Monday, June 21, 2021

Where is ‘LEPAKO’ and its magic?

It is almost two years since the last general elections which were marred by a lot of controversy at individual party level. The election campaigns were full of drama and Botswana Democratic Party numero ÔÇô Uno and the country’s president Lt. General Seretse Khama Ian Khama who is also King Khama IV of the Bamangwato, branded himself ‘Lepako’. The term ‘Lepako’ in Setswana literally means a strong and tough unbreakable log. It is used at the Kgotla for fire which is more or less permanently on, a symbol of life in the village. This is also symbolic in terms of political authority in a traditional society.

So dramatic were the election campaigns that in one of the campaigns the self branded ‘Lepako’ came riding a bicycle in a poverty stricken area (Old Naledi/Ditakaneng) in an effort to swing election votes to his party BDP. In the run up to the elections, the BDP had set itself a target to win 70% share of the popular vote which had been declining badly over the decades. Although the 70% was an over-ambitious target it was a helpful propaganda tool because with Ian Khama playing the role of the BDP’s ‘chief campaigner’ in the elections it became clear that the party was realising an impressive and enthusiastic following at freedom squares. All that the party needed to do was to parade King Khama IV at its political rallies and allow his majesty to carry out his usual ‘celebrity walks’ around the different wards and villages, causing the poor rural folks to ululate and dance endlessly with the young and old climbing tall trees to have a glimpse of their celebrity politician. His majesty’s visits usually ended up with night fire vigils held with the village elders in order to mesmerize our poor vulnerable grand fathers.

BDP chief election strategists had noticed without doubt that President Khama had taken to trading on his celebrity status using his built-in-name recognition in society as paramount chief of the Bangwato, the most populous ethnic group in the country to assert influence both in the party and society. The timing was right and they needed to put to the test the so-called ‘Khama magic’. Lepako’s bicycle riding tactics later paid dividends as his party was able to win the Naledi constituency which for along time had eluded the ruling BDP.

Unfortunately, BDP managed to win 45 out of the 57 constituencies netting only 53.7% of the popular vote, way too short of its 70% projection. Despite this dismal performance BDP enjoyed excess use of government resources to help drive its election campaigns, including the use of state run media and the use of state helicopters by ‘Lepako’ and his Vice President Mompati Merafhe. The 53.7% did not bother President Khama at all. What mattered most was election victory, which they celebrated in style with some, truck dancing at ‘Diswinking’ Freedom square in Old Naledi. Khama showcased his hitherto un-known dancing skills and was joined by ‘Le lope la gagwe’ ÔÇô boot licker (to use her own expression), Tebelelo Seretse on the dance floor who gave a hair raising jive. That was then. The celebrations are over, the honeymoon period has come to an end and it is now the time to deliver and fulfill the false promises made during election campaigns. Tebelelo Seretse is now somewhere in the US on a national assignment, courtesy of Presidential appointment. Back home President Ian Khama is faced with the deadly tsunami – the public civil service strike. He can’t dance any more. There is simply no time for rhythmic ‘Khama Kwasa Hip Jives’.

It is time for delivery and President Ian Khama has to ensure that he walks the talk. There is no time to hide and run away. There is no time for quad biking, mountain climbing, kiting and weekend outs with friends in the delta or in Tuli Block. Khama must come and dialogue with Union Representatives and resolve the impasse. The nation is in a crisis, the strike is having a serious impact on the economy, hospitals have been crippled and are in a mess, patients are being fed in disposable plates and professionals trained to treat the sick have also joined the protests. Schools are in a mess, and there have even been a reported case of a student stabbing and killing another pupil. This is scandalous! It is also reported that form four students have not met their respective teachers as a result of yet another mess that emanated from the marking of form three examination papers last year. Parenthood is very painful, parents are suffering, mothers are suffering, fathers are suffering, husband and wives are suffering, families are suffering as a result of the strike. Is this what you want Mr President?

Many commentators have expressed their disappointment at the manner in which the strike issue was handled with some observers pointing a finger at President Ian Khama labeling him as a complete failure and a total flop. A President who is obsessed with issuing instructions rather than listening to what others have to say and that many are now beginning to realize that he is a vindictive, paranoid, self centered and ego centric super man. Others argue that President Ian Khama thinks he is a special case, and thinks himself as a superior figure, under no obligation to account to any body or is so insecure that he cannot field questions from any one as this would expose him. But who is to blame really? Khama cannot be faulted for finding himself in such a position. He too has said it many a times that politics is not his thing and that he had no interest whatsoever to join politics whilst still in BDF. His actions are showing and people must stop pampering him. There is no need for former Presidents Masire and Mogae to crawl to Khama’s office and plead for mercy on behalf of the Unions. As dignified, principled men, they should reject outright an invitation from Botswana Democratic Party Chairman Daniel Kwelagobe whom it is stated has been tasked by the Botswana Federation of Public Service Unions (BOFEPUSU) to set up a team to discuss the strike. That is not necessary at all. Khama should not be pampered and treated like a toddler. He knows what he is doing and they should let him continue with his self-destructive behavior. They have pampered him enough.

BDP has itself to blame, I am not prophet Ngome nor am I Lawrence Schlemmer, I need not remind BDP about the events that unfolded last year at the Big Five Hotel that ushered in the youthful orange movement, Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). I need not go further to remind former President Masire on how he was treated by President Ian Khama as a result of his attempted intervention on the Khama/ Motswaledi saga. Masire and Mogae as dignified, principled men and party elders of high moral standing should not subject themselves to un-necessary ridicule. For far too long BDP has treated itself as a religious Holy Ghost movement by worshiping and treating President Ian Khama as an Archbishop. He is not God. They must be sincere to him and advise him wisely and if need be simply tell him to step down. BDP should know that Khama and BDP are separable, for he is not life President. It needs to seriously reflect on itself going forward and it should re-focus on how it can appeal not only to our grannies and grand fathers. They should know that the biggest problem they have in BDP is none other than Khama himself and they must not fear to tell him straight to his face that he should step down and let the ‘Distinguished Gentleman’ Ponatshego Kedikilwe to take over. Not General Merafhe. No ways!!. Kedikilwe comes across as a solid well grounded leader. He does not possess the so called ‘magic’, he is wiser, and his academic credentials are not a closely guarded secret. PHK ,a Syracuse University graduate unlike Khama he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth where all was handed to him in a silver platter because he purely by accident of birth, inherited the name ‘Khama’ from one of the greatest heroes of our country, to borrow from former President Festus Mogae’ advisor Advocate Sydney Tshepiso Pilane. In taking over, Kedikilwe will be faced with a mammoth task. His first assignment should be redeployment of soldiers back to the barracks, deal with corruption issues and re-visit the question that was raised by Wynter Mmolotsi in Parliament about BDF tenders and contracts that were given to cabinet members and their close family members. He will have to deal with the constitution and ensure that it is set aside and that there is a development of a new constitution founded on transparency and many more.

Since the beginning of the strike, President Ian Khama has suddenly vanished into thin air and is no longer visible. Despite the devastating effect the strike has had so far, there has simply been no communication from President Ian Khama. The nation is in a crisis, a crisis of leadership and can someone please help me and tell me just where our president is? We are experiencing a famine; a famine of leadership. The coffers that hold the wisdom, patience, fatherly guidance, maturity and vision of the highest offices on the land are bankrupt, one observer has pointed out. Can someone please help and tell me, Just where is our President? Where is ‘Lepako and its Magic? Is it waiting for another moment of glory such as the Zebras win etc etc and show up and give it a presidential personal brand? Or has it become a termite ravaged ‘Lepako’?

*Thabo Lucas Seleke is a Lecturer of Public Policy in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies (University of Botswana).

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