For twenty years now Botswana has been receiving consistently positive reviews from Transparency International as the least corrupt country in Africa.
Initially this was interpreted by many citizens as a badge of honour.
With time it evolved into a distraction as more and more people started to question the true value of the prize.
That continued until even the least cynical among us started to think of Transparency International itself as a bad joke.
Today Transparency International has lost so much of its credibility among a majority of Batswana such that its findings are a source of division every time they are released.
But the bigger problem is that this European organization has with time driven this country closer and closer to a perilous cliff-edge.
Nobody knows for sure what useful purpose the organisation’s rankings serve because they are so patently unreliable and untrue.
Looked from another context, such rankings have been an ever present excuse by our authorities not to fight official corruption.
For Botswana, Transparency International has become the public face of a lost opportunity in the country’s fight against corruption.
Our leaders seized the rankings ÔÇô though false – and made them an enduring political story of their life successes.
Transparency International has provided the elite with a thick and convenient cover against public scrutiny.
It has also provided an excuse against upholding the rules.
Like Transparency International itself, our leaders have been totally unrestrained and even evangelical in their moral righteousness when it came to corruption.
Scandals like those still playing out at the National Petroleum Fund and also at the country’s biggest pension fund (BPOPF) can very easily be traced to a lax culture that has been wrought by a false sense of security that Botswana basked against, radiated by Transparency International.
Inevitably, this has frustrated the helpless but law abiding ordinary citizens who are now baying for revenge against those in power.
One of America’s earliest presidents and also an estimable scholar, James Madison argued in 1787 that once an impression is created that there are those who have nothing to gain by following the rules, especially when those people are in the majority, very soon they turn to attacking not only the rules, but also the minority that breaks the rules.
He could easily have been talking about Botswana’s current state of affairs today. Too many people feel left out.
To a majority of these citizens, Transparency International is no longer a distant and detached observer. It is an omnipresent meddler.
To the leadership, Transparency International has been both a boon and a disservice ÔÇô a strength and also a weakness; a boon because they have for almost two decades now used it as evidence of their political cleanliness. A disservice because it has delayed them to undertake the long overdue reforms needed to weed out corruption.
The exaltations of Botswana by Transparency International have been counterproductive.
They have created falsehoods about true state of corruption in Botswana.
In return, Government has taken a cue from them and cultivated a romanticized reality ÔÇô a make belief world.
People living in Botswana cannot recognize the fantasy world emerging from Transparency International literature.
These exaltations have played an immensely expansive role in the moulding of Botswana government’s cavalier attitude towards corruption.
They have been used by those in power to divide the country and alienate political opponents.
Transparency international fraudulently allowed those in power a moral basis and firepower to undermine those holding a different view.
For example former President Ian Khama consistently used data from Transparency International to cast doubts on the patriotism of his opponents and also on those who dared to complain about growing corruption.
Feeling emboldened and validated by Transparency International’s annual rituals, he was unrelenting in highlighting the supposed malevolence of those who opposed him and his government.
By implication, anybody questioning Transparency International findings was deemed a traitor.
And year after year, the findings of Transparency International that always depicted Botswana as Africa’s star-pupil were evoked as definitive evidence of ill-will on the part of anybody who dared to say anything different.
As it is, by the time all counting is done, Khama’s administration might turn out to be the most corrupt in Botswana’s history.
For the twenty years that Transparency International has been prating Botswana as the least corrupt country in Africa, our leaders have been frozen in a corruption chamber ÔÇô hoping that that the music from TI goes on unchanged. And so it has been the case.
Transparency international should find an exit strategy and allow our leaders to deal with corruption that it has pampered and glossed over for the last 20 years.
Its flawed but perennial upholding of Botswana as the least corrupt country has with time morphed from something to behold and celebrate, to something akin to a bad joke before becoming an object of ridicule and scorn.
Transparency International needs to do something like face-saving.
To redeem itself, Transparency International has to live up to its name and be more transparent on how it has been reaching its conclusions, especially its tools of research like methodology and the sizes and character of groups of people interviewed.
The solace, if one can call it that is that for a majority of Batswana, Transparency International has long ceased to be a reliable organ for measuring the state of corruption in their country.
Transparency International has no one to blame but itself.
It should have known better than that.
It played into the hands of a Government addicted and clamouring for more international accolades.