Sunday, September 27, 2020

Unity Dow joins politics: Have we become a nation of politicians?

Something is going horribly wrong in Botswana.

We seem to labour under a dangerous belief that for one to recognizably and meaningfully serve the country they have to be in politics.

To make matters worse, in our blind rush to join politics, we are blurring the line that guarantees the sanctity and with it independence of the judiciary.

I was reminded of this absurdity as I read an announcement by the BDP that former High Court Judge, Unity Dow had joined them as an activist.

By all measure that matters, Unity Dow is a Big fish, to use a word by now familiar to the BDP Secretary General, Mpho Balopi.

Dow’s social activism has touched the lives of many people.

As one of the few women to become a High Court Judge, she no doubt has been a part of very important historical development of this country.

And in here I have not the slightest wish to talk at any length about her now famous legal victory against the Government of Botswana which led to the change of many of the country’s laws.

Given her history and background, I find it inordinately insensitive that her joining of politics should be any source of jubilation, not even for those who manage the BDP and Tsholetsa House.
There is much that can be done to the service of the country outside politics.

Is Mrs. Dow not content with the great and unifying service she has been to her country outside of politics?

I hope not.
Even when I did not share her views, I had always regarded Unity Dow’s as a voice of reason.
I was surprised but not disappointed when she resigned from the bench.

But her decision to join politics has left me utterly disappointed.

I expected better from her.

As President Ian Khama never ceases to point out, politics is divisive, polarizing, disruptive and generally thankless.

By the way, I always held the view that Dow should never have agreed to become a High Court Judge.
For a person of her background in community work, gender activism and social equality, the bench was always going to be limiting, stifling and constraining.

When she resigned from the bench I felt somewhat vindicated. She was not cut for straitjacket officialdom that comes with being a judge. She needed more space which can only be found in community activism.

Many of her law colleagues I have talked to never regarded her as an exceptionally talented lawyer ÔÇô certainly nowhere near the likes of say Sydney Pilane.

Many of them believe she was a clear beneficiary of long overdue reforms that sought to bring gender balance into our judiciary. Still a good number of them count her as a rare breed of high integrity, one of a small number to be trusted in a profession infested with crooks and ferals.

Why do I think Dow’s decision to leave the bench and later join politics is in overall demeaning to the judiciary?

I know politicians as some of the most indecent people in our country.

My view of politicians is that they are generally thieving, greedy tribe that cannot be trusted.
The judiciary on the other hand is often associated with decency, morality, honesty, hard work, integrity and uprightness.

Politics on the other hand is associated with impunity, double standards, cheating, dishonesty, and looting.

By publicly announcing that she had joined a political party, what Justice Dow has done has been to fling herself headlong into a polarized territory where her views and actions will henceforth not enjoy the same integrity she had grown used to. Her decision has inevitably alienated many people that have henceforth regarded her as a source of unity.

I will not be surprised if her political opponents begin to cast doubts on the integrity of her past judgments against them, their associates and their companies.

That to me has a dangerous potential to throw into credibility crisis those of her former colleagues she has left behind at the judiciary. In short, Mrs. Dow’s decision to join party politics, while no doubt her inalienable constitutional right, is not only unfortunate but also misguided with the potential to erode the integrity and credibility of the judiciary before the eyes of the public.

When I told a friend of mine that Unity Dow had joined party politics, he replied that it was unfortunate.

He said he had always regarded her as the Mamphela Ramphela of Botswana, a social agent who was not affiliated to any political party, a community activist who did not need to be attached or aligned to any institutional name for her to make an impact on the lives of ordinary people, especially women and children.

“I therefore find it bizarre, for lack of a better word, that she should join politics. Being opinionated does not require political space to be expressed effectively,” added a friend of mine.
When I further told him that the former judge had as a matter of fact joined the ruling party, my friend went somewhat berserk.

“That’s even more startling, or as the children’s character, Alice of Alice in Wonderland fame, her decision can only be described as ‘curioser and curioser’ indeed. Then it would mean she has embraced a jaundiced way of seeing things.”

I cannot agree more.

I am sad not so much at the fact that Justice Dow has joined BDP as at the fact that in joining the BDP she has also been lost to the world of community service and neutral social activism which, as she will soon find out, is totally incompatible with the wretched world of politics.

I have always regarded judges as being well above politicians in terms of hierarchy and protocol. But by leaving the bench for politics, Justice Dow seems to have provided an unprecedented test for my faith in the sanctity of the bench.

I hope we are not at the beginning of a new season that will forever transform the judiciary into a butt of jokes.

Early signs are that the floodgates are now wide open.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

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