Sunday, July 14, 2024

The President cannot threaten his own people

Dear Editor
The Office of the President should move with swift speed to correct media speculation that His Excellency, President Seretse Khama Ian Khama pronounced that he is now going to use his military skills to destroy civil society organizations, especially trade unions. It is true the President has immense military skills which he has accumulated over the years. His military prowess is unquestionable as he can easily execute the threats with remarkable precision. We heard in the past through the propaganda machine how the young Khama single handedly destroyed Ian Smith soldiers when they had intruded into Botswana in the 1970s at the peak of Zimbabwean liberation war.
President Khama is reported recently as having said that he is a trained soldier and will go to battle with the trade unions. He is reported in the Botswana Gazette of 17 October 2013 to have insisted that public sector trade unions ‘destroy the country by participating in Politics’. He is quoted stating that “this shows that unions have taken war to the government but as a trained soldier if they fight me, I will also retaliate”.
The Telegraph of 16 October 2013 quotes the state President threatening “Be reminded that I am a former soldier. I do not fear war and if you start it, beware that I will fight it to the bitter end. Leave politics to politicians. It is not your terrain”.
Soldiers by training kill to defend their country from outside enemies. If it is true he said such, this is a shocking declaration by the state President that he is going to use his military skills on his innocent people just because they are talking politics. The trade unions are not happy with Members of Parliament who are underperforming and those who are anti-unions. The trade unions are simply practicing their democratic right as citizens of this country. In a democracy, this is acceptable. What may not be acceptable is for the public sector trade unions to use working hours and public offices to hold partisan rallies. But after hours workers can use the facilities and freedom squares for any type of meeting. For instance, political parties use schools for their conferences. There is nothing wrong for employees to do the same and even exercise their democratic right of freedom of expression. The freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. It is unfortunate, and in fact unconstitutional and grossly wrong to have provisions in the Botswana constitution and Public Service Act that prohibits public service employees to express their political sentiments in their out of work time. Participatory democracy allows all to freely participate in the political, social and economic development of their country. We cannot be proud of such legislation as the President and public service employer uses it to restrict citizens from exercising their democratic rights.
It is on the basis of the above that President Khama should promote true democracy and resist from being misled by some of his advisors on political issues. This participatory democracy is enjoyed by many citizens around the world and the leadership does not see anything wrong with that. Botswana has been hailed for years now as the beacon of democracy.
President Khama has a lot of resources at his disposal to actually carry out his threat. The only powerful tool that trade unions have, which all politicians are aware of and afraid of it, and can kill for, is the vote. A single vote can remove a member of parliament from office. The same vote can change a government. It can also provide checks and balances to a government and can be used as a bargaining tool. The public sector unions are using the vote as a bargaining tool to improve the working and living conditions of government employees. It is therefore important for the government employees to stand by their unions and support them. This does not mean that they hate their MPs, but they want those going to Parliament to take them seriously and advocate for their interests too. Parliament makes very important decisions which affect citizens of this country.
The President should therefore engage trade unions and even have room for compromise. While the President enjoys the huge resources at his disposal, he cannot forever threaten his citizens, as at one point the citizens will not take it but will stand up and be ready to stand the military action. A basic definition of a soldier is someone who kills to defend his country from outside enemies. Trade unions are not outsiders and are not enemies of the state. Civil society organizations provide checks and balances to the government. The President should therefore not see this group as enemies of the state. He should engage. If the two articles are not misquoting the President, and are relaying what he said, then he has declared war on his citizens. His own citizens have become his enemy. There is a Spanish proverb…. That when you go out to dig a grave for your enemy, dig two. We should not reach that point.
The State President should therefore come out as a unifying figure, a loving father and a champion of social dialogue. We all look up to the President to guarantee and provide safety, security, love, prosperity, democracy, etc. In policy formulation, when someone of the stature of the President speaks, it becomes policy. It will not be surprising to see some agents and organizations now going all out on trade unions and their leaders. It is important that President Khama and his spokespersons clarify the issues surrounding the recent media pronouncements. It is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war ÔÇô Ntwa kgolo ke ya molomo.
Justin Hunyepa


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