Tuesday, May 26, 2020

ROY SESANA AND THE ART OF WAR

I do not believe that in his wildest dreams Roy Sesana ever imagined that he would one day provide a platform for a Mokalaka to assert that his ancestors since time immemorial were complete human beings, and that the land on which they danced to the drum was occupied land.

I do not know whether our ancestors in formulating the Tswana philosophy “Ntwakgolo ke ya molomo” , the greatest war is that of ideas or persuasion, ever imagined that it would one day provide a platform for understanding our constitution.

When looked at from this philosophy it will be seen that our constitution provides the necessary tension for government institutions to serve the nation. Section 47 gives parliament executive power. The effect of this is that if the president uses his power to appoint ministers to divide parliament, due to the power and prestige that cabinet appointment confers on ministers, then parliament can create the same effect for non cabinet ministers. Parliament can vest functions on non cabinet members of parliament to give them the same power and prestige as cabinet ministers.

In terms of Section 50 in choosing cabinet ministers, the president effectively chooses people who will collectively account for his actions to parliament. The effect of this is that if the president conducts himself in a way in which cabinet cannot account for his actions and decisions then cabinet is entitled to resign with a clear conscience.

In terms of Section 63 of the constitution each constituency shall send one member to the National Assembly, and since in terms of Section 42 cabinet comes from parliament, when the nation elects members of parliament it effectively elects a pool from which the president chooses those who will account to the nation for his actions and decisions.

The essence of these two sections is that the nation chooses national friends for the president. He is of course entitled to have personal friends but they do not take precedence over national friends on national issues. When a president runs the business of government through personal friends over and above national friends, he violates and frustrates our constitution.

Based on the Tswana philosophy one can identify different types of war, that of ideas, that of deception, and that of coercion. The war of ideas is treated as the superior war. The war of deception and coercion are easy to fight when you have control of the state resources like the army, media and the public service. That is why most states spend all their time fighting the coercion war.

The battlefield of ideas is created in our constitution under Section 12, dealing with freedom of expression.

A colleague once asked me why our constitution did not form part of our school curriculum. The answer is that at the heart of our state lies fear. For if the citizenry is well versed on the constitution it might engage the state in the superior war of ideas. Fearful rulers would rather engage in a war they can win, the war of deception and coercion, an inferior war, than in a war of ideas, where there are significant possibilities of defeat.

One can even argue that on the basis of the above Botswana has never had a brave president, for no president has ever fought the ideas war with the people of this country. All presidents we have had have relied on the coercive power of the state. They have fought the lesser war and not the superior war identified by our forefathers.

If this country ever gets a brave president he or she would ensure that the people are well versed on constitutional issues. This will enable him or her to engage in the superior war identified by our ancestors.

If any of our presidents had fought the ideas war they would have been shown the errors and shortcomings of their thinking. For example, Sir Seretse Khama would have been made to understand that racism is not about where you socialize but extends to the economic sphere. He also made Batswana believe that we were lucky that diamonds were discovered after independence, and the result of this is that we have a nation of people who believe in luck instead of hard work. Much as he propagated a unitary state he did not appreciate the effect of dispossession of indigenous tribes of their land rights and protection of freehold land largely held by foreigners.

Had Sir Ketumile Masire engaged the nation on his thinking on presidential succession we would not be having the negative vibes that some in our nation have. It is possible that another model could have been formulated. He used his position as president of the country and BDP to push through the changes. He avoided the superior war of competition of ideas.

As Festus Mogae prepares to leave office, the nation still does not know his reasons for refusing to establish a statutory body to monitor citizen economic empowerment schemes. His reasons and thinking on this subject have never been tested in the battlefield of ideas. Much as he has dismissed University of Botswana intellectuals, he has never fought the superior war of ideas. He has been a firm opponent of Freedom of Information Act but has failed to test his thinking in the ideas battlefield.

What our presidents have failed to appreciate is that result of the war contemplated by our ancestors is not victory for one side and defeat for the other. It is victory for the whole.

That is why for me Roy Sesana deserves the award of Naledi Ya Botswana, for his victory resulted in the assertion of our long standing completeness as human beings. This victory resulted in a positive for all Batswana irrespective of tribal affiliation.

Some old men of Gammangwato when asked how Khama the Great emerged the greater of the three dikgosi who went to seek protection when he had left the most junior, give the explanation that: when the dikgosi were asked what they wanted the senior chiefs asked for money but that Khama reached into his pocket and took out soil and presented it to the queen as his response, he wanted his peoples land to remain in their hands.

This point has escaped all three presidents we have had.

This country is in need of a leader who appreciates these things. We need a brave leader who can fight the ideas war, not a leader who is brave in the art of coercion; we have already had three doses of that kind and it has not benefited us.

The standard has been set by our forefathers who could not read or write, who did not go to any prestigious university. I am not aware of any higher standard. Not even the great Greek philosophers have any better proposal. Plato does not propose anything superior to what our forefathers postulate. In our true culture we make room for those who are better than us, Plato’s ideas on virtue are no superior to this.

In my view, western forms of government are stuck in the coercive and deceptive war stage. So to aspire to be like them is a waste of time. Our forefathers are light-years ahead. We need to aspire to reach the standard set by our forefathers. The constitution of Botswana empowers us to reach this standard. Our current constitution is part and parcel of the war of ideas. It is but a skirmish in the war of ideas.

I have never really appreciated the beauty of the stars at night. But I have been pleased by pictures of the far reaches of the universe in magazines. We can therefore learn from western perspectives but they are not the standard we should aspire for. I believe all three presidents have been an obstacle to us seeing the beauty of our people and what they are capable of.

All three presidents we have had have assumed that their limitations are the nation’s limitations, and have not had the ability to differentiate their personal capabilities from the nation’s capabilities and understanding of issues. This is because all their tenures were stuck in the deceptive and coercive war stage, a western form of government stage. That is why all three presidents have found great pleasure in being praised by foreign governments and institutions rather than by their own people.

We need a leader who appreciates that the greatest reward comes from within your own people, not from foreigners and their institutions. A Roy Sesana type of leader, a creator of platforms for others to shine. A leader who empowers his people.

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.