongue can only earn him more public wrath. He is playing for time. But as it is, he is drinking from a last chance saloon. Those who say what is happening today makes Botswana look like a Banana Republic are not far off the mark. Mokgweetsi Masisi is leading the country at a time of unprecedented challenges. Sadly he does not seem to fully grasp the scale of these challenges. Or if he does, then he is not showing it. As one leader of opposition told me the other day, “Masisi is hopelessly playful.”
The country no lone needs any more sweet talking from the president. He must deal with the cost of living crisis. In doing so the president must resist half-baked easy solutions that are often floated by the ever present and self-aggrandizing business suitors eager to impress him. He must fight corruption and restore the integrity of DCEC even if it is at the cost of DCEC going straight after himself. Getting rid of a DCEC director general every time they try to assert its autonomy is a reflection of the kind of man he really is. And then he needs to roll back his appetite for wealth accumulation, which often looks embarrassingly short-sighted and unsophisticated, thus opening himself to manipulation. As a country our leaders are so accustomed to praise such that they get hysterical even at the mildest of constructive criticism. This is dangerous as we have now created monsters and emperors.
The same constitution that allows president Masisi to be the second after Jesus Christ gives him the power not only to do bad when he wants with no fear of accountability it also allows him to protect the ideals that take this country forward. Masisi should ask himself if all his director generals at the corruption busting agency have been so inadequate that he needed on average to hire a director general for every year that he has been a Head of State. Masisi can still turn out to be a hero of his story. But to do so he needs to bite the bullet and ask himself where it all went wrong. That means asking himself if he has a suitable team to see him through his mandate. All his decisions at DCEC have harmed the interests of the country and set the nation backward in its quest to fight corruption. Masisi has wrought himself a career out of turning difficult situations into personal opportunities. The trouble this time is that time is not on his side.