The manner in which this country has been governed during the past two years portrays a country (and its institutions) that has been hijacked by an incessantly quarrelsome and power-hungry president, using legitimate powers bestowed on him by the national constitution. For that, president Khama never shies away from invoking executive powers for personal gain and or for the benefit of his relatives and friends while humiliating and marginalizing those who are opposed to his style of leadership.
The founding fathers of our Republic, in giving wholesale powers to the state president, might have been persuaded by the desire for prompt response to crises. It is hard to quarrel with this perspective considering that at times extended public consultations could lead to delays in decision making with far reaching consequences.
In the same manner, the founders of our constitution could not possibly have imagined that giving the president unrestricted powers was akin to declaring him/her a constitutional dictator (a very powerful president who uses legitimate powers to ride roughshod over all persons and institutions of governance).
A national constitution is like a contract between the people and the state. This contract requires people to submit to the power of the state while also spelling out how such power would be exercised, limited and distributed amongst institutions of the state. Whereas it gives executive powers to the president, it must at the same time put him in a tight leash particularly by making it a mandatory requirement that he/she should act on advice of some other structures. This is intended to ensure that executive powers are exercised in good faith and for the benefit of the nation. Thus, a broad-based constitution should reflect the rights of the people and limitations and responsibilities of the state president.
Changes to the constitution will always be necessary if it has to endure as the nation grows. However, any changes to the constitution must not be premised on the whimsical intervention of a bitter politician lest it permit self-serving and hastily passed changes that shortchange the people. In his address to the nation president Khama fittingly remarked that we should exercise caution in heeding calls to alter the founding document that has been the guarantor of our enviable record of political stability and socio-economic progress.
However, president Khama’s distinguished remarks are otherwise contaminated by his labeling of calls for constitutional review as empty or self seeking. These partisan comments prove that Khama’s reluctance to accede to constitutional review calls is motivated by personal interests rather than a sincere appraisal of reasons proffered. It should be recalled that sometimes in February 2009 Mahalapye East MP Tshireletso proposed an amendment to the constitution of Botswana ‘to permit the operation of electoral systems other than first-past-the-post which alternative electoral systems would secure the enhanced representation in Parliament of historically disadvantaged groups such as women, youth and people with disabilities’.
At the time the president was not offended by the motion perhaps because it emanated from within the Botswana Democratic Party. It is therefore petty and irritating that similar calls are dismissed as empty and self-seeking only because they are now being presented by President Khama’s perceived enemies.
A constitution may never enjoy a national consensus such that for president Khama to remark that it can be revised only if a clear domestic consensus for such a change emerges is mischievous and self-serving.
Calls for constitutional review will occasionally come to the fore as citizens come to a realization that some of its provisions need to be altered to be in tune with prevailing circumstances.
Of course some calls for constitutional review could be premised on silly grounds but all reasons put forward should be evaluated on their own merits rather than on the basis of the persons who propose them.
In my view, it is immaterial that our constitution is a colonial document or that it is old or that it is written in a foreign language. What matters most are the principles espoused in it.
Our constitution is not suffering from a credibility or legitimacy crisis but some of its provisions have been found to be divisive and authoritarian. Some of its provisions make it a constitution of Fascist tyranny that has ensured political stability by fraud and deceit, precisely by fooling us that all are equal before it hence the need to revise it and NOT re-write it as people are made to believe.
To a larger degree, President Khama’s blatant refusal to give audience to deafening and unequivocal calls for a review of some parts of our constitution provides strong justification for its review. At the moment, it seems as though constitution making or review is the prerogative of the state president.
It is sad and terrifying that only president Khama could initiate tangible efforts for the review of our constitution. I still recall that when the debate on the limitless powers of the president as enshrined in the constitution erupted in 2009, president Khama casually and dismissively remarked that he was open for the debate. The implication is that the president can singularly kill or sustain the debate depending on his personal mood and citizens would get remedy from nowhere.
At this point it must be emphasized that the national constitution is not president Khama’s pocket diary or cheque book. It is a sacred document that belongs to all Batswana.
There is no harm in making an honest attempt to have our fundamental laws scrutinized to eliminate provisions that would corrupt the most timid of all persons and turn them into cold blooded despots.
If the modest and non-confrontational former president Festus Mogae could threaten to dissolve Parliament should Parliamentarians refuse to endorse his preferred Vice-President, what more about a belligerent Khama? Constitutional provisions that give the state president powers such as this have the potential to hold the country to ransom and deserve to be incinerated.
If calls to revise some sections of the constitution are based on a hidden agenda to humiliate the current president as some people allege or to prop up the image of a particular political grouping, citizens will thwart such attempts as they have done in the past.
An essential element of democracy is that it represents the will of the people.
However, we will never know how many Batswana support or disapprove of the claims to have some provisions of our constitution revisited to align them with the prevailing situation until the matter is taken to the people to decide on.
The more the president attempts to stigmatize and portray the proponents of calls for the review of our constitution as power hungry rogues, the more it becomes apparent that there is a dire need for its revision.