Monday, September 21, 2020

We are living under a technical State of Emergency!

Maybe it’s a little bit over the mark, a case of being overly pessimistic, if you want, but there is something eerily akin to a state of emergency about our existence these days.

One says this with a real risk of having their patriotism questioned and impugned.

But it has to be said all the same.
Our democracy, together with our values of liberty and freedom, are at stake.
We may differ on semantics, but lately there seems to be growing consensus that our Government’s eagerness and preparedness to ride roughshod the established rules, values and institutions is pushing our tolerance to the limit.

As a nation, we are all the more vulnerable because we have traditionally believed that our government will always act to serve our interests as citizens.

Never suspicious of our government, we have never seen an urgency to establish robust institutions to counterbalance the influence against the excesses committed by the executive.

All these could have been avoided had the BNF and the BCP been able to set aside their differences four years ago and agreed on, at least, acknowledging the existence of one another even as they could bring themselves to work from under one roof.

Naturally, this has placed extraordinary pressures on the media ÔÇô never strong to start with ÔÇô to play the oversight roles.

A failure by the BNF and the BCP to work together has condemned our politics to perpetual domination by the BDP, a party which, as we all know, has since April last year been degenerating at a pace where it now sees nothing wrong with feeding even on its own children: Daniel Kwelagobe, Pono Moathodi, Botsalo Ntuane, Gomolemo Motswaledi and many others.

With the BNF and the BCP having showed a shocking failure to respond to peoples’ wishes, with the media’s exposure reaching unprecedented levels, our only hope can be the judiciary.
My instinct though is that even the judiciary is no longer immune from the onslaught. Very soon it will have its turn ÔÇô that is if internal processes leading thereto have not yet started.

The question that we have to tackle as a nation is that, with political opposition now effectively vanquished, the media about to be and the judiciary the next in line, who can we expect to provide a balance of power and authority between our seemingly blood thirsty executive and our civil liberties?

It clearly cannot be parliament which, as we all know, is near the apex on the national heap of the country’s toothless institutions.

For goodness sake, parliament dominated by MPs from the BDP who look and behave as frightened as abused spouses cannot be expected to hold President Khama and his ministers accountable.

I want to be optimistic, but the crescendo of negativity and public gloom simply burry my head under.
However hard one looks and scrounges around for the good news, none seems to come forward. The situation regarding the future of our freedoms and liberties is pretty grim.

All indications are that the Khama led government is on a kind of a religious crusade to further extend the frontiers of Botswana’s rule by the executive.
What we are experiencing, perhaps not exactly before our eyes, is the making of a subtle and benevolent but pervasive police state where the supremacy and prestige of security agents far exceed whatever level of importance is accorded the elected officials.

From his recent press conferences on the shooting of John Kalafatis it turns out ÔÇô which is not at all surprising given his background- that the Minister of Defence, Ndelu Seretse, who is apparently a cousin to the President, is the most security-minded Minister of State Botswana has ever had since independence.

Already some commentators mention his name as a future Vice President, en-route to the ultimate preferment. God forbid!

When Vice President Mompati Merafhe says killing one or two people is nothing as to hurt Botswana’s image, he is not only speaking from the heart, he is also, perhaps more importantly expressing a core belief passionately held by an establishment of which he is a senior member.

I have not seen two people more united in their lack of sympathy for a victim of a merciless and brutal state power. I don’t know what these two former senior soldiers think of it, but for me it is a kind of heartlessness born from a shocking faith in military colonialism that we the non-soldiers shall never fully understand.

Truth be said, former President Festus Mogae had many shortcomings, and he showed them in his ten-year rule, but he was a true liberal who showed a deep and unwavering passion for freedom.
Some of us vehemently differed with him to an extent of openly maligning him, but we never for a second doubted his personal faith in all the civil liberties that have helped make Botswana the envy of many countries over the years.

While the now notorious DIS was established under his watch, the fact of the matter is that it was all a part of the many concessions, compromises and favours he had to make to his chosen successor as part of a deal to entice Khama into politics.

The latest innovation by Government to shut out the judicial process by hunting and shooting down criminal suspects without any attempts to arrest them and subject to a full process of the law is a chilling reminder of just how far we have come since Festus Mogae left the scene in April last year.

Given his faith in the sanctity of civil freedoms and liberties, I suspect the man must be gnashing his teeth at the direction the country is taking.
The very liberties and freedoms that Mogae so fervently espoused are now on a downward spiral.

It all started the day it became a state business to tell citizens how much alcohol to drink, when to drink it, and when it was time to sleep.

Indications are that more such restrictions are set to follow, culminating, if the pace and tone do not change, with a State of Emergency.
We may not be in a State of Emergency proper, but take the badly poisoned social relations that we have as a people and onto that add the pervasive state of public fear, uncertainty and alarm and you have a carefully crafted State of Emergency.

At least technically we are already living under one.

Ours is a system that has been badly defiled by its supposed guardians.
It will take much more than lawsuits and veiled threats against human rights lawyers to restore it to its past heights of integrity and decency.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.