Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Two ‘democrats’ against a despot: The stormy relationship between Botswana’s former presidents and sitting President Khama

There seems to be an unwritten rule in Africa that those who vacate the presidency office after serving their constitutionally prescribed full terms should as a matter of righteousness stay away from public glare and/or should not make their views known especially if such views are uncomplimentary about the sitting president or do not adequately portray the former president as a defeathered cockerel. In accordance with this rule, former presidents are often openly alienated, loathed and placed on the margins perhaps as an arrogant and boastful display of permanent role reversal that has effectively condemned the former first citizen to the class of cheerer boys and nit pickers. Often the sitting president defines his presidency by his ability to tame former presidents and/or hold them responsible for the country’s troubles.  

From a lazy man’s perspective, it is plausible that the former statesmen should quickly assume and get used to their new place in society; that it is only proper that the former presidents should accept that they are no longer in charge of the highest office hence they should shut up and keep their thoughts to themselves lest they are seen to be trying to rule from their graves. This rule effectively censors the former presidents and ensures that they are placed under constant surveillance to bring them to order whenever they stray.  

However, this is unfortunate and bastardly as it is an act of cowardice and lack of self-belief in one’s leadership credentials. Such resolve to distinguish oneself from their predecessors is bizarre and exemplifies a leader motivated by a loner personality. It is a shameful act of the weakness of control freak; an obvious sign of lack of integrity and an open display of vindictiveness. No one understands and appreciate the tough job of being a state president except those who have held the position. These are the people who can authoritatively confirm that presidential leadership requires more than just a figure of myth and legend. These are the people who are better placed to empathize with the sitting president on matters of policy choices and stand by him during very difficult times. Thus, if used right, former presidents could be enormous assets for the sitting president especially in terms of drumming public support for unpopular yet necessary presidential directives and executive decisions. The sitting president has the privilege to call for any service or advise the former presidents could offer to the country.

Using former presidents also offers a priceless incentive for them to show full support for the sitting president and provides an opportunity to leverage their relationship to accomplish national goals. Seeing the sitting president and former presidents side by side would provide a sense of comfort for our country. It would, to a greater extent, promote a sense of social cohesion and harmony and offer some hope that despite inherent differences people can and should work together to take Botswana forward. 

It is my opinion that by facilitating the ascendency of Ian Khama to the presidency by hook or by crook, former Presidents Masire and Mogae trusted Ian Khama and thought he would make a good leader. This is so because during the early years of Khama’s presidency, the former presidents really worked hard to protect their chosen Prince and did everything to make life easy for him. However, the two former first citizens are now convinced that President Khama has betrayed their trust and what the BDP and Batswana stand for. They have become suspicious of President Khama’s motives and democratic credentials and now hold him as a traitor; a sell-out with questionable loyalty to both party and the republic. 

Their public expressions that have all the hallmarks of a hate speech intended to incite and rally citizens against Khama’s administration point to a complete breakdown of any transactional relationship between the two former presidents and President Khama. The former presidents seem clearly hurt that Botswana is digressing is many aspects political and social life and has become dysfunctional with unprecedented citizen disillusionment. Essentially and most importantly, their consistent scathing assessment of the performance of the current administration points to patriotic seniors genuinely worried by the state of Botswana, the country they hold so dearly which is why they are eager to leap to the attack of Khama’s presidency. 

As former leaders who presided over a hospitable and prosperous Botswana, they are more than convinced that they have to place some part in reversing the current rot. To that end and perhaps without any informal or formal forum available to them to engage with the sitting president and exchange candid thoughts, they have taken to publicly rebuke and denigrate the presidency thus effectively and unapologetically denouncing the Presidency of Khama as tyrannical, most polarizing in Botswana’s history and an insidiously corrupt regime that must fall before it causes irreversible harm. By doing so, they have transcended the narrow confines of Partisanship and have their gaze on the bigger picture which is of course a commendable sense of patriotism.  

Surprisingly, while former presidents Masire and Mogae has had very little in common, their recent public statements questioning President Khama’s democratic credentials show a high degree of commonality in reasoning. Thus, they now have something in common ÔÇô their disdain of Khama’s administration. For good or for bad, they share a huge amount of ambivalence towards President Khama which has now blossomed into a full scale cage match often interspersed with provocative rhetoric, threats and counter threats. 

While it could be argued that the former presidents’ open criticism of the sitting president is a sign of a mature democracy, it is nonetheless ugly and infantile psychodrama by people who are regarded as role models. This stand-off between the former presidents and the sitting president that has spiralled into an internecine war is very unfortunate, scandalous and can have catastrophic effect on the nation and the image of the presidency in the longer term which is going to take more than just a new face to make it return to respectability. Their sour relationship is poisonous, divisive and a national embarrassment of monumental proportions. It characterizes us Batswana as a very petty society ruled by a primitive leadership that has the attributes of cannibals. 

The Badge of Courage challenges those with the wherewithal to reform or redesign the relationship between our former presidents and the sitting president for the benefit of the nation. Whereas it is likely to be a huge task to reconcile the warring parties, going forward there is need to lay down a foundation that will rewrite history for future relations.  Perhaps it would be worthwhile to copy from the Americans and establish a Presidents’ Club with a view to providing a meaningful forum for former presidents to have a voice on topical issues where they would differ civilly without acting up like neglected pit bulls. The Club will have the advantage of making former presidents feel adequately recognized and valued which will in turn ensure that they extend their full support to the sitting president.

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