Although he has always been regarded with astounding awe, the reputation of President Ian Khama has never been greater than it does this year. He has decimated his erstwhile detractors in opposition many of whom have literally come to kneel at his feet, begging for his forgiveness, including permission to join and, in other instances, rejoin his party, the same party that a little while ago they not only were desecrating but also fighting to overthrow from power.
Kagiso Ntime, Botsalo Ntuane, Reggie Reatile and Kabo Morwaeng are the few names that immediately come to mind. But there certainly are hundreds others, with many more still lining up for a pilgrimage-like return to the BDP where, in self depravation, they willingly, embarrassingly and helplessly present themselves as prodigal sons.
Not surprisingly, all the new converts hail president Khama as a political genius and an outstanding strategist who will ultimately be the last man standing.
To them, as the defeated, he is a man imbued with powers to even walk on water. No wonder, comparisons with Christ are increasing in their frequency, fervor and conviction.
Politically, the reputation is very much justified even though, as we might point out, many of Khama’s trophies were always people of doubtful endurance not to speak of character.
The defections to the BDP have nonetheless given the President a new sense of self-belief. The defections provide him with a reason to throw his weight around. With these new trophies in hand, he can afford to swank that he was always right to implement with a religious-like determination many of the very measures that split the BDP and for which he attracted unprecedented criticism from his former opponents and their fellow travelers.
The high profile defections mean that Khama is not just the master of all he surveys, he also has become the universally accepted winner of the political tussles the nation has been treated to over the last two years.
The recent retirement of Vice President Mompati Merafhe, the vacancies that have come as a result and the looming cabinet reshuffle mean that literally everybody in cabinet has their heads up in anticipation of what the president may be having up his sleeves.
The president has never been in a stronger position.
The fact that the nation is also holding its breath means that Khama’s power extends far beyond his party and cabinet to include the nation at large.
Buoyed and clearly relishing his power, the president last week made an impromptu announcement in a speech in Maun.
He announced that the economy is now in a position to increase salaries of public servants. Nobody else in government knew about the impending announcement. He cast the image of a man overly aware that he needs not consult anybody on anything, not even on the biggest decisions with far reaching public ramifications.
It’s all part of the spoils. Having single-handedly achieved his political victories, he now can rule alone and as he pleases. We are all at his mercy. History, they say, is after all written by the winners.
But still he must be careful.
There are many pitfalls ahead.
Given his recent high profile victories, it may sound disrespectful to take issue with the staying power of all that the president has achieved.
But truth be said, unless he comes up with a clear national agenda his audacious claim to supremacy could turn out not just to be short-lived but also a prelude to catastrophe. Recent political achievements risk being marked down if they are not swiftly augmented by tangible economic improvements on the lives of many Batswana who have never been involved in his catfights with his political opponents.
We note with restlessness that his 5Ds no longer elicit the kind of excitement they used to. Curiously, not even on the chief promoter himself.
Personally, I cannot recall the last time the president last talked about the 5Ds in public.
Under Khama, Botswana’s economic achievements have been greatly exaggerated. While the Ministry of Finance continues to churn out feel-good statistical fog that underplay the extent of problems we are in, facts on the ground speak of a totally different picture. There is not a slightest hint on the ground to suggest that since he became president anything has been achieved on the field of job creation.
While there are still murmurs of economic diversification, the image that emerges is that this is a government not only on retreat but also now half-hearted in its pursuit of this inescapable objective.
It may well be true that the president has reason to smile with regards to what has been achieved on the front of discipline ÔÇô selective as the implementation has been, but with so many unemployed people roaming the streets, what is there to show for broadening the frontiers of dignity? With Botswana’s international competitiveness and domestic productivity on the decline, and the civil service in shambles it would be wholly untruthful to claim victory in the area of delivery. The litany of many unfinished public projects is a reminder of a rotten system. A fair question may be asked, just what project has been finished on time, within budget and within schedule since Ian Khama became the president of the republic.
All evidence point to the fact that sizeable gains in the area of manufacturing that president Khama inherited have since been reversed. He can ask the officers at the former BEDIA office to confirm this assertion. While still there, he can verify with Bank of Botswana if the country’s fiscal situation has been improving. He would also no doubt want to know if under his government people have either been saving or getting more indebted. With more and more people falling into the debt trap, the results, I can assure the president, will be most disheartening.
It is true that the economy has up to now been able to limp through as to be able to support some of the president’s initiatives including Ipelegeng, but he needs to be reminded that whatever vitality there has been, by and large, it has been debt-financed. Unless concerted measures are put in place, public debt will soon explode. And this notwithstanding the fact that many capital projects as contained in the National Development Plan have since been suspended, pulled off the schedule or cancelled altogether.
Despite all the endless boasting about how government is helping private sector to grow, many small businesses continue to go belly up, more as victims of government’s inflexible public procurement structures and a tax regime that does not reward innovation.
Botswana has fallen off all the main indices of international competitiveness and the Ministry of Labour’s calls to turn the tide are like a wail in the darkness. Under President Khama, the decline will intensify unless there is a shift from security obsession to wealth creation.
Of course, he has all the right to celebrate his political victories, and we do not fault him for it, but the new battles ahead are economic, we must point. And with economics not among his known strengths those battles will be much tougher to win, we might add.