Thursday, July 18, 2024

Masisi can still redeem his presidency – but the window is closing down fast!

Botswana government is in trouble.

A lot of things have been going terribly wrong.

A lot of it can be blamed on inexperience among those in government.

Some of it can be ascribed to sheer lack of attention to detail.

And of course there has been cases of outright clumsiness.

For months now, Batswana have been grumbling about pretty much everything.

If the views expressed by many of them are anything to go by, then what was supposed to be a government of renewal has become a blunder-strewn government.

For a long-time Batswana have held their governments to high standards.

They believed that they had an excellent government machinery – the best in the region.

It was a make-believe world that they believed – until just recently when reality struck.

For a long time Batswana boasted to citizens of neighbouring countries about their level of wealth.

Foreign reserves, much of it the proceeds of diamonds were an object of envy.

The economy of Botswana was a darling of not only the region, but the world.

Surprisingly, they also assumed and in turn believed that their country was an African model in governance.

It was for many of them a source of pride that their country was a functioning democracy, that it was well governed with proper institutions.

That has turned out to be wrong. And accepting that reality is proving quite hard.

Psychologists have a word for it. They call it culture shock.

And that is reflected in the views as expressed on social media.

At times it has a whiff about it of a nation that is emotionally traumatized.

There has been a shocking loss of confidence on almost all of our governance institutions, from police to the intelligence services; from procurement agency to public prosecutions; from parliament to elections commission.

Literally no one has been immune.

Correcting the malaise will be a mammoth task.

Covid-19 has forced Batswana into an enforced self-introspection mood.

The pandemic has stress-tested the country, the economy and all institutions.

But more pointedly, the pandemic has asked if the institutions are anywhere as resilient as we had come to assume.

And the results have been harrowing.

At stake now is the very unity of Botswana as a unitary state.

And given the Constitutional Review that has long been promised things might just come to a head.

It will depend on how the process is managed.

A surge of goodwill for president Mokgweetsi Masisi pre-General Elections has dramatically subsided.

On campaign trail, Masisi had sold himself as “Mr Action”.

Immediately after elections the pandemic hit. And “Papa action” has been found wanting.

Masisi’s flagship response to the pandemic has been the State of Emergency.

From day one the opposition thought it was an overreach by the president.

People were however charitable enough to give him a benefit of doubt.

A year has since passed. And people do not like what they have been seeing.

Last week the president came calling. He wanted a six-month extension. Which he inevitably got – thanks to the numbers his party commands in parliament.

A majority had imagined that the State of Emergency was a stop gap measure to give Masisi and those around him in government an opportunity to put in place a plan – a seamless response effort, if you want.

That has not happened.

Now a groundswell of public mood has turned against government and the State of Emergency.

A majority holds that the State of Emergency has promoted arbitrariness on the part of government.

Worse there is a view that a State of Emergency has been used to facilitate, aid and abet corruption, especially by circumventing procurement rules.

Faith in the government, especially on Masisi himself has been shattered.

People have simply lost trust.

Rightly or wrongly the people have reached a conclusion that their man has become arbitrary in his decision making.

That is why a growing number of citizens can no longer take their government at its word.

That lack of trust is even more pronounced when it comes to fighting covid-19 pandemic.

After living full year under a State of Emergency, Batswana no longer believe that their government has a plan against covid-19.

Inconsistencies in the regulations under State of Emergency are fueling anger and arousing charges of tribalism in this government.

There is a big fight between the civil service on one hand and the Covid-19 Task Force on the other.

It is a fight that the public is not interested in.

People are angry at what has happened to them. Their businesses have collapsed, their lives have been ruined, many of them have lost their jobs. Too many of them have been sent home on unpaid leave and are unlikely to come back.

Many Batswana agree that vaccine is the only hope. But they cannot even start to believe that indeed their government has placed any orders.

Some doses have arrived – but they have come in too late and in few numbers.

There have been mixed messages on what batch was bought and which was a donation – not entirely surprising for a government too eager to be seen to be doing something.

Inoculation has started. But it has been a chaotic start.

The pandemic has badly exposed Botswana’s education system.

Never great even before the pandemic, it has now all but collapsed.

The health sector has all but stopped admitting people who have tested positive with coronavirus.

The roads infrastructure is in a state of disrepair.

President Masisi has staked all his presidency on foreign policy.

He has been shuttling across the sub-region – often hitting two capitals on a single working day.

With him now campaigning for his cabinet secretary to head SADC, his regional trips have become more frequent, more frantic and more desperate.

Some observers are saying the president is behaving like somebody who is content with serving only one term. He has not said if he will or will not want to continue as president. But then it’s too early after winning a General Election the outcome of which was itself a subject of much dispute.

The president’s reputation is reaching a point of no return.

But he can still rescue it.

The starting point has to be strengthening his inner circle.

The president does not have what could be called a “kitchen cabinet’ at least not in the traditional definition of the term.

He is surrounded mainly by a cluster of self-seeking Asians who are after self-enrichment.

Reshuffling cabinet is not an option chiefly because there is not much talent to play around with, but because even at coordination level there is a problem.

The president needs to empower his ministers to run ministries.

He needs to demonstrate more trust and more respect in his ministers.

Micromanaging a government always leads to a gridlock. That is what we see playing out.

The self-aggrandizing team surrounding the president needs to be replaced by a solid team of professional advisors who are happy to tell the president the uncomfortable and unvarnished truths.

And then we can start to see a reset in his presidency. And a turn in fortunes for the country.

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