There was a lot of anticipation for this year’s State of the Nation Address largely because it signaled the end of President Mogae’s reign. When the occasion finally passed, a considerable number of people should have cursed themselves for whetting their appetite for the big occasion. No doubt the address covered the major areas of concern but the presentation was mediocre, tedious and all over. Having always keenly read Mogae’s State of the Nation Addresses, I find this year’s address, by comparison, dull and uninspiring perhaps because the President attempted to deliver a standard State of the Nation Address that also doubled as a farewell speech. This may explain its unusual longevity that left listeners dozing and disinterested. The farewell speech part of the address crowded essential points normally expected in a state of the nation address.
Obviously, the President desired to cover all areas of national concern, and in the process got lost in a maze of self-praise. It is my sincere opinion that previous addresses were well structured, focused and unambiguous. This year’s address is certainly long on rhetoric and short on specifics. In his desire to cover all areas of national concern, the President unfortunately said more about what matters little and less of what matters most. It is essential to reflect on our achievement in order to consolidate them but over-emphasis on such is not very helpful for a glass that is half full is also half empty. A monotonous repetition about there being room for improvement does not come as an explicit challenge or an opportunity. It is too vague a motivation because it lacks elaboration on what should be done to ensure that the nation surpasses its current achievements. For example, the President concedes that the cost of doing business in Botswana remains a serious challenge but falls too short of giving a hint of what has to be done to reduce this cost.
Admittedly, the government has done well to reduce poverty levels but new innovations would go a long way in accelerating efforts in poverty reduction. For instance, the government could develop a data base of households living in poverty and then conceive specific interventions relevant to these households. This targeted approach would maximize impact and fast tract their graduation from poverty.
When the President calls for greater self-reliance without specifying the evils of over-dependence on the government, such does not invoke in the reader the feeling that government is unfairly over-burdened. It is presented more like an apologetic thought or soliloquy. Granted, the President has raised this theme before but in such an important occasion the theme should have been placed in a proper context to be really appreciated. The pursuit of self-reliance requires the government to initiate a deliberate robust programme for its renewal. Self-reliance cannot be reborn by merely billing citizens for the services they receive for it is more than just cost sharing. It is attitudinal and rest of society’s value system at any given time.
It is my opinion that the State of the Nation Address should be presented in such as way that it reports on the current status of the nation gauged against the health of the nation as was captured in the immediate past address. This will demand that the address frequently remind us about the state of affairs of the nation as at the time the last address was delivered. This way, the nation will be able to gauge progress in key areas of concern. It is not very helpful for the address to introduce new issues without contextualizing them or at least cross referencing to the previous address or discussions.
The manner in which this year’s address was prepared is fragmented and does little to prove that development is a process, a long journey dependent on systematic planning rather than on a game of lottery whose winner is determined by mere chance. For instance, in the 2006 address the President dedicated a section of his address to ‘major challenges and disturbing social trends’ under which he spoke at length about self-reliance, violence and crime, corruption, alcohol abuse, low productivity, decline in modesty and values and so forth. This helped to delineate, pronounce and explicitly outline key concerns. Apart from HIV/AIDS and security concerns, the 2007 address placed/s the burden on listeners and readers to pick out major challenges that the nation ought to confront. The challenges are not singled out from the long-winded address. This inconsistency in presentation of the nation’s challenges is risky because if challenges that were specifically outlined in the previous address are omitted or crowded in subsequent addresses, it may send the wrong message that the nation has either won the battle or has conceded defeat.
Nonetheless, my suspicion is that the President conveniently avoided those areas that he believed he faired very badly. This selective approach is misleading and manipulative. For example, in 2006 the President spoke at length about the role of NGOs but most importantly cautioning the nation not be misled by ‘some foreign organizations campaigning against our country’s sovereign right to provide and improve health and other services to our remote based communities’. This year’s address is silent of this crucial aspect. A brief reminder would have sufficed more, especially that such organizations are intensifying their campaigns and in the process severely battering the image of our country. Did President Mogae concede defeat?
It is also significant that the State of the Nation Address should as much as possible avoid leaving out other areas of concern. Obviously, it will be impossible to capture all the concerns but it would be better, in the desire to contain the length of the address, to at least condense them in a summary format rather than completely leave them out and give the impression that such concerns are not part of government’s priorities. For instance, when the President picked out passion killing and hardly mentioned defilement even though reports indicate that such cases are now alarming. Don’t you care about the toddlers, Mr. Mogae?
Similarly, Mogae’s reference to Botswana’s relations with the international community is silent on the situation in Zimbabwe but during his visit to the USA, the President had to respond to a barrage of questions on the Zimbabwe situation than on matters internal to Botswana. The President is reported to have remarked that Botswana is too small to take on Mugabe. President Mogae would have done well by sharing this honest piece of information with his people. Otherwise this could give the impression that the President hardly takes his people seriously but gets serious when confronted by Westerners, or that the government is not bothered by the Zimbabwe situation. President Mogae in his address also candidly revealed that ‘we are too small to make it on our own’ but the President should have equally highlighted that in spite of our smallness, we will not allow ourselves to be held at ransom by our friends and neighbours such that in the pursuit of the nation’s best interests, the government should not shy away from taking decisions that could be at variance with those of our neighbours and friends with a warped view of democracy and prosperity. Globalization and/or regional integration is not the equivalent of oneness, it merely implies heightened cooperation not the surrender of a nation’s sovereign rights.
There is a general perception that in the guise of their generous benefits and privileges, Cabinet Ministers are thieving with impunity and this theft has filtered to the lower level civil servants. On Monday November 5, 2007 Radio Botswana’s newsreel reported that Assistant Minister Mfa expressed concern at the abuse of government fleet, mentioning that they are even used for personal errands at the cattle posts. Yet the same Minister once ordered that his daughter be delivered to his home village in his official vehicle. If the leadership fails to walk their talk, it is only proper that ordinary people partake in the plunder and looting. President Mogae should have come out hard against his government colleagues for being greedy, mutinous, insubordinate and a bad example.
Since it may not be possible for the State of The Nation Address to report or highlight all areas of national concern, it may be advisable that Mogae’s successor delivers regular addresses or speeches, perhaps on a quarterly basis. For instance, he could address the nation at the beginning of every year as a welcome address from the festive season which should remind the nation of the challenges ahead. This address could select specific challenges that could be very pertinent around this time. Another address could be delivered in April also doubling as Easter message. The next address could be in July, doubling as President Day message. And, lastly, we could have a consolidated State of the Nation Address in November. Such regular addresses will certainly keep citizens on their toes and demonstrate that the development process is a relay founded on sequential logic.
A conclusion of this commentary is that President Mogae’s final State of the Nation Address is lousy, fragmented and uninspiring. It falls far too short of being a historic address. This being the case, my hope is that the President will find time to deliver a final farewell speech at the appropriate occasion. This is despite that his State of the Nation Address also set out farewell remarks. My expectation is that his farewell speech will be more polished and concise to qualify to be used as reference material by the future generation. The President has a huge task to deliver a memorable, brilliant and unforgettable farewell speech that is proportionate to his stature.