“There are forces at work in this country that seek to undermine our achievements since independence. Forces that emanate from a type of leadership, tribal or otherwise, that for selfish reasons or for reasons of tribal bias, seek to promote themselves or their tribal groupings into prominence over others….The back biting, finger pointing and foul mouthing, that goes on in this country today is an indication of a society that is coming apart. We live in a time when jealousy of one another is going to self-destruct our nation” (Midweek Sun, 5th July 1995:1).
This statement was made by President Ian Khama Seretse Khama when he was still commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) at the installation of Chief Tawana II, paramount chief of Batawana. Tawana Moremi has since renounced his chieftainship and traded it with politics following the precedent set by chief Bathoen of Bangwaketse in 1969. Bathoen resigned his position of chief to join politics on the ticket of the opposition Botswana National Front (BNF). Molomo (2000) argued that for his part, Khama retired from the army on March 30, 1998 and the next day took up a cabinet position in the BDP government. Khama to this day remains the only politician who is also a paramount chief.
At a leadership seminar held in 2000 at Botswana National Productivity Centre (BNPC), Khama stated that the political leadership in Botswana is motivated by ‘self interest’, ‘lust for power’ and described his colleagues as ‘vultures’ who are all out to loot the country’s coffers (Botswana Guardian, 2June 2000:10). This finger pointing and libellous statement made by Ian Khama to his colleagues seem to contradict his Kgosi Tawana’s installation speech where he cautioned against finger pointing and foul mouthing. However, it is alleged by Molomo in his paper that Khama refused to heed Mogae’s call to apologise to his colleagues for calling them vultures.
On the other hand, Molomo further posits that Khama’s identification of ‘lust for power’ as a poor leadership trait that he attributes to other political leaders applies to him as well. Molomo stated that Khama did not only hold on to the position of Vice President but also that of paramount chief of Bangwato despite his political appointment. A position he is still holding as the President of the country. According to Molomo (2000), Khama’s lust for power makes it unlikely that he can relinquish power.
However, despite Molomo’s assertions, Khama’s Financial Times interview on the 26th February 2009 seems to suggest that he will voluntarily relinquish power unlike his Zimbabwean counterpart Gabriel Mugabe.
The recent name callings, finger pointing, back biting and foul mouthing in the 10th Parliament debate on Khama’s State of the nations’ address appears to be something that Ian Khama is now being given to taste not as a commander of the BDF, but as the President of the country and the ruling BDP. The platform has changed and it will be interesting as to how he will stand the test of time and measure up to this. Using a different style but with the same Khama’s BNPC vulture labelling overtones, member of Parliament for Mogoditshane Patrick Masimolole stated that there are thieves in Parliament, ‘gatwe le dinalanyana Mapalamente”. Literally meaning, there are allegations that you have a habit of taking what does not belong to you MPs, that you are thieves. Even though you are not paid well desist from stealing and be clean. (The Voice 04th December 2009:12).
Masimolole further told the House that it was common knowledge that being in Parliament made all MPs broke, and wondered where other MPs were getting the riches; we know how this House makes people poor, so we do not know where others are getting their sudden wealth.
Masimolole further accused other MPs of bootlicking. He contended that some members of the House should not sell democracy under the pretext that they loved the country’s President more than any other MPs and person. They are sycophants. Masimolole said the bootlickers should understand that MPs are in the House to represent their constituencies and therefore they should not be made guilty or uncomfortable to debate freely. The newly appointed Deputy Speaker Pono Moatlhodi according to (The Voice News 04th December 2009:11) had to ask the MP to tone down. Tawana Moremi MP for Maun West also warned against bootlicking when presenting on the President’s State of the Nations’ address in Parliament. He stated that the suspended Botswana Democratic Party Secretary General was destroyed by one of the bootlickers and that the bootlicker in question made a false report about him (Mmegi, 26th November 2009).
In a similar fashion like the statement made by Commander of the BDF in 1995, that we live in a time when jealousy of one another is going to destroy our nation, Mbiganyi Charles Tibone, Assistant Minister of Finance stated that Batswana are jealous of each other and this is why the country cannot grow any faster. He said those vested with powers to control government tenders and other economic structures have made it their mission not to award contracts to citizens because of jealousy (Mmegi, 2nd December 2009). For his part Maxwell Motowane, a new arrival in parliament said people are in the habit of questioning the president just for the sake of getting things done their way and also going to the extent of dragging him to court. He even made it clear that his comments should not be viewed as that of a bootlicker (Midweek Sun, 4th December 2009:4), as if acknowledging that indeed there are bootlickers. Others who came in defense of President Ian Khama on his state of the nation address were his first cousin Ramadeluka Seretse, Minister of Defense, Justice and Security and the Minister of Science and Technology, Johnnie Swartz. Swartz said Khama did not attack anyone in his speech, including the opposition. He warned Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Members of Parliament not to behave like opposition members. He continued that there is fear that people are being expelled from the civil service, but he does not know what the hullabaloo is all about.
Ramadeluka Seretse summed the issue nicely and stated that MPs represent the views of the voters and not their own interest. He talked about tribalism as an enemy of the nation and also spoke about nation building, which has to embrace the interests and wishes of all the ethnic groups in Botswana irrespective of colour, language, culture and greed.
In the Sunday Standard paper of the 15th-21, 2009, I wrote an article with a title that read ‘Of Political Vultures and Sycophants’. In that article, I cautioned President Khama to be careful about praise poets who will do everything in their best interest to win his support. Some of them will remain numb and never utter a word against President Ian Khama for fear of losing his support and benefits from partisan appointment (s), where the mention of a Khama name is a ‘taboo’ (Sunday Standard 15-21, 2009). In that article I also stated that everyone will want to benefit at the expense of others. There will be name calling, back-stabbing, tear dropping and media bashing. Since we live in a dog-eat dog- world, if the situation is left unchecked it may overshadow political representation with too much allegiance paid to one individual master and not to the electorates. This may be signalling worse things to come.
After that article I received an anonymous sms labelling me as an academic thug who needs some serious thumping. As if that was not enough, it was followed by another sms which read; “I will hunt for you, find you and cause you to regret your diatribe.” My wife was terrified, my son was traumatised, my brother and friends were puzzled and my mother advised me to stop writing. It was a mix bag of emotions. In a country where one or more two killings are considered not bad I have no reasons to doubt that their feelings were unjustified and far over board. Anyway this has now passed; it is now his- story.
However, this intimidation, intolerance and barbaric acts of terror vented on us by unknown attention seekers should not be condoned in our peaceful country. They should not thrive on the notion that one or two killings cannot dent the country’s reputation on rule of law. That should be targeted to criminals, as it has been stated at the best country of the year 2009 award by General Merafhe. I doubt as to whether opinion analysts and commentaries fall under such classification and category. We do not want to see eruption of excited anti-slogan campaigns such as the one used by ANC Youth League President Julius Malema, pre- Polokwane ANC presidential elections……. “I will kill for Zuma”, in our peaceful country Botswana.”
Similarly BDP MPs as representatives of their different constituencies should have the freedom and liberty to articulate their views without fear and intimidation. They should not be made uncomfortable to debate freely on account that Big Brother is watching them. Although whilst acknowledging that they have to abide by the party parliamentary caucus, this should not be used to undermine their integrity and make them apologetic when expressing views that don’t augur well with those of Big Brother. They should not be turned into political puppets and scarecrows. They should not operate as errands boys otherwise they will be of no use altogether as representatives of their different constituencies.
In as much as I agree with the principle of Botho and discipline, it should apply to everyone and inner party differences should not be perceived as an act of indiscipline.
Representatives holding dissenting views should not be seen as chameleons and renegades who behave as if they are from opposition political parties. If this trend continues, we are destined to fail as a nation and parliamentary debates will become meaningless as each and everyone will try to please Big Brother. In the long run parliament will become ineffective and will not perform its legislative oversight. It will become a mere rubber stamp institution. If parliament is to function effectively as a check on the executive, it needs to be vigorous in debating issues of principle and national concern. On the other hand President Ian Khama should not always be finding himself at odds with his colleagues in what he calls matters of ‘principle’ and ‘integrity’
Thabo Seleke is a lecturer of Public Policy in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at the University of Botswana. He is writing here in his own personal capacity.