Saturday, June 3, 2023

President Mogae retires in agony

In my commentary on President Mogae’s last State of the Nation address (Mogae’s Address was Junk. Sunday Standard 18-24 November 2007), I opined that the address was dull, uninspiring and cannot be classified as the final words of a retiring legend. I nonetheless expressed hope that the President would deliver a legendary speech in the run up to his last days in high office. My expectation was informed by my understanding that great men are mostly remembered by their words of wisdom than their deeds. Lesser mortals are remembered for their deeds which are normally on the wrong side of the law.

I am now convinced that my expectations were unrealistic or, rather, at variance with the character that is President Festus Mogae. The State of the Nation Address was Mogae’s most appropriate and relevant opportunity to chart a course for himself to stay relevant after office and salvage his battered legacy. It is now clear that it is illogical to expect President Mogae to correct the numerous wrongs he committed during the lifespan of his presidency. He is simply not the type to repent for fear of confirming his uninterrupted error of judgment and misrule.

In any case, it is a pity that instead of making friends with people outside the corridors of state power, President Mogae continues to accumulate enemies with frightening ease. He continues to offend the very people he is going to live with when he vacates his office. President Mogae must know that public respect for him, which was, in actual fact, respect for the office of the president, has waned a great deal owing partly to the President’s love for cowboy language and a flaring temper and the moment he vacates State House, the enemies he accumulated over the years will be too happy that his immunity against personal attack, verbal assault and naked insults has been lifted.

They are positioning and readying themselves to let fly a few strong words and jabs at him. They are waiting like starving vultures to take him head-on without fear of being accused of disrespecting the state president. Yet instead of conciliating his self-declared enemies, President Mogae continues to take aim at them, particularly hapless University of Botswana lecturers. His recent comments at kgotla meetings only help to further harden feelings and expose his policy of belligerency and a confrontational attitude that has become his defining feature. Instead of using his farewell meetings to ease fears, make concessions and restore confidence in an economy that is crumbling under a heavy weight of sleaze that has been institutionalized by his politics of personal preference, he goes on the war path reminiscence with people who are about to disappear from the limelight.

President Mogae must take note that his relentless tirade against his perceived enemies has alienated him from his power base- the old ruralists who reserve unquestioning loyalty to the State President no matter his disdain for them. He is certainly loosing their sympathy and support. His choice of uncultured language, a loose temper, an ambiguous character and contempt for those who differ with him makes him unpopular among senior citizens who have always considered him as being representative of their generation distinguished for their tolerance and deserving to be nursed with affection as fountains of wisdom. They desire to disassociate themselves from an appalling parent and a bad father figure whose attitude borders on self-disrespect and irresponsibility, a mate they expected to live by example. They now desire to distance themselves from a State President whose judgment is clouded by hatred and self-ululation, a President who fails to differentiate tough talk from bullying. Batswana are a peace loving, self-effacing and self-respecting flock who deserve nothing less than a laconic leadership, the calm grand fatherliness outfit, the kind that is able to keep outbursts within reasonable bounds and anything else is considered abominable.

President Mogae has been attacked for not addressing kgotla meetings as a way to consult his subjects. His response has always been that modern Botswana has other equally effective mediums for consultations citing television as an example. It is surprising and suspicious that the President now sees the value of bidding farewell to his people at kgotla meetings.

Unfortunately, the timing of his farewell game is damn wrong in that his sojourns are eclipsed by the anxious moments of Khama’s impeding presidency. Most people would rather opt to shake Khama’s mystic hand than attend a kgotla meeting addressed by a President who is metamorphosing into a terrorist by persistently threatening to insult those who differ with him and his government. His excessive self-praise makes people’s stomachs turn and wish they never had him as leader. Under such circumstances, Mogae has a huge challenge of making himself heard by those he intends to address. His farewell escapades are sadly sandwiched by a host of problems such as soaring inflation, power outages, cattle diseases, high levels of unemployment and so forth.

Unable to convincingly address issues of national concern, unable to think of any stimuli to set the nation on a course for self-confidence and unwilling to take responsibility for any errors of judgment on his part, President Mogae chooses to vent his anger and frustration at UB academics, a perspective that is permanently warped by his conviction that he is infallible.
Public mood is downcast as people believe the state of the nation is poor compared to when he took over the reigns. Yet, instead of seeking to heal wounds and restoring moral authority for national development through positive influence and motivation, President Mogae overloads his speeches with volcanic temper outbursts, intimidation and bullying. When the public complains that his government gives more prominence to security of their families than the economy, he flies off the handle and proudly displays a penchant for a fiery temper to cover up his incompetence by scaring us into dead silence.

Given his disastrous leadership and a renowned short temper, President Mogae would have done well to retreat in silence and save himself from further humiliation.

Surely, he must not mistake his collections at the Kgotla meetings for public approval of his presidency. Batswana have an over-abundant forgiving disposition which is partly why we never speak ill of the dead even those who tormented us. In his State of the Nation Address in November 2007, President Mogae commented that ‘I leave with no tormented conscience’, but his recent utterances are of a man in agony, a man bothered by his conscience and so it will be until he is out of sight, please keep a distance.

Former United States President Harry Truman is said to have threatened to knee a critic in the groin. Surely, the last few days of Mogae’s presidency will indeed prove intolerably long, arduous and full of drama.


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