Last Tuesday morning marked not just a change of presidential guard but an end to presidential get-downs. However, that does not mark the end of the First Citizen providing free entertainment because presidential stand-up comedy will fill that void.
Former President Festus Mogae found it extremely difficult to resist a danceable tune and when such music was played at events he attended, Mogae would invariably report to the dance floor and literally “get down.” Of all the songs that have prompted such response from Mogae, the rhumba song “Shauriako” tops the list.
Mogae’s presidential get-downs have been immortalised in countless press pictures. The president had created an expectation that whenever he attended events where there was music and dancing, he would “get down”.
At an event in 2005, he did not seem up to doing anything dramatic but someone gently suggested he perform his trademark dance move. At first, he clearly did not want to but the crowd that gathered around pleaded and cheered until he finally gave in.
On another note, the fact that the get-down was the only spectacular dance move Mogae could execute should raise concern about the innovation and effectiveness of State House aides whose responsibilities include choreographing dance moves for the First Citizen.
Mogae’s press secretary, Dr. Jeff Ramsay, says that the former president will not be very active in public life ÔÇô that is really what retirement should mean. That means that there would be fewer and fewer sightings of Mogae on the dance floor, getting down.
Instead, the nation will be seeing more and more of Mogae’s successor at public events. Khama does not dance ÔÇô the closest he came to it would be at the 2000 Botswana Democratic Party national council. Delegates were on their feet giving a hearty rendition of one of the party’s popular songs, the high table was holding hands and some in that human chain were moved well enough to jig. Naturally, that motion rippled to a clearly uncomfortable Khama who acquiesced by reluctantly moving from side to side.
What the new president prefers and clearly enjoys doing is stand-up comedy and he really does come into his own when he does it. He cracked a few jokes at the 2000 event, picking on some prominent party members and had his audience rolling in the aisles. Ever since he joined politics and increased his public visibility, Khama has been serving up the comedy and indications are that his relocation to the State House will not bring about any change.
On Tuesday, he prefaced his inauguration speech with a recollection of a conversation he had with someone prior to him becoming president on April Fools’ Day. The person suggested that perhaps Khama should persuade Mogae to retire earlier in order that the former is inaugurated on a day other than a fool’s day. The problem with that happening, Khama replied, was that his own vice president would make the same requirement of him when his own time to leave office came.
In true comedic style, he broadened the April Fools’ Day theme when he played a practical joke on the audience about his choice of vice president. He asked the crowd whether they knew who the vice president was, knowing fully well where the curiosity level on that issue was and what the answer would be.
“No!” the crowd roared back.
“Lady, please stand up so people can see you,” Khama said in Setswana, casting his eyes to the platform where the vice president would have been seated.
People scrambled for space, standing on their toes and craning their necks to catch the sight of the new VP. No lady stood up. Long pause. Finally, the joke: “It’s April Fools Day.”
“Lady” later turned out to be Khama’s former boss in the Botswana Defence Force, Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe. Later on the same day, Khama dropped two ladies from his cabinet.
Presidential get-downs always elicited predictable responses from those watching. On the other hand, experience with Khama’s stand-up comedy shows that a joke that has an audience convulsing with laughter in one part of the country, may cause consternation in another.
Speaking at a kgotla meeting in Serowe some time ago, Khama is reported to have said that he welcomed all councillors to the kgotla except the one from Malatswai Ward. The latter ward is in Khama’s constituency and is the only one that was won by the opposition in the 2004 general election.
Weeks later Mogae was addressing another such meeting in Molepolole and Neo Motlhabane, an opposition politician, charged that there was no reason for Khama to play politics at such forum and that as future president he has to embrace all regardless of their political affiliation. He broadly hinted that if Khama adopts such style of leadership the chaos that is currently gripping Kenya could be visited on Botswana.
However, Mogae – who addressed the Serowe meeting – got up (not down) to say that Khama was merely joking. The former president added that the pair (Khama and the Malatswai councillor) habitually engaged in such kind of good-natured poke-ribbing with each other.