Saturday, July 2, 2022

Masisi is leading Botswana down a perilous path

President Mokgweetsi Masisi should do something pretty quickly to stop the country from running down an abyss.

The flurry of laws he is ramming down the country at speed of lightning were always going to present troubles at some point.

And this week it happened.

His government has brought before parliament a highly consequential law without consulting citizens.

He wants to take away the basic liberties but does not want to consult citizens on the matter.

When the text of the law was presented to the public it was nothing short of a shocker.

In every sense the law was Orwellian – from the beginning to the end.

The Criminal Procedure and Evidence law seeks to give law enforcement agencies sweeping, unwieldly and over bearing powers.

The law seeks to allow them to intercept and tap all communications  that would include phone and that which happens over the internet.

Even before government sought to legitimize communications interceptions, security agencies were widely doing it. The only difference then and what this law seeks to achieve now was that information so gathered could not be easily admissible at court.

The new law seeks to achieve that and more.

It seeks to take away all oversight of the security agencies.

There is little doubt that the drafters knew what they were doing – reaching for Botswana’s darker corners.

Taken at face value, this law is a demonstration of how dangerous politicians can be if left unchecked.

There is little doubt that many people are growing increasingly pessimistic about this government – especially on the matters of ethics.

Too many voters took this government at its word and gave it their vote.

Privately, many of them are now eaten up by buyer’s remorse.

These are people who left their own causes in 2019 and supported Masisi, thinking, at the time that he was a man to save the country.

There is nothing benign about this law.

It is crude and in the end counterproductive.

It rolls Botswana’s liberal democracy back to the days of darkness.

Government wants to sell the law as a consequential one, motivated by recent events and as such driven by necessity.

This is all hogwash.

The law will drive more and more people who want to be part of public engagement underground.

Still reeling from deepening impacts of Covid-19, the people are themselves tired and clearly smothered.

In its attempt to hang on to power, the state is wholly prepared to set aside all principles and jettison what we thought they stood for.

There is no question that this is a law as preferred by Mokgweetsi Masisi and his security handlers to whom he seems beholden and even helpless.

These security handlers play to the president’s worst fears including telling him people are out to kill him or if he loses power people will do to him what he is now doing to Ian Khama.

Journalism is about sources. And they really are the bedrock of journalism itself.

And sources only come forward once they are assured that the journalist has integrity that includes protecting them.

If sources do not feel sufficient protection, then they will not come forward.

That would be the end of all attempts to fight corruption.

Under this law, no journalists will be safe in their trade.

The law allows and legitimizes phone and communications tapping and interceptions.

Practically the law criminalises journalism and legitimizes corruption.

This means that intelligence and security personnel will have access to all details of communications between journalists and their sources.

This cannot be allowed to be.

It will have a devastating effect on the very craft of journalism.

Many will be surprised, even shocked because this is the path they had least expected for Botswana.

Proponents of this law would mention national security as one of the reasons.

The only thing the law has in relation to national security is that it is a threat to national security.

Portions of it go against fighting modern day international crimes like money laundering and terrorism.

Part of it goes against the very basis of free and fair elections in a democracy.

By Friday government announced that they are postponing the budget which was supposed to happen on Monday to make time and space for this law and others to be debated.

The speed with which government is ramming this law through is not only shocking but unethical.

It is like the government’s very survival is based on this very law.

We call on Botswana government to withdraw the law and give space to consultations on the matter.

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