Sunday, June 23, 2024

When Khama calls Boko to concede defeat

An Umbrella for Democratic Change rally held last Saturday offers two October 25 scenarios.

In one, the Botswana Democratic Party is returned to power and President Ian Khama makes his younger brother and tourism minister, Tshekedi, vice president. When he automatically becomes president 10 years later, Tshekedi makes Thapelo Olopeng, the BDP’s parliamentary candidate in Tonota South his vice president. Through such machinations, a whole nation’s executive power remains hopelessly trapped within an exclusive social circle.

“Just imagine that,” said Wynter Mmolotsi, the Francistown South parliamentary candidate, in a tone of voice that encouraged his listeners to frown upon the horror of such eventuality.

Scenario Two begins not on the day of the general election but a few days prior ÔÇô like right about now.

“There is really not much to say except to remind Rre Khama to start preparing handover notes for Comrade Boko,” said the guest speaker, Johnson Motshwarakgole of the manual workers union.

Then, on the night of October 25 when all the votes are in, the cellphone of President-elect Comrade Dumalisile Gideon Boko chirps into life. The caller is Khama who congratulates Boko for a hard-won victory, graciously concedes defeat and undertakes to ensure smooth transfer of power. That is the image that UDC’s secretary general, Motlatsi Molapisi, sees forming in his crystal ball. Meanwhile, in another part of town – or the country, Khama’s Director of Intelligence Services, Colonel Isaac Kgosi is in panic mode, trying to flee the country. However, he is soon nabbed by security agents answering to a new set of overlords.

“Isaac Kgosi o tla a bo a ipatlela phatlha. O tla a iphitlha mme re tlaa go bona,” said James Mathokgwane who is contesting for the Goodhope-Mabule parliamentary seat.

As the new leaders knuckle down to the business of governing, one of the main items on their to-do list will be reclaiming the P15.7 million that was fraudulently used to host polka-dance shindigs. By Mmolotsi’s account, the nation was hoodwinked into believing that this money would be used on poverty eradication programmes when it has in fact been diverted to jam sessions where people twist, turn and glide across dance arenas every single day.

If some plot points of this narrative appear out of place that is because it was cobbled together by too many cooks and would attest to an Englishman’s apprehension that too many cooks spoil the broth. How for instance, could Khama’s right hand man seek escape routes when there is smooth transfer of power?

The plot construction may be deficient but the UDC believes that it is sufficiently prepared to assume official power. At a point that he was just warming up the crowd, Boko said something in Xhosa at the end of which he provided the English translation: “I was saying I’m ready for this challenge.” Apparently, his first name, “Duma”, is short for “Dumalisile” which means “he who roars in the morning.” A relative of his from Xhosa 1 ward in Mahalapye, who also got his turn at the podium, provided this explanation.

All told Boko used four languages – Setswana, English, Xhosa and Latin. That would be five if “bogogorwane” is not considered proper Setswana but Tsotsitaal. At the time the Latin (“bellum omnium contra omnes”) flew out of his lips and amid a bubble of appreciative chatter all around, a cologned young woman with a posh-school English accent shrieked, “Wow! Mr. Presidente!” The Latin (which Mr. Presidente translated as “war of one against all”) might sound like some kind code for Scotch whiskey contraband (Bells) but is actually an encapsulation of a sober doctrine that was postulated by 16th century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, in one of his seminal Latin works.

“It is important to know different languages. It is important to know all the languages spoken in Botswana because they unite us; knowledge of these languages fosters mutual respect and expands one’s cultural knowledge,” Boko said.

Party members also believe that the youthful leader is ready to assume the mantle of executive authority and are not afraid to buttress such belief with theatricality. When he had succeeded in getting the energy going, Boko paused to announce that Richard Moleofe, an ex-soldier who gave up his own independent bid for parliament in favour of a UDC candidate, had asked to honour him with a “presidential salute.” From the platform party, a man in casual black attire shot up, marched up to Boko and saluted him, then said something that the two gooseneck podium microphones didn’t pick up.

If UDC’s dream becomes reality, the nation will have its first president to be born in Botswana ÔÇô three ex-presidents were born in Bechuanaland Protectorate and the current one in the United Kingdom.

Leaving no doubt whom and what he was talking about, the UDC leader said that when a leader places himself outside the sphere of citizens’ control, then he must be replaced with one who would play by the rules of the game.

“It doesn’t matter who the incumbent’s father is,” said Boko, setting off a we-know-what-you-mean snicker that rippled through the crowd.

On becoming president on April 1, 2008, President Khama laid out a four-signpost roadmap (discipline, development, dignity and democracy) to indicate where he wanted to take Botswana. The fifth signpost ÔÇô delivery ÔÇô came much later. While not raising the issue within the roadmap context, Motshwarakgole and Boko said that Khama’s administration routinely denies people dignity.

In his own address earlier on, Motshwarakgole had said that doling out handouts to the poor in the full glare of television cameras and publicising such philanthropy through Btv strips the beneficiaries of all dignity.

“The president seems to get a lot of joy from doing that,” said the union boss, adding that whenever he sees Khama giving to the poor he is reminded of British colonialists. “When you thought they were giving you something out of the goodness of their hearts they were actually ridiculing you. That’s how I feel when I see Khama giving to the poor. He reminds me of white colonialists.”

Describing poverty as a violation as human rights, Boko expressed a variation of Motshwarakgole’s statement by noting that giving people Funa (brand name for powdered soft drink) and diphaphatha (flattened dumplings) violates their dignity. This was apparent reference to food items on the menu for workers of the government’s labour intensive public works programme that is more commonly known as Ipelegeng.

By self-description, Boko is a better choice of president than Khama because he would be able to actively participate in the making of what he termed “public international law” at the United Nations General Assembly. Making an uncharitable remark about gallivanting at the Khawa sand dunes in the Kgalagadi district when the General Assembly is in session, the UDC leader reminded his audience that not once has Khama (who has participated in motorcycle races in Khawa) darkened the doorway of the UN chamber, There national leaders pass resolutions that become public international law. Boko said it was important to have a president who would be able to intellectually hold his own against world leaders like Barack Obama of the United States and David Cameron of the United Kingdom.

Boko would have wanted Rick Yune, a good friend of his to attend the launch but that was not possible. Yune, a Hollywood star who has been mentioned in the press as Boko’s future best man when he weds, was placed under visa restriction two days before the launch. Boko described this as action as “bogogorwane” – amateurishness. The context of bogogorwane is that while he was physically kept out of Botswana, Yune was still able to electronically relay a message that Boko read out to the crowd. Weaved around the personal story of Marion Barry, a Washington D.C. mayor who rebounded from a drug conviction to return to the same office years later, Yune’s message was a contemplation of how the exalted American Dream is not national but international.

Boko did not do so much as mention his BDP opponent, Robert Masitara by name. Instead, he bestowed such left-handed honour on Anna Motlhagodi of the Botswana Congress Party during a fleeting moment of comic relief. Mimicking his learned friend in a loud, almost hysterical voice, Boko said that during a recent encounter with her, Motlhagodi declared that if she made it to parliament, she would use a “very loud voice” to agitate for the interests of Bonnington North residents. Almost sotto voce-ing his own response in a relaxed voice to underline his own calm and cool-headedness, Boko said that he advised Motlhagodi that MPs don’t use loud, hysterical voices when debating issues in parliament.

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