President Mogae is one of the people that I hold in high esteem. He served our republic diligently for many years as a public administrator. He is one of the few people who rose to the position of Permanent Secretary to the President. He is a former Governor of Bank of Botswana and a former employee of a powerful and influential international financial institution, the World Bank.
His record in politics is also impressive. He settled quickly in his position as the Vice President and Minister of Finance and Development Planning. As an Economist, the first budget speech that he presented in parliament contained a lot of economic jargon. Most of our MPs were confused and did not know whether they were coming or going.
During his tenure as the Vice President, he took a bold decision to stop the looting that our politicians were doing at the National Development Bank. The fact that his boss, President Masire, was one of the culprits did not stop Rre Mogae from doing what he believed to be in the best interest of the nation. He exposed the President, Ministers and MPs who were crippling the bank.
After ascending to the presidency, he committed a few blunders which I believe turned him into a strong leader. He led our republic at a difficult time when the majority of citizens were becoming more enlightened politically, economically and otherwise. The political landscape was changing. People were asking difficult questions and the BDP’s popularity was declining.
This is a party that was torn apart by a fierce battle for control and supremacy between its two warring factions. And just like his predecessor, he managed the BDP factions well. He knew when to fight and when to mend fences. Most importantly, he never hesitated to apologize for some of the decisions that he made that were not in the best interest of the party.
President Mogae led our republic at a time when HIV/AIDS was ravaging our nation. We were presented to the entire world by different international organizations and scholars as a nation that was on the brink of annihilation. Despite all the nasty things that were said about us, President Mogae saw light at the end of the tunnel. He led the war against HIV/AIDS and brought hope to the citizens of this country.
He did everything that a leader is expected to do when attacked by an enemy that cannot be defeated in hospitals and science laboratories. He mobilized resources locally and internationally to stem the tide. And it is because of his prompt and decisive interventions that thousands of citizens are still consumers of oxygen today. We became the first country in the developing world to offer free anti-retroviral drugs.
Despite all the good things that he has done and continues to do in the fight against HIV/AIDS, I must admit that his recent utterances on homosexuality, prostitution and the need to distribute condoms in prisons have taken me by surprise. In fact, I am disappointed that a man of his stature can publicly say that condoms must be distributed in prisons simply because some people go in without the HIV but come out infected. In view of the serious claim that President Mogae made, I expected him to furnish citizens with concrete evidence that can be used to help them appreciate the need to distribute condoms in prisons. I am not aware of any study that has been done to support his claim and proposal. And if such a study has been done, why are the findings only known to the former president?
His contention that if prisoners are not provided with condoms then they will infect other members of the society when they are released amounts to emotional blackmail. Why is he not making the same statement about foreigners who are in our prisons and those who are outside but have no access to free ARVs? It baffles my mind that he does not seem to regard them as a threat to society in the same manner as citizens who are infected with the virus. Where is fairness and objectivity in the equation presented by President Mogae?
Sodomy in prison is not a new thing. It has always been there since prisons were introduced in our societies. People were doing it when Rre Mogae was the Vice President and President of our republic. Interestingly, he never used his power and influence to propose that condoms be distributed in prisons or that prostitution and homosexuality be decriminalized. And the only plausible excuse that he gives to the nation is that he did not want to lose the elections. This is scandalous to say the least!
If he really cared about the things that are happening in our prisons, then he should have engaged citizens in a constructive dialogue on the same. He should have consulted citizens in the same manner as he did with other controversial issues such as the amendment of sections 77, 78 & 79 of our constitution. He should have borrowed a leaf from President Masire who did not avoid discussing a sensitive issue of abortion with the nation in the early 1990s. I have no doubt in my mind that President Masire wanted to win the elections when his ministers started consulting the nation on the issue of abortion.
Homosexuality, which entails two or more people doing things against the order of nature, is a very sensitive issue that even the developed nations are still failing to handle. I, therefore, wonder why President Mogae believes that the current administration and our conservative society can easily resolve such as controversial issue overnight. What guarantee or evidence do we have that decriminalizing homosexuality will reduce the spread of HIV? Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that homosexuals are more or less careful and cautious than heterosexual couples.
I fail to understand why he expects the Khama administration to tackle sensitive issues that he deliberately decided to sweep under the carpet. He ignored them because he wanted to protect his personal interests. Does he not think Khama also wants to win elections? Had Mogae put the nation’s interests and safety before his personal interests, then he wouldn’t be placing these controversial demands on the Khama administration.
President Mogae knows very well that as a conservative and largely Christian society, Batswana generally abhor homosexuality. But he wants it to be decriminalized because he is no longer at the helm. He is passing the responsibility to President Khama, thereby acting like someone who endorses things which are considered immoral by the society as long as he is not the one appending his signature. I do not think that President Khama wants to lose elections by providing condoms in prisons and decriminalizing homosexuality and prostitution. President Mogae’s utterances are, therefore, ill-timed, irresponsible and grossly unfair to the Khama administration.
*Dr Mothusi teaches Public Administration at the University of Botswana