A few days before Independence Day celebrations we attended a National Democracy Symposium organized by the Office of the President and also the University of Botswana.
Cabinet ministers, senior government officials and also non government officials attended.
Vice president Slumber Tsogwane, who was acting president at the time officiated.
“Everyone will be free to say out their mind,” the organizer who invited had made it clear.
His statement, under normal circumstances might have been innocuous.
But there was something un-transient about the statement.
It was made against the backdrop of immediate past ten years where no public debates were neither encouraged nor allowed, least of all by the Office of the President.
Indeed the general atmosphere turned up as was advertised ÔÇô free, robust but constructive.
It was a refreshing atmosphere.
Unpalatable truths were spoken.
They included unemployment among young people and also how international accolades had over time driven Botswana into complacency.
For example many Batswana cannot recognize the fiction land that Transparency International often refers to as the least corrupt country in Africa.
Many Batswana cannot recognise the fiction country that IMF and the World Bank like to call Africa’s shining example.
Vice president Tsogwane sat through all this. And not once was anybody called to order for uttering anything deemed “unpatriotic.”
As a nation, Batswana have pent-up views and emotions that have been bottled and throttled inside for far too long.
We need to create new public platforms where such feelings and emotions can be ventilated.
It’s impossible these days to debate anything of substance.
Polarisation has taken root, as has name calling and penchance for labeling.
Dissent had for far long been discouraged and even suppressed..
Newspapers critical of government were aggressively censored by starving them of government advertising, with editors and journalists routinely jailed.
In the place of public debates we have politicians and public figures that lie all the time. Lying is the closest they ever come to engaging in a meaningful public discourse.
And when they are not lying they are talking about their wealth, their fast and flashy cars or their money ÔÇô much of it ill-gotten.
Very seldom do we hear our leaders in a heartfelt manner talk about public service and or public duty.
That is mainly due to the fact that the previous administration lacked tolerance.
The opposition, while once promising has degenerated into self-annihilating incoherence.
At the moment the official opposition is going through a painful process of self-immolation.
Often at times one is tempted to give them benefit of doubt. But then with time the escalation of their childish theatrics leads one to reach a conclusion that they might be hoping against hope.
Contrary to popular opinion, my criticism of the opposition, especially the UDC is not motivated by malice, but rather by deeply felt sense of disappointment, even betrayal that are shared by many Batswana.
Like many Batswana I watched with glee as the UDC rose from the ashes and grew pre-2014 general elections to win itself a place in the nation’s imagination.
Like many other Batswana I have been badly hurt as I watched thereafter some of the opposition leaders engage in behaviors that literally bordered on criminality.
Their disregard of public intelligence has been unpardonable.
Their worship for money and all the glitters that money can buy has often seemed obscene.
It was thus with reluctance and deep regret that I finally made up my mind that as currently constituted, the opposition would if given state power take this country down the path of ruin.
These days it is rare to hear a politician talking about public policy, job creation, public infrastructure or the country’s education system, for example.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi has been leading a national renaissance in public debates.
It should be encouraged.
But public debates should not become talk shops.
They should immediately be followed by deliverables ÔÇô or very soon people will be turned off.
President Masisi has been absolutely correct to choose “addiction to the rule of law” as his mantra.
Under his predecessor state institutions like the Ombudsman, the DCEC (Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime), the DPP (Directorate of Public Prosecutions), and DIS (Directorate of Intelligence Services) had all slipped into complexes complicit in some shades illegality ÔÇô one way or another.
While failing to perform their public mandates, these state organs are also bulwarks protecting the criminals, which by definition amounts to state capture.
The public is right to question the appointment of key personnel to these institutions.
Were such appointments conditional on protecting some of the crimes performed by the appointing authority?
One has no intention to delegitimise these otherwise important institutions, but from the public stand view, their behavior often smacks of negligence or outright complicity. This in essence is an abuse not just of public trust, but also of the immunity and security of tenure extended to some of them.
As a country it is good that we have started talking again.
But for many of our people, many of who have no jobs, talking remains a meaningless luxury.
They need to see action that brings food on their tables.
That is a challenge for Masisi. Or else he will soon see that there are no takers for his eloquent and oratorical persuasions.