Wednesday, October 21, 2020

With Selibe Phikwe going up in smoke, just what will be President Khama’s legacy?

The implosion of BCL mine in Selibe Phikwe is providing President Ian Khama with what the Americans have come to call a crowded hour moment. Will he pass the test or will he fail it? The jury is still out. But so far early signs are not very encouraging. In just over a year, President Khama will have to leave office. For a man who came into power with a grand vision that promised so much it must be a matter of grave disappointment to his admirers that on the eve of his retirement there is not much to talk about in legacy terms, save a few hundred houses built for destitutes as part of his disparate poverty eradication programmes.

For all his entire term, President Khama has ruthlessly called on citizens to embrace his stealth but forcefully applied austerity programmes. Yet the most revealing side of his personality has been that while calling the citizens to tighten their belts he has for all time not been wearing any belt himself. All innards of austerity that he enforced in the public service have been so starkly absent not only in his personal lifestyle, but that too of inner circle cronies. Thus on the eve of independence celebrations a fortnight ago, he saw nothing wrong buying for himself a multimillion pula helicopter as a present to help him celebrate with glamour and fanfare the bonanza show that he so craftily used to wrap himself around with. At a time when other presidents across Africa are cutting down on their fleet, ours seems to be torn apart by some kind of economic identity crisis.

Just last week the Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari announced that he was scaling down on the number and also the luxury trappings of his fleet. In Botswana we are getting an extra helicopter for the presidency ÔÇô over and above the two that are already in use; P300 million plus is a conservative estimate price for the new entrant toy. We should be ashamed of ourselves as a nation that so much money could be used to buy a helicopter at a time when we are literally throwing into the streets close to 6000 miners of a state owned BCL. The biggest question that goes unanswered even as Khama’s era fast comes to an end is just what his legacy will be. Attempts to jump start the economy using the Economic Stimulus Package have proved stillborn. While the past two years have been spent talking about ESP, everybody now seems ashamed to mention that very acronym that no so long ago was a mantra on every minister’s lips.

With that programme now at its tail end, there is not much evidence on the ground to show what the money has been used for. There has not been a dent on unemployment levels. And certainly no improvement in the economic position of the thousands that work in the public service. Purchasing such a costly helicopter at a time when there is so much that it could be used for is not only a reckless political and economic gambit but also a heartless one. BCL employees will be dumbfounded to learn that the same Government that is throwing them into the streets saying there is no money to save their company was a few weeks ago able to find money to buy a luxury helicopter to upgrade the already hefty fleet of the presidency. For some of us this will not come as a surprise. It’s all keeping in kind. This type of self serving abuse of state resources has from early on been so much a character of this administration. The malaise has a long history to it. Remember when the military heavy plant was clandestinely deployed to construct a runway at the president’s private holiday resort! It’s too late in the day to stop corruption. And with so little time, increasingly it’s all beginning to look like looting. With BCL gone in smoke, the next on the line is Air Botswana.

The airline, by all probability, will under some vague arrangement falsified as privatization ultimately be swallowed by yet another one of the commercial juggernauts close to the Emperor. Behind the scenes, that process is by the way already on track. When it happens as it sure will, just don’t say you have not been forewarned. Admirers have frequently and fondly described President Khama as a master tactician and shrewd strategist wrought into one. But with a legacy of malaise increasingly looking like the only possible outcome, doubts are beginning to swell if the man ever had a strategy to start with.

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