Sunday, May 22, 2022

Protocol breach comes to the freedom square

The Botswana Democratic Party national campaign manager, Alec Seametso may, according to press reports, attend cabinet meetings but his position is not recognised in Botswana’s national order of precedence. Thus it came as a surprise that a party member called upon by the chairperson to give a vote of thanks at one of the final political rallies in Gaborone recognised him immediately after President Ian Khama but before cabinet ministers in attendance and the party secretary general.

There is no strict requirement that everybody else other than knowing officials should use this order but there are people who feel a very strong need to speak a language they obviously don’t understand. The result is that some speakers from the floor (or even the high table) recognise the village social worker or the chairperson of crime prevention before the president and other cabinet members in attendance. It would go something like this: “Mmaboipelego, modulasetilo wa twantsho borukhuthi, ke sa lebale pompara le molemisi, baruti ba dikereke tsa semowa le tsa pholoso, ramapodisi le bo monnao, motshwara madi wa borigeiti le mohumagadi wa gago, molaodi, rraetsho tautona, badiredi ba goromente yo motona le yo monnye, kgosi le Ma-VDC otlhe a a hano, makhanselara le matona a puso … go setse go dumedisitswe batho betsho.”

While this may provoke sniggers from those familiar with the order, the reality is that protocol is a serious matter. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has a whole department responsible for protocol. The national order of precedence upholds respect and national recognition, dictates where dignitaries seat at formal events and determines who replaces the┬áhead of state┬áin the event he or she is removed from office or incapacitated. In Nigeria, officials who contravene the order are liable to an official reprimand made in writing. The reprimand, which applies to former presidents and vice presidents, is in the form of “a subtle rebuke or caution of the offender which shall be caused to be published in the Official Gazette.” Unless officially pardoned by the president, any person whose name is published thrice in the Gazette for such contravention shall not be entitled to any national honour or national merit award after the third contravention.

This protocol breach was one of the things that marred South Africa the memorial service of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg last December. Some 54 heads of state attended and one of featured speakers was a former Robben Island inmate who began his speech with “President Barack Obama ….” Why Obama ahead of all 53 heads of state in attendance? While there is no international order of precedence because national leaders are equal, the man should have started with President Jacob Zuma because he was the host. Although it was not picked up and commented upon as mercilessly, this was the second grave falsity at the memorial service after that of the fake sign language interpreter who breakdanced his way through during what should have been a paid sign-interpreting assignment.

Botswana’s national order of precedence, which was revised in 2007, is as follows: His Excellency the President; His Honour the Vice President; His Lordship the Chief Justice; Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly; Former Presidents; Cabinet Ministers; President of the Court of Appeal; Leader of the Opposition/Deputy Speaker/Assistant Ministers; Judge President of the Industrial Court/Judges of the Court of Appeal; Attorney General; Judges of the High Court/Judges of the Industrial Court; Ambassadors/High Commissioners; Permanent Secretary to the President;

Honourable Members of Parliament; His Worship the Mayor/Council Chairman (of the City/Council in which the function is held); Heads of the International Organisations; Charge d’Affaires ad Interim; Chairman of Ntlo ya Dikgosi; President of the Customary Court of Appeal; District Commissioner (of the District in which the function is held); Chief (in his kgotla); Commander, Botswana Defence Force; all Permanent Secretaries (including other officers of ┬á┬á┬á┬á Permanent Secretary level); Members of Ntlo ya Dikgosi; Councillors; and Bishops.

Functional recognition is offered to all service chiefs at national ceremonies and where applicable, the order of precedence of permanent secretaries is in accordance with their dates of appointment and accountability.

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