Mmegi Online :: Khama, the jihadist who battled alcohol
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Khama, the jihadist who battled alcohol

From the day he took office as the President of the Republic, Ian Khama made his disdain for alcohol known. He blamed alcohol for the ills of the society. A few months into the job, he declared total jihad against alcohol, writes Staff Writer OARABILE MOSIKARE
By Staff Writer Fri 18 Mar 2016, 18:00 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Khama, the jihadist who battled alcohol








In his inauguration speech on April 1, 2008, Khama highlighted some of the social problems.

“These range from alcohol abuse, reckless driving on our roads, disrespect for elders, vandalising of school property, wastage of scarce resources such as water, the use of abusive language in public discourse, defamation, slander and false statements in the media. The examples I have cited reflect a lack of discipline by some sections of our community,” he said.

He immediately came up with the four ‘Ds’ of action. Discipline was top of the list of the four ‘Ds’ that characterised his roadmap. Other ‘Ds’ that underpinned and characterised his roadmap included the principles of Democracy, Development and Dignity. He later introduced a ‘D’ for Delivery.

But the jihad against alcohol launched on April Fools day turned out not to be a joke as many had hoped. Khama later introduced stringent measures against liquor traders aimed at reducing alcohol abuse.

He firstly enforced rigid shorter trading hours for liquor outlets and nightclubs. As if this was not enough, he announced his plans to impose a 70 percent tax on alcohol, commonly known as the alcohol levy. Of course this was later reduced to 30 percent after the intervention of Botswana Confederation of Commerce, Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM).

But he would not back down on the offensive against alcohol. In September 2008 he accused the private sector of being reactionary. He told the 10th National Business Conference (NBC) in Francistown that the private sector was late in its recent interest in the challenge posed by alcohol abuse. Most of his speech was devoted to the topical issue of alcohol.

“Your concern is somewhat belated but nonetheless welcome. One cannot help but wonder why the private sector has been silent on this issue all along and only spoke when the introduction of the levy was being considered,” said Khama. He also mentioned one of his favourite ‘Ds’ in his speech. “It is therefore imperative that we conduct a large scale educational campaign to sensitise our population, especially the youth, about the ill effects of alcohol abuse and thus help those needing rehabilitating and restore their dignity.”

The imposition of the levy angered the Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL) and Botswana Breweries Limited (BBL) who responded to the assault by launching a legal action against the government to stop the levy. In the urgent application, the two companies accused Khama, a confirmed teetotaller of being more interested in arbitrary decisions than the consultative process.

They decried that the President announced the draconian levy without affording them an opportunity to give its views “not just the tax but the larger question of alcohol use and abuse”. In his founding affidavit the then KBL managing director Hloni Matsela said Khama came out as authoritarian and showing little regard for the consultative process.

The brewers later withdrew their legal offensive. After the imposition of the levy in November 2008, KBL, three months later, announced a 20 percent decline in sales. Matsela also announced his company’s inability to operate profitably and contribute to the economy. Khama’s jihad was beginning to bite KBL and other liquor traders. And the former Botswana Defence Force (BDF) commander was not backing off in fighting alcohol abuse.

The entertainers also started to feel the pinch after the effected shortened hours of operation for liquor outlets and nightclubs.  They petitioned him claiming that their jobs were on the line. Their bone of contention was that they were mostly hired to perform at nightclubs and with fewer hours in place, they were earning less money. With the new operating hours in place, nightclubs were closed at midnight on weekdays and at 02:00 hours on weekends. The plea was ignored.

Another lawsuit against the government was launched and lost with costs at the High Court. The Liquor Traders Association of Botswana (LTAB) took the government

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to court over the implemented liquor regulations.

The LTAB challenged the constitutionality of the regulations, which they argued were discriminatory and ignored other liquor traders like hotels and shebeens.

“The Liquor Traders Association accepts that the regulation of the liquor trade is an important part of legislation. However, the traders see some sections of the regulations as impractical, punitive, unfair and out rightly discriminatory,” argued the association.

Four years after claiming the scalps of KBL, BBL and LTAB, Khama’s government enacted new laws regulating the sale of alcohol such as Chibuku and Khadi in households. Like the alcohol levy and the liquor regulations of 2008, the new traditional beer regulations attracted controversy. Opposition legislators supported an urgent motion to stop the new regulations without success. Khama won the battle again. 

Meanwhile both KBL and BBL are continuing to retrench hundreds of workers and close some depots around the country. The two companies are blaming Khama’s holy war against alcohol for their sluggish results. On the other hand so many liquor outlets and nightclubs across the country were forced to close shop citing poor profits. The entertainment industry also continues to feel the effects of the reduced clubs operating hours.

Then came Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture (MYSC), Thapelo Olopeng. A close Khama confidante, he is regarded as an action man. Olopeng is active on social media and has a penchant to announce policy issues on Facebook. He courted controversy last December when he unilaterally extended entertainment hours during the festive season without the knowledge of the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and the Botswana Police Service.

On December 18, 2015 Olopeng posted on his Facebook page that: “To all fun lovers and music promoters. Entertainment hours have been extended to 2am on the 23rd and 24th December. This is more at designated places, not in homes as it may cause issues with neighbours”.

This was to advertise the entertainment show he hosted in his Tonota constituency on December 24, which went all the way to 02:00 hours. He even took the opportunity to share his Disc Jockeying skills during the show. It was not over with the unilateral extension of hours.

He took to his Facebook page again on December 28, and posted; “I hope you all celebrated Christmas responsibly. Entertainment time extension continues on the 30th and 31st December”.

Just last week, Olopeng, met with performing artists in Gaborone to discuss a way forward to develop the performing arts sector. During the inaugural consultative meeting the current operating times where discussed. Khama’s man even disclosed that he was in talks with the MTI to refine the policy on trading hours. “We are working on the regulations to extend trading hours up to 2am for liquor stores and entertainment will follow,” said Olopeng.

Nobody had ever thought that Khama would surrender in his holy war against alcohol.

 

Khama’s April 1 liquor regulations

President Ian Khama came to power on April 1, 2008 and introduced the ‘draconian’ regulations in his bid to fight alcohol abuse amongst Batswana especially the youth.

Under the new regulations effected on April 1, 2008 bars open at 14:00 hours and close at 22:00 hours from Mondays to Thursdays, while on Fridays and Saturdays, bars open at 12 midday and close at 23:00 hours. Pubs open at 15:00 hours and close at 22:00 hours while trading hours for bottle stores remain the same from 10:00 hours to 19:00 hours.

Liquor restaurants open at 14:00 hours and close at 22:00 hours from Mondays to Thursdays, while on Fridays and Saturdays, they open from midday and close at 23:00 hours. On Sundays and public holidays liquor restaurants open at 15:00 hours and close at 22:00 hours. These regulations were placed in the Government Gazette on March 31, 2008 to come into force and effect the following day on April 1, 2008.

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