Sunday, May 16, 2021

‘Discipline’ legitimizes authoritarianism

I posed this question before, ‘will Khama offer the leadership that Botswana needs?’ (Sunday Standard, October 30 2006). The preamble to the said essay was a set of questions which included the following: Barring his mystical stature, does Khama have any ideology? Put differently, is there a central strand of thinking that informs his politics and policy choices? Can he articulate a clear vision for the country? These questions were left unanswered so that readers could make their own opinions.

In his inauguration speech on April 1 2008, President Khama gave a hint of his ideology. Nothing in the mould of Stalinism, Fascism, Castroism, Communism and so forth but President Khama said ‘We have a clear vision of what we want Botswana’s future to be’.

The President proceeded to highlight the challenges facing the nation and remarked that ‘these are some of the issues I am mindful of as I take oath of office. Hence my roadmap for the nation will be underpinned and characterized by the principles of Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline’. Earlier on in his address President Khama cautioned that a change of leadership does not mean radical changes but that a change in style and special emphasis on a number of issues would characterize his administration.

President Khama is a shrewd and skillful schemer. His extended stint at the helm of the army has enabled him to fully subscribe to a process of gathering and analyzing information about the civil population as if it were the enemy camp. In the army, the commander’s decision making process especially for combat operations is underpinned by analysis of data from a wide range of sources and forecasting of the likely intentions of the enemy.

Usually analysis has to start from the premise that the environment is infinitely hostile and therefore forecasting has to be informed by an imagination of a worst case scenario. This constitutes hardcore intelligence and seems to dominate President Khama’s decision making processes and his relationship with the society. His universe of discourse, premised on a worst case scenario depicts Botswana bleeding profusely from ruthless indiscipline.

Intelligence activities breed mistrust and suspicion which may explain why Khama is said to distrust a lot of people he works with. President Khama’s inclination toward unilateralism is a direct outgrowth of this intelligence capability which also makes him an astute, tactical and manipulative schemer. Perhaps he wonders how people with limited intelligence capability would want to be involved in decision making. As a result, President Khama has tactically characterized his 4Ds in the order that is quite deceiving. To the uncritical mind the sequence of the 4Ds represents the order of their significance and special emphasis and this was deliberately done to avoid causing alarm. Discipline was thus put at the end of the spectrum as though it is not a major concern. The reality though is that the principle of discipline is being presented as the foundation for a prosperous, democratic, dignified, and developed nation in a way that places emphasis on the 4Ds in reverse order, which is why today we hear threats like there is no democracy without discipline, no dignity without discipline and no development without discipline.

The article cited at the opening of this essay had emphasized that ‘the essence of leadership is that one should have a vision that s/he can articulate at every occasion’. So far at almost every occasion Khama is unapologetic about his pursuance of a disciplined society. Analytically therefore, President Khama’s vision for the country is a disciplined population upon which good health and prosperity could be guaranteed. Thus, the President envisages a society organized on a strict code of discipline and ready to unquestionably submit to persons of authority.

Very few people would disagree with President Khama that discipline is a necessary condition for a self-respecting and exemplary nation. Yet, many people would find fault with Khama’s special emphasis on discipline.

The linking of unemployment, poverty, HIV/AIDS, crime, alcohol abuse, reckless driving, and lack of respect for the elders, defamation, wastage, corruption and so forth with indiscipline is very unfortunate and seemingly treacherous. It clandestinely seeks to restrict civil liberties on the pretext of instilling the requisite discipline to save Botswana from self-destruction. In extreme cases, it could be suspected that this is intended to ensure that the desires of the individual take precedence over the interests of the people and or to inculcate an unquestioning submission to authority and passive acquiescence to the leadership. Hitler often called for discipline by which he meant submission to his will.

In a dictatorship discipline comes first. In fact it is a truism that in a dictatorship discipline comes itself but in a democracy one has to ensure it and this normally presents cruel leaders with an opportunity to ridicule democracy and manufacture what could be termed authoritative democracy which is often characterized by weak and subordinated institutions of the state.

In some cases such pursuance of discipline turns citizens into a mass of isolated and miserable individuals unable to confide in each other; to share and express their dislike for the leadership or even do anything at their own initiative for fear of being disciplined. Once people are isolated from each other they necessarily become weak and incapable of resistance. They inevitably hang on the lips of the leader and overrate him as if he were some deity, which is why Khama’s Cabinet and the senior management of the government have joined the chorus alleging that there is widespread indiscipline; that organizational or party discipline is a prerequisite for vibrant and dynamic organization.
In his scheme of things, Khama has a clear vision of what he wants Botswana to be. His point of departure is that Botswana is a bubbly country with a promising future that is otherwise compromised by an unruly citizenry.

Thus, the quest for discipline is used as an ideological justification for instituting and legitimizing state control over citizen’s lives. The end product is normally what could be termed disciplined or centralized democracy that manifests itself in personal forms of authority where the leader is enabled, by a citizenry with a habit for over-obedience, to float above the state and the people. I was therefore not surprised when the BDP Secretary General Mr. Nkate remarked that he will report back to the party president in reference to the reactions of the Tonota constituents in response to the recall of their Member of Parliament.

That the decision to recall the MP was taken by the party’s Central Committee is a blatant smokescreen.
In the public service measures have been initiated to ensure that senior managers become authoritative leaders to control and direct the employees for higher productivity, an exact replica of Hitler’s Productive-Oriented policy born out of a desire to make Germany absolutely independent of other nation states.

Whereas Khama has stated that he is a democrat, most of his actions negate his words. His doctrine of discipline that he uses to minutely dissect society’s challenges has the potential to legitimize authoritarianism by limiting civil liberties. A constant reminder that there is no democracy without discipline is alarming for it seems to suggest that we have lost responsibility under the guise of civil liberties and such have to be cut back. This is precisely how authoritarian leaders mock and molest democracy. They never renounce it publicly but merely subject it to polite assault and defilement by promoting and sustaining a pseudo replica like using a multi-party regime to maintain credibility of its democratic fa├ºade so as to conceal their real motives.

Khama’s abundant motivation for economic prosperity and populism, which comes out as unrestricted and unmeasured ambition, might be his Achilles Heel. President Khama has skillfully identified an unexplored area to create his own image and set himself apart from his predecessors. This approach leaves little space for failure or sub-standard performance hence people should not expect Khama to wear out or tone down in his pursuance for a disciplined Botswana society unless they intervene, hence people should wake up from their sleep, open their eyes to see outside of their homes. People should also obey the laws of the country so that they deny the leadership room to harass us in the guise of maintaining law and order. In the Bible (1Peter, verse 5) it is said ‘be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering’.


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