Mmegi Online :: Khama legacy : Part II
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Friday 23 March 2018, 22:53 pm.
Khama legacy : Part II

As President Ian Khama is left with under 365 days before handing over the baton of power to Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi, Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE and Correspondent SIKI MOTSHWARI JOHANNESS look at his legacy as he prepares to vacate office
By Ryder Gabathuse Siki Motshwari Johannes Fri 07 Apr 2017, 17:47 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Khama legacy : Part II

Khama’s extensive Kgotla engagements were predicated upon a desire to widen the frontiers of democracy.

This was an attempt to make good his 2008 promise of preserving and continuing Botswana’s democratic credentials.

“I am a democrat. I have always believed in democratic ideals, and joined the military to defend this democracy. I consider myself an integral part of this system of governance that has become entrenched in the life of Batswana,” he assured the nation.

But soon his detractors became suspicious of his commitment to democracy. For the first time, it appeared Botswana, renowned for its adherence to democracy and the rule of law, has finally succeeded in producing its own dictator, an autocrat and a despot.

Khama became very selective in his approach to the subject of consultation. His preferred the Kgotla consultative forum at the expense of other fora. This gave his detractors enough fodder to question his democratic credentials.

His critics claimed that Khama was targeting the Kgotla because he was fearful of debate. He spends a huge chunk of time engaging with the rural folk, the illiterates and less informed people, who may not criticise him or ask ‘difficult’ questions.

He rarely attended Parliament and snubbed the Fourth estate and hardly engaged intellectuals, the detractors would say.  

Despite mounting criticism, Khama remained unruffled. “I will not apologise for giving the perception that I am autocratic,” he once said. Perhaps influenced by his military background, he introduced a sense of urgency in Government never before seen, wanting things done like yesterday.

While to him delivery mattered most than procedural correctness, bureaucrats saw things differently as to them due process is paramount. This created some kind of cold war between top bureaucrats and their political principal.

Just like his past immediate predecessor, former president, Festus Mogae who shunned the All Party Conference (APC), a forum that brought the country’s political parties together to deliberate on petinent political issues, Khama’s regime could not see the value of the forum.

Oposition politicians have used Parliament to raise questions on the possible resuscitation of the APC but the answers have not been convincing. The promises for a possible return have not been fulfilled yet.

In a way, the APC was a sign of appreciation and tolerance by the BDP government compared to relations that other ruling parties have with their opposition in southern Africa.

Khama’s Government has been lagging behind in terms of lending support to the financially struggling opposition that has been crying loud for the all-party funding, especially towards the general elections.

This is an issue that is as old as our democracy, but at no stage has the ruling party come to entertain the thoughts of empowering the opposition hence rendering our democracy very expensive.

Interestingly, BDP secretary general, Botsalo Ntuane, has raised the issue of all-party funding in his reform agenda that is yet to see the light of the day. On the social front, Khama vowed to take the fight against poverty and deprivation to the next level. He came up with an ambitious programme of poverty eradication, as opposed to poverty alleviation. 

The rationale for the paradigm shift in policy in this regard, was that ‘there is no tolerable level of poverty’, said the then vice president, the late General Mompati Merafhe. The poverty eradication crusade was to be pursued mainly through the revival of the agriculture sector to ensure food security.

Hitherto, for its food supply Botswana is entirely dependent on South Africa. Huge resources were


invested in the flagship programmes such as the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agricultural Development (ISPAAD), Livestock Management and Infrastructure Management (LIMID), backyard gardening and the Economic Diversification Drive (EDD).

Despite huge resources ploughed into this critical area, Botswana is not anywhere near food self-sufficiency. Her over-reliance on South Africa continues unchanged.

It seems several factors, not least lack of rainfall and business acumen, conspired against the programmes leading to despondency on the part of the beneficiaries. Pursuant to the goal of restoring discipline, Khama ruffled feathers with his alcohol war.

All that the military man wanted to achieve was responsible drinking. And excessive alcohol consumption was identified as the cancer that not only wasted lives, but robbed its victims of a dignified life.

This irresponsible behaviour could not be tolerated anymore, and Khama introduced tough measures to uproot it as ruthlessly as possible. 

To achieve this end, he imposed the unprecedented 30% alcohol levy on the alcohol industry and reduced hours of business for alcohol outlets.

While elderly people in kgotla meetings embraced Khama’s alcohol initiative, a good number of young people and opposition parties interpreted the development as a clampdown on civil liberties.

Many contended that alcohol drinking was a personal choice and no Government should trample upon this right (free choice). Some even insinuated that it was a matter of time before Khama imposed a total ban on alcohol.

Khama himself, does not drink alcohol and some accused him of imposing his personal lifestyle on the nation. Repeated calls on the President to rescind the alcohol levy fell on deaf ears. 

It was on matters of foreign policy that the Khama regime proved to be simply different from its past immediate predecessor. During Mogae’s time, Botswana lost its independent voice in the international arena, especially with specific reference to Zimbabwe.

Without wanting to be seen to be politically incorrect, Mogae  followed the sub-continent’s policy of appeasement dubbed ‘quiet diplomacy’ towards Zimbabwe. Upon assumption of office, Khama broke ranks with the sub-continent’s position and openly criticised President Mugabe for mismanaging the economy and the political affairs of Africa’s once bread basket.

Following the disputed 2008 Zimbabwean elections, Khama shocked southern Africa when he ’de-recognised’ Mugabe’s Government because he felt that the elections were not credible and therefore could not have produced a legitimate Government. Africa’s despots elsewhere were not spared.

Now and then, Botswana issued bold statements condemning violation of human rights in countries like Sudan. As a signatory to the Roman Statutes, Botswana supported the International Criminal Court (ICC) through thick and thin and vowed to implement its (ICC) decision to arrest Omar Al Bashir for alleged crimes against humanity.  

While colleagues were stunned by Khama’s daring foreign policy pronouncements, the West applauded him. He spoke a new tune, a song of liberation and hope for the many powerless ordinary citizens who are victims of tyranny and they saw Khama as their man, voice and saviour.  

To express his displeasure he shunned the endorsement of dictatorial regimes by fellow African statesmen. Khama conveniently stayed away from regional meetings which he saw as mere talk shops. Botswana expressed unease  when her powerful neighbour, South Africa, expressed a wish to resign from the ICC.

But this policy was to have repercussions for Botswana. Despite her democratic credentials, Botswana struggled to win the support of Africa in her bid for the post of African Union Commission chairperson. Even some neighbouring States allegedly did not endorse Minister Pelonomi-Venson- Moitoi’s candidature.

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