Sunday, September 27, 2020

The biggest lesson of Kenyan riots is that they can easily happen in Botswana!

We have been told from time to time that the Independent Electoral Commission is, by every definition of the word, independent.

The ground reality though is that, week in week out, evidence mounts as to how the independence of the IEC has, over the years, been ruthlessly eroded by control freaks that straddle the Office of the President.

Reports surrounding the resignation of the IEC Chairman John Mosojane should fill all sane people with dread.

Today, Kenya is on fire, not just because an election has been rigged but, more importantly, because a supposedly independent electoral commission in that once admirably peaceful East African country allowed itself to come under the thrall of one of the power contenders.

The result, as the world has become so helplessly aware, has been destruction not just of property and international goodwill, but also of human life on a scale that only a few weeks ago was not imaginable.

Botswana has many lessons to learn from the human catastrophe gripping Kenya today.
Key among those lessons is that under no circumstances should a government take people’s concerns for granted.

There is no doubt that Batswana are peace loving nation. But then so are the Kenyans.
There is, however, yet another lesson to be learnt from the Kenyan destruction; people’s patience and tolerance are not infinite. This applies even to the most docile of people.
The selfish fondness by the authorities to alienate ordinary people from decision making processes will, in the end, be perilous to those who wield power.

The problem with the Mogae administration is that, in its ten years of existence, it has tirelessly worked hard to produce a crop of politicians and technocrats (most of them the President’s personal friends) who believe they can shamelessly control and run everything.

This small class of the president’s friends knows no bounds when it comes to absolute control.
As we have had to learn, this is a tight knit band of close associates who believe in absolute control, exercised by them, exclusively to their own benefit.
In all fairness, the meddling by the Office of the President in the operations of the IEC should not have come as a surprise. The obsession with control by Mogae’s friends sprawls every sphere ÔÇô from the Office of The President itself to the Central Bank, including, we are sorry to hear, into some areas of the judicial administration.

Weird enough, these men and women strongly believe that no aspect of the Botswana life should continue without their explicit approval.
It is a matter of sadness that in the meantime the nation appears helpless as the President’s friends play God with our very lives.
This is extraordinary and should be brought to an end.

As citizens, we must not join the government in its march to forsake democratic decency for partisan control of national institutions.
While the turn of events at the IEC is most telling, it will also serve to give ammunition to critics who have always sought to dismiss the very notion of autonomy of many of our institutions.
The IEC turn of events is also a shot in the arm for those who have always said that behind our excessively hyped democratic façade lie some of the worst constitutional abuses one can think of.
If allowed for too long, this festering problem could easily take Botswana the Kenya way.

The excesses of political control which inevitably culminate into manipulation of institutions by the privileged cabal, with direct access to the President, will lead to popular loss of faith and trust in both those institutions and the rulers themselves.
That is exactly what happened in Kenya.
He may not be immediately aware of it but all these raise the stakes even higher for the incoming Ian Khama.

He inherits a system on the decline; fast losing both public appeal and popular trust.
Because he has no choice but to live up to expectations, Khama can only save the situation by starting on a fresh slate.
He has to appoint new faces to many of the offices that matter.

Only a fresh start would disabuse the public service of their deeply entrenched feelings of entitlement.
Only a fresh start would bring to an end an entrenched tradition where powerful technocrats treat the entire citizenry but themselves as some kind of animated toys.

In the meantime, the public has every right to feel affronted by a political elite that appears aloof and detached from the troubles of their daily lives.
Dangerous as it may be for the security of the country, the public is justified to feel economically ostracized and politically slighted. Our rulers have become too arrogant.

Come to think of it, the source of BDP arrogance is that, while they have presided over a marked increase in public cynicism, they are, to be honest, not suffering any real prospects for electoral defeat.
I am still to see a party that so easily continues to win elections it so clearly deserves to lose.
That is because in such a poor organizational state, the opposition is not even able to stand up and present itself as a remote alternative.

People have lost faith in the BDP, but they have lost even more of that faith in the opposition which they see as much more patronizing and childish. It’s a vicious cycle in which we are caught, which is why, deplorable as it is, the Kenyan experience is not too far away.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.