Thursday, June 4, 2020

The president should welcome dissonance inside his inner circle

When the leader of the UDC (Umbrella for Democratic Change) Duma Boko spoke of the “pony haired” that control Botswana’s economy, many of us regretted the abrasive tone, but could not fairly discredit the point that he was making.

Ian Khama’s Achilles Heel was his white friends who he so much adored that handed them Botswana’s tourism sector.

In fact, when Khama got into power many Indians that make up the bulk of Botswana’s political industrial complex were very worried.

They were worried he was going to drive them out of business.

I suppose his arrival brought sad memories of what Idi Amin did to the Asians in Uganda.

He was cold towards them. But to his credit he did not specifically persecute them as a group.

It is still early years and already signs are there for all to see that under Mokgweetsi Masisi it will be the Indians and to a lesser extent the Chinese.

Many have observed – and they are largely correct – that Masisi musings on indigenous economic empowerment are vague yet to be truly tested.

So far nothing has happened to be shown as evidence that the president really means what he says.

This is not the ideal time to be allowing our prejudices to blur our judgement as there is an existential war right before us. But racial relations have been fractious for quite a while – long before coronavirus set in.

Indians dominate commerce in Botswana. and the hasty decisions towards reopening of Botswana’s economy are without any meaningful evidence being attributed to them.

This is made somewhat plausible by the fact that over and above commerce, Indians now also have a political stump with which to exert some leverage.

Additionally, the psychology behind the president’s power relations is already in full display. And is playing out full blast even during these trying times.

Indians are emerging as frontrunners under Masisi rule.

Again it is early to be categoric, but so far the differences between Ian Khama and Masisi have been in aesthetics and not in substance.

Senior ministers talk of heightened intolerance and even a lack of debate before key decisions are taken.

They look at how former allies, including ruling party Secretary General Mpho Balopi have overnight been cast out through the window and made pariahs.

Some of them allude to a president who is a control freak, who takes unkindly to even the mildest criticism – a signal of possible intellectual arrogance or even insecurity.

They make mention of excessive unaccountable power exerted by people holding no official position other than just unfettered access to the president.

The president’s circle is Indian dominated. This puts restrictions on unvarnished advice he gets, thus limiting his options.

It is not enough to say he has a cabinet, when a majority of those in cabinet often behave like frightened creatures unable to even find a voice independent of that of the president.

Cabinet ministers are now out-competing each other on who is more loyal than the other.

Naturally this breeds quackery.

Circumstances are forcefully being created where ministers are terrified of speaking or acting, lest they found themselves contradicting the president. “To be honest with you it is much worse than was the case under Khama,” a former minister told me.

Another minister compared the president to a “philosopher king” who knows everything under every subject.

The end result is that Batswana are not getting the best value for money from their cabinet and their government.

The president should develop a thick skin.

After Hillary Clinton lost after a brutal campaign against Barack Obama, still Obama went on to pick her for Secretary of State.

When Abraham Lincoln became United States President in 1860, three members of his cabinet were people who had run against him in the elections.

Upon that seminal decision was coin the phrase “Team of Rivals” which has become a tittle of a bestselling book that our president should read with a keen interest.

Team of Rivals is a total opposite of what happened here after Pelonomi Venson announced that she wanted to become President.

Very few indigenous Batswana carry any meaningful voices to counter balance those of his Indian friends inside the inner linings of his power orbit.

Thus Batswana have every right to feel undercut and once again outflanked.

This is creating utter disunity that the nation can ill afford.

This also boxes the president in a much smaller space.

When the economy collapses as it is likely to following the corona pandemic, racial tensions that have been simmering underneath for too long, which our recent leaders have badly mismanaged will come to the fore.

In public, Satar Dada who is the National Treasurer of the BDP and his deputy Shah Jagdish are the true emblems of Indian economic and political power in Botswana.

But they are by no means hardly the only ones in the president’s orbit.

The truth however is that they represent a much bigger community that is growing ever more assertive and even buoyant as seen by the display of that power at a meeting they had at the State House late last year.

That meeting left an after taste in the mouths of many Batswana.

Already relations between indigenous Batswana and the local Indians are marked by tensions, mutual suspicion, mutual resentment and ever-growing belittling of the other.

In fairness to the president, the pandemic has scuttled whatever plans he might have had for Batswana.

In the same vein, the growing Asian power was already in full throttle long before the pandemic set in as seen by a meeting that the president hosted and showed off as if to spite his indigenous brethren.

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