Thursday, July 9, 2020

We are a nation consumed by gridlock

Things are not as good as they seem.

Mokgweetsi Masisi’s full term is opening badly, with the opposition behaving like guerrilla insurgents.

But they really are not to blame for much of the inertia because a large chunk of the population has already discounted them and has moved on without them.

But still it would be wrong to look the other way.

Some people are trying to create omnipotence around Masisi, that he is impregnable and even invincible. That is not so.

A design is being created around him by his adherents that there is nothing he cannot achieve.

Fissures inside the party are already beginning to form.

In no time they will be big cracks that he will not fill much less mend. 

This is rattling at different levels.

It will destroy the feeling of serenity they are trying to build, which the president so much craves.

The cracks expose the Botswana Democratic Party as not the well-oiled machine that is supposed to have taken victory from the jaws of an over excited opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change.

The emerging cracks, depending on how they are tackled will with time become a preclude to the first real challenge to Masisi’s still forming hegemony over the BDP.

There is no shortage of unhappy people inside the BDP tent.

Of course the Masisi Doctrine is yet to emerge and form with a kind of requisite clarity that he can be challenged w3ith any firmness or fairness. 

Some feel used, and then expended.

They watch with pain as people not associated with the BDP become big beneficiaries of the same.

By its nature, Botswana’s political system puts inordinate amount of emphasis on control rather than voluntary cohesion.

Masisi had promised a national public conversation. It is yet to begin.

There are too many red-flags that cannot wait.

The rhino carnage in the Okavango is fast morphing into a calamity of international proportions.

The country could do without this self-inflicted short-sightedness.

It is going to be as difficult as to be impossible for government to wrap itself with flag nationalism as it did with the case of elephants. Elephants terrorise Batswana. Rhinos are treated as peaceful and even sacrosanct by many Batswana.

Sheer ineptitude, is already the rallying cry of detractors.

If the Botswana Defence Force cannot protect a small area occupied by rhinos in the Okavango, how can they be trusted to defend the country in times of war.

Nobody should be under any illusion that victory in 2019 was due to Mokgweetsi Masisi’s personal popularity or the BDP’s.

If there is anything that the BDP has to thank Masisi for it has to be successfully holding the sky from falling over them. In parliament he still commands a huge majority that if looked at in isolation could be misleading. That majority is a result of Botswana’s electoral system, which is constituency based as opposed to Proportional Representation.

Masisi relishes the power that the constituency-based system has bequeathed him.

He wants to take personal responsibility and with that credit of every minor triumph inside government.

There is nothing wrong with that, as long as he is also eagerly prepared to personally shoulder every defeat, every blunder and every omission inside government. As is the case with the slaughter of rhinos.

But his biggest strength is not the majority, but rather the strict discipline that his parliamentary caucus is famed for when it comes to taking orders from the executive.

Other than that, he remains as vulnerable as ever.

Some people might try to drape him with an aura of immortality. It will not stick.

Hopefully Masisi, the politician is a realist who would not be carried away by flattery.

For many who voted the BDP it was a difficult choice of the lesser between two evils.

Many people were simply repelled by what they rightly saw as a UDC that was under the control and spell of billionaire Zunaid Moti and dictator Ian Khama.

They could not stomach the combination.

The covenant is simple; he has to deliver. Or the many who voted for him, who have never been loyal to him to start with, will be appalled.

He needs to attain the political objectives he so eloquently spelt out in his campaign.

Social renewal remains elusive.

The more uncharitable would say there is a national gridlock of which he would he wholly liable.

He promised some bold and overarching adventures that led many to doubt at first if he really meant what he said, or even if he was aware of what he was really saying.

He will not have an excuse for not carrying out the Constitutional reforms he so forcefully preached in 2019.

Speaking big, and providing few details is fast becoming emblematic of Masisi’s presidency.

He should be wary of soundbite politics, people easily through the bluster and get turned off.

What is not debatable is that he likes to be in charge of every setting in which he finds himself, which is not always a good thing because even a president needs to hear varying voices.

Since coming in he is using his personal stamina and chutzpah to run a government.

That might be a great advantage in the immediate term, but in the long term it is a huge, even unworthwhile risk.

It might also be a good thing because there are too few people for him to trust in the current scheme of things.

Almost inevitably it means an aura of indispensability is created around him, thus rendering decision making without him in government totally impossible.

That is how many ministers are already factoring him at the moment.

Every time he goes on an international trip, and there are many such trips, government goes on a state of dormancy.

Ministers are afraid to make even the most mundane decisions without bouncing them or passing them by the president.

Maybe he means well, but history shows us that personality cults start when well-meaning people make what looks like innocuous decisions, that before they become worse as dictators.

As was the case with his predecessor now turned nemesis, it looks like this outward domination actually exist side by side with a deep-seated inner sense of insecurity.

The UDC challenge of the election results through numerous petitions has not been the worst thing possible.

But they present a new form of reality for Masisi. Answering a question in Davos, Switzerland he sought to downplay the whole fracas playing out at the courts in Botswana.

For their part, Batswana are struggling to make sense of it all.

If the courts rule for a re-run especially in a majority of cases, the impact on the BDP would become cataclysmic.

If any evidence had been led before courts showing that the BDP, and with Masisi’s coordination or even knowledge had coordinated the cheating as a so-called forensic report in South African had alleged, that too would have been really bad for the president.

While there are growing attempts to depict him in near messiah terms, he continues to show human frailties.

A look at his two State of the Nation Address speeches provides more than a hint.

The opposition, somehow was totally sure of victory. They are finding it hard to accept the outcome of the polls. Defeat, including that of their leader has left them clearly disoriented.

There is no doubt for example that he is painfully concerned by the country’s education policy that continues to yield and churn garbage into the streets. His interest on the state of the country’s crumbling public health infrastructure is good for the nation. 

An admission while in Davos that high unemployment among the youth gives him sleepless nights is a worthy consolation.

But by far his eyes are always on politics – his biggest strength.

We have always known him to be a cold and calculating political strategist of note.

We are yet to see in him an empathetic negotiator, a master planner and a team player that the nation so badly needs.

Or he might as well brace himself for a long spell in dry land.


Read this week's paper

Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.