Monday, September 21, 2020

Say something, Mr President!

April 7 2010: Recently a faction of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), commonly known as Barata Phati, gathered in Gaborone to discuss their future in the party and come up with a resolution on the way forward.

This was happening after a number of events. First a democratically elected Secretary General of the party was suspended for five years effectively meaning that barring a pardon from the party, which is unlikely, he can only contest general elections under the party in 2019. This was later followed by resignation from the central committee of some democratically elected members who belonged to Barata Phathi faction. They protested the way the central committee was operating by alleging that the party president, Lieutenant General Ian Khama, was putting undue control over the committee.

Later, three members of the Barata phathi faction, including a member of parliament were suspended pending disciplinary hearing. This incident is what broke the camel’s back. There was an uproar and letters critical of the party swamped the newspapers. There were complaints of selective justice and unequal treatment of members by the party leadership. One of the authors, Ndaba Gaolatlhe, was also suspended and he also happened to be a member of the Barata phathi faction.

But all these events were not surprising as President Khama was now being seen as the spiritual head of the rival A Team faction. His utterances in the build up to the Kanye Congress and failure to congratulate the Barathi Phathi after a clean sweep at the event were cited as illustrations of his sympathy for the A-Team.

Realising the potential impact of the Barata Phathi gathering, the A-Team faction dominated BDP Central Committee through government media houses issued a statement warning members against attending this gathering as it was not sanctioned by the party and, therefore, an “illegal” gathering. This warning did not stop the determined Barata Phati from meeting and the gathering managed to attract a resounding 300 delegates as representatives from all 57 constituencies. What is worrisome is that at least 6 seating MPs and a good number of councillors were party to the resolution to form a new party. It is also alleged that more MPs and councillors are intending to jump ship.

The resolution to form a new party effectively means that the ruling party’s majority in parliament will be compromised. It also means that there is no stability in the ruling party. To use the BDP clich├®, the issue of governing the country cannot be overtaken by the need to quell internal party squabbles.

The BDP, prior to this incident had always argued that the opposition was not fit to rule because there was infighting within its ranks. They argued that having a party that is not at peace with itself in government will compromise service delivery.

Will they agree that because of this fracas they are not fit to rule and service delivery will be compromised? Is the state president, who is also a leader of a party which is fighting tooth and nail not to lose more members, particularly MPs and councillors, in a position to reshuffle cabinet even where some Ministers fail to perform without fear of losing those dropped from cabinet to the new party? Surely these are interesting times for the once mighty Domkrag, as the party is sometimes called. Ironically fingers are now being pointed at the man who was brought in to unite the party and the son of its founder.

As usual, the state media failed the last of its credibility tests by not covering this event, which by all standards, qualified as a scoop or a breaking news story. They only fed Batswana with one side of the story, the statements from the party secretariat. We first learnt of the intention to form the party from the private press. In a political crisis like this one, it would not be wrong to expect the state president, who also happens to be the party president, to rise to the occasion and address the nation and assure us of calm.

Subsequent to this gathering, there had been allegations that president Khama might dissolve parliament and call a snap election. Such a perception obviously brings unrest in the country. Typical of president Khama and his failure to provide leadership when the country needs it most, the president did not even bother to dismiss or confirm the allegation. Even the Government Communication and Information Services, which never hesitates to defend president Khama, even on matters that should be handled by the party, did not issue a statement.

Honestly, the presidency is becoming notorious for its selective comment on issues of national concern.

Last year, a young man by the name of John Kalafatis was executed, allegedly by security agents. There was uproar in the country with people expressing fear and lack of trust on establishments which were created to protect them. The presidency was not moved by this public outcry for answers. The only statement issued then by the presidency was one to the effect that president Khama intended suing the Sunday Standard regarding the stories it ran on the Kalafatis execution. There is a growing public perception that the presidency only comments in defence of the president and not on matters of national concern. This shows a clear cut trend ÔÇô the interests of the nation are subordinate to those of the president.

May be it will be too harsh to expect too much from a president who was head hunted from a job he was passionate about and enticed with a blank cheque into politics. He has said it several times that he is not a politician.

When the presidency is silent when common sense dictates that it has to speak, we find ourselves asking a question once asked by Spencer Mogapi of The Sunday Standard ÔÇô does our President have the benefit of quality, objective, sincere and principled advice suitable for a state president?
In all the decisions of the office of the president of when to comment on issues of national concern you may be forgiven for thinking the president does not have advisors. Rumours of the possibility of a snap election require swift and effective communication from the presidency as to what the reality is. It demonstrates misplaced priorities.

For instance to always be commenting on Zimbabwe and not commenting on issues causing unrest in the country and assuring citizens that everything is under control. Is it getting your priorities right when you comment on and demonstrate solidarity with the Togolese over their suspension from future Africa Cup of Nation tournaments while keeping quiet on the death of a fellow citizen at the hands of state security agents which has instilled fear in the country?

Rumours like dissolving parliament do a lot of harm if the record is not set straight. In the process, mandates of institutions like BEDIA are undermined because investor confidence is destroyed by the presidency that never takes the nation into its confidence when the need arises.
The presidency should stop taking the nation’s interests for granted. Batswana should also realise and know that they are worth more than manipulation and selective communication which has characterised the BDP government. This is not helped by a state media that is not guided by any journalism principles. A state media that is not ashamed to report one side of the story and a state media that cannot uphold journalism credentials.

At the Botswana National Front we are worried. Say something, Mr President!

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