Monday, July 15, 2024

Masisi dilemma is more economic than political

When he ascends the throne, the biggest dilemma for Mokgweetsi Masisi will be more economic than political.

Politically, he has effectively become impregnable.

Inside his Botswana Democratic Party all opposition has been summarily defeated.

Outside, the official opposition is in disarray.

Yet the economic troubles loom large.

There is no doubting his resolve, but Masisi’s potential impact remains limited by a number of factors.

First he inherits an economy that is not flat, but is already slipping down on its race to the bottom.

Khama has destroyed the country’s institutions to near pre-independence levels.

And lastly, the levels of unemployment make Masisi’s unenviable.

The only solace one can draw is that the country’s potential as reflected by key fundamentals is robust.

Masisi should consider relinquishing domestic political matters to his underlings (and there is no shortage of them) and concentrate on foreign affairs, the economy and security matters.

To do this efficiently, he could emulate the Chinese model where he creates a State Council that is totally independent of parliament and runs parallel to the regular cabinet ÔÇô and is, more crucially only answerable to him on matters of economy, security and foreign relations.

If that happens, the State Council will become a virtual economic core cabinet ÔÇô only so much more powerful as it would have to be chaired by the president himself.

Because it would be an advisory body, people drawn from outside Parliament would be admissible.

The one big advantage of it is that he would not need to change any law. Such a Council could be deployed to achieve economic goals that will in the end resolve long-term political concerns that he might have ÔÇô like questions of re-election.

A State Council, other than providing developmental capacity and reducing over-reliance on the civil service as a think tank would also allow a President Masisi to rebuild a strong manpower of younger technocrats with political ambitions for the future ÔÇô a cadre so desperately lacking inside the Botswana Democratic Party since a split that saw the formation of the Botswana Movement for Democracy.

The number of young graduates who are unemployed is perhaps the most definite sign of an economy that has long lost its bearings.

If Masisi fails to turn around the economy and create sustainable jobs his presidency will in the end be defined as a failure.

History will with time prove that Ian Khama’s legacy to Botswana has been cataclysmic.

He has bequeathed Masisi a rogue security apparatus that would be at ease in countries like North Korea.

Masisi has to get out of the shadow of this security juggernaut.

It will not be easy, not least because he is in a way a beneficiary of the same apparatus that argued his case against other contenders during the height of succession battles.

Owing to several factors, unemployment in Botswana has already become a runaway train and nobody knows for sure who is in charge of it, or even if there is anybody in charge at all.

Official statistics are eye-popping. And already there are genuine fears that high as they are, the official figures are terribly conservative and understated. This should be of concern to Masisi.

The good thing is that Masisi is a realist.

He comes into office under no illusions of the difficulties ahead.

His dismissal of 100 000 jobs promised by opposition leader Duma Boko has cemented Masisi’s contempt for populist attractions that have no attachment to reality.

His other biggest attachment to reality is his fondness for big economic ideas that promise to change people’s lives.

Before the Economic Stimulus Programme was ruthlessly snatched from him, he had worked hard at keeping it as his adopted child ÔÇô very much the same way he had done with Poverty Eradication when he was still a minister.

Both initiatives ended up in disaster. But Masisi’s credentials were intact.

He is likely to experiment with big ideas aimed at employment creation and economic revival.

Masisi arrived where he is today on account of winning the many battles he encountered along the way.

Right now he has won so many battles such that nobody doubts his fighting spirit.

In February early this year, talk was rife from inside cabinet that President Ian Khama was about to show him the door.

At a cabinet retreat ministers took turns to lampoon him as a divisive, none-team-player.

President Khama had told everybody to say out their mind without any fear.

When at the end of it the President told his ministers to support Masisi because he is their future leader, many felt betrayed.

This is just one of the many examples that might tempt Masisi to settle old scores.

If he gives in to such temptation he might get derailed as he might have to allow the petty small man in him to take charge.

That would eat into his credibility, derail him in his programmes.

Masisi should know his weaknesses and grow comfortable in them.

Unlike Khama, he has never really been universally likely.

Many people now accept, but begrudgingly so.

Such acceptance is not accompanied by respect and certainly not by affection.

This means that he will have to work double as hard to achieve the same results that Khama so decimally failed to get.

Creating a State Council to advise him would complement him and counter the many weaknesses we have seen in Government but also in him so far.

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