Monday, September 25, 2023

Staring down the barrel; Why Botswana can’t afford two centres of power

The law is an ass, so wrote Charles Dickens in his novel Oliver Twist.

But then so too is democracy, he should have added.

One of the main reasons why Botswana’s democracy has successfully endured has to do with the fact while allowing for multiple political parties, and a dejure independent parliament, in effect there has been only one centre of power ÔÇô the presidency.

The leader of the party in power has always been the Head of State and also the repository of all such power.

Whatever decisions that the leader took at party level, the country could be sure that at government level he would not meet any resistance implementing them as there too he had almost unilateral power  ÔÇô and/or vice  versa.

This has allowed for predictability, stability and also smoothness of running the country.

Botswana has not had any major scotched earth policy standoffs between various centres of power such as what we have seen in other countries like Israel, Italy, the United States or closer to home, South Africa.

In South Africa since the democratic set-up arrived in 1994, only Nelson Mandela left the presidency without being pushed out. He declined to serve two terms, leaving after his first. Subsequent to him a sitting Head of State has been forcefully dragged out of office by own party on two separate occasions.

We wait with a baited breath if the same fate will befall the current president.

In Israel at least on one occasion a sitting Prime Minister found himself leaving office and walking straight to jail. That might yet repeat itself with the current Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu who is facing several criminal indictments. Yet Netanyahu is the longest serving Prime minister of Israel, and arguably the most powerful since the creation of the democratic Jewish State in 1948.

In the United States, another country with several and disparate centres of power, the government has on numerous occasions found itself on a shutdown because the Congress that makes laws and controls government budget could not agree with the President on any one policy ÔÇô no matter how mundane or innocuous the policy. It happened even during the time of Saint Barack Obama and twice since Donald Trump took over.

Today the United Kingdom is tearing itself apart because a Prime Minister and her Government have been rendered totally impotent by a parliament that cannot even agree with itself on anyone thing.

Since the World War II, Italy has had close to 70 governments. This is because every political party coming into power has not lasted long enough to serve a full term on its own as each found itself having to go into coalition with others mainly as a way of protecting itself from itself because such political parties had in them inbuilt multiple centres of power.

We as a country have been extremely lucky to circumvent all the above for over fifty years.

What is currently going on inside the Botswana Democratic Party is a classic example of working hard to create multiple centres of power that would take us back to the dark ages.

And on that score far from just being an internal party matter, every Motswana should watch events therein with both keen interest and worried suspicion.

It is thus intellectually dishonesty for anybody to say that those of us who worry about the potential risks to the country as a result of the outcome therein are necessarily motivated by any surreptitious support for Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Individuals come and go, but by-products of what the BDP is going through will reverberate and be felt as they haunt both the BDP and the country long after Masisi has left the scene.

Those unfairly criticising us say we are wedded to a boring, unadventurous and routine world that is against both change and innovation.

Nothing can be farther from the truth.

When he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a celebrated American four star General turned global statesman, Collin Powell once shouted at Madeleine Albright, then a United States Ambassador to the United Nations; “American GIs are not toy soldiers to be moved around on some sort of global game board.”

Albright had wondered aloud just what the purpose of the all mighty American army that Collin was always talking about was if he could not put that same army to use.

Those goading Pelonomi Venson to go ahead and take Masisi head on say she is wholly within her rights as provided for by the BDP Constitution.

They are totally correct.

But they are also playing with fire.

What they choose to ignore is that by opting to exercise her right, Venson has also chosen the nuclear option meaning that her decision will destroy everything and everybody in its wake. And that is exactly what is happening. And that is what we are already beginning to see.

Once a precedent is created there is no going back.

People are lying to Venson by telling her that they like her more than the rest of us who are calling for caution rather than adventurism.

Some of us are by nature intrinsically averse to the idea of experimenting with the very stability of our country.

And what the ruling party is doing is a kind of an experiment in democracy.

The only tragedy is that the experiment involves real people, not toys that General Collin Powell once alluded to.

While by far the best known system of running government and politics, democracy is by itself an imperfect system. It is, like Charles Dickens would have put it, an ass.

For it to survive it needs maturity and restraint of the wildest instinct inherent in mankind. Any temptation to give in to adventurism will inevitably leads to anarchism that by itself will risk stretching the edifice to a tipping point.

By calling for caution, we are in no way the defenders of the status quo, much less the beneficiaries of prevailing social privileges as some are already saying.

The sad truth again is that most of the people blaming us for supporting Masisi are not consciously lying.

They simply do not understand the broad importance of a country and nation beyond narrow political party interests.

Events as they are unfolding inside the BDP have a potential to upset the very stability on which our democracy and indeed nationhood are anchored.

A vicious and even violent conflict is inevitable if as a result of what is happening, there ends up being a president of the party who is different and separate from that of country and government.

The two centres will tear each other apart, lead to further paralysis and take down with them the already dissipated forbearance of our public discourse.

This is a risk that needs to be harped on endlessly so that if the party delegates decide to go that route at least they do so with their eyes wide open rather than sleep-walking into it.

So far the reasons given both by Pelonomi Venson herself and her supporters for her standing remain totally unsatisfying as to be laughable.

It is only two weeks to the elections. And we find ourselves staring down the barrel.


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