Saturday, January 16, 2021

“Same tired expectations, blatant intimidations and naked rhetoric”

A person’s place in society is largely a matter of how he/she is treated by others.

A great president is so only because we treat him/her as great. Years gone when current President Khama became Vice President of the Republic of Botswana, many of us ululated and harbored hopes that Khama’s Vice Presidency would bring us ready-to-eat food from the sky. We poor people became over-exited that we would soon accumulate massive wealth.

His party made us to believe that with him nothing was impossible. We were made to believe that he would instantly eradicate poverty, that he would mystically rid us of HIV/AIDS pandemic, that he would find an effective strategy to address the lackluster service delivery at the government enclave, that our goats and donkeys would multiply and that persistent droughts would become history.
Khama even increased our expectation of himself.

He projected himself as an embodiment of rectitude, a mystical superman who could suddenly order a storm to disappear. He asked to be relieved of his ministerial duties so as to redirect all his energies towards ensuring timely project implementation across ministries.

Soon thereafter he traveled the length and breadth of the country addressing and threatening public servants to start posting outstanding performances or face the embarrassment of being fired instantly. Most people who are deeply worried by poor implementation of projects welcomed this result-oriented attitude but of course doubted commitment and the technique of communicating expectations. In a civil set up, making people work by intimidating them is often greeted with a frown and instantaneous dismissal.
Yet over the last few years, there have been concerns that the quality of service delivery is in actual fact deteriorating to unprecedented lower levels. Poor project implementation became a defining feature of the Botswana public service. In Parliament, honorable members called on the Vice President to account for this unacceptable trend and perhaps state why he was unable to fulfill his core mandate.

Nonetheless, Khama’s superior, the then President Mogae, remarked that he was absolutely satisfied with Khama’s performance. This as the President himself continued to decry slow implementation of projects that denied citizens development. How can these polarized extremes be explained? First it may be true that Khama did not succeed in accelerating the pace of project implementation due to a combination of factors. It may also be true that indeed Khama’s performance was above the confines of mediocrity, which could then mean that he has been a victim of unrealistic expectations by the society. Whatever the truth, both scenarios point to the fact that we are still burdened with raising expectations about Khama’s presidency to unrealistic levels. The danger with this could be that in years soon to come, the public could unfairly judge Khama as an absolute failure if, for instance, people’s cattle and goats have not multiplied as originally expected. This would then make Khama an unpopular head of state. But more significantly, both scenarios could indicate that we are always easily carried away by excitement. They also indicate that our horizons of thoughts are adulterated by our cosmetic and carefree approach to life.

Now if there is a general consensus that Khama has failed to deliver on his pledges, it may be difficult for him to handover the presidency when his term expires. He may opt to extend his term so as to get a second chance to deliver. This attitude is common with leaders who think more of and about themselves or consider themselves friends and the only hope for the common man, but suddenly discover that they have disappointed their people and betrayed their trust in them. Fear of failure evokes behaviors which make them want to hang onto power for life. They can’t stand the ridicule of being entered into the history books as damn failures.

Instead they opt to remain in power for life in order to use state institutions to silence their critics. Thus, it is better to expect little or nothing and live frugally on surprises. Exaggerated pledges and promised crackdown on ‘laziness’ is a real aversion to the truth.

The reality of development practice lags behind rhetoric, commitment to the 4 Ds and the language of mesmerizing hungry citizens. We should have long graduated from this slumber and reign in our excitement and inflated expectations.

We should by now be very clear about the kind of the person we desire for our country, our targets and timelines. But we enjoy cheering and over-pricing our leaders. We detach them from society and hope that they deliver us to prosperity. In the same line, the leaders excitedly embrace this culture and assume a holier-than-thou attitude. Consequently they adopt a spiteful attitude towards the common man. They brand us lazybones needing to be coerced to work. They have come to believe that they are entitled to steal. They use their executive powers to intimidate citizens into utter silence. Remember that all power deceives, but ultimately breeds countervailing power.

Citizens are agreed that public servants need to up their performance, but differ in approach or strategy to effect a change in their mental faculties. The executive is inclined towards threats and intimidation and so in their belief that everyone, except themselves, is lazy, they are actually engaged in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Their false definition of the situation evokes behaviors and attitudes which make the originally false conception come true.

They ignore the fact that their own work ethics have been generated and sustained by both intrinsic and extrinsic motivational aspects, especially in that they have all that any person would dream to have. They can fly state choppers at will. They have excess monies that enable them to make donations of various sorts. While they have all that they need and want, most of us still struggle to acquire even the cheapest Chinese merchandize with which to set ourselves apart from the unemployed. Yet they expect public servants to be motivated by these pathetic circumstances. Under such situations, threats, intimidation and tough talk is not helpful because it usually breed silent protest. In the last decade or so, we have seen people being retired on account of poor performance and then replaced by alleged hard workers. Within a very short time such perceived hard workers got infected with the disease that is laziness, getting us back to square one. What this means is that unless the problem of poor performance is tackled from a motivational perspective, things will remain the same. Briefly put, the leadership has both the official and personal authority to unleash on public servant and the general public but they are required to lead by influence instead of intimidation.

They need to be reminded that they have not been manufactured from any stuff that is distinctly different from what the rest of us are made of. The only difference is that they are adequately motivated whereas the rest of us are disillusioned, frustrated and have come to dislike work because it is not fulfilling as originally expected.

Some of us grew up in rural villages herding livestock, ploughing, hunting and performing a plethora of energy sapping chores with utmost diligence only to become lazy when we realized that, against expectations, other people have more than what they need and want and has gotten it unconventionally. It is being said that a master can tell you what he expect of you, but a caring and considerate employer though awakens your own expectations and imbues you with renewed energy and enthusiasm. In ensuring that people do the work they are hired to for, we therefore need a soft and sober approach that will awaken their will and abilities to perform at the highest level, an approach that will make us work together with candor and civility to meet our challenges.

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