President Ian Khama will be delivering his 10th and last State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday before stepping down on March 31, 2018. Mmegi Staffer BAME PIET takes a look at the possible highlights of this historic event and the highlights of his predecessor’s speech 10 years earlier
Former President Festus Mogae’s departure was met with mixed feelings as there was a lot of uncertainty on the incoming President who was only known as a former Commander of Botswana Defence Force and son of the founding President Sir Seretse Khama.
He was also alleged to possess supernatural powers and had allegedly at some point turned himself into a fly during Botswana’s conflict with Ian Smith of the then Southern Rhodesia.
He has hardly interacted with the public, whilst those who have worked with him in the army described him as Mr No-Nonsense, Mr Fix it and a disciplinarian.
His boss at the time, Mogae, was a more friendly and open president who did not mind hitting back at an unruly member of the public during kgotla meetings. His presidency was not perfect and he had his faults though.
“As I assured you when I took the Oath of Office, I will leave with no tormented conscience. As President, I placed the welfare of all Batswana at the centre of everything I did. Prudent, transparent and honest use of national resources for your benefit has been my guiding principle and code of conduct”.
That was former President Mogae bidding the nation farewell in November 2007, just five months before the end of his second term in office.
“I have ensured that our nation does not live beyond its means. Let me also assure you that I will not leave you and our children groaning under the yoke of intolerable debt and despair. In the running of our nation’s affairs, the decisions I took, with the support of my government colleagues, were dictated by common aspirations and principles, the attainment of our national vision, and my party’s promises. I have not allowed political expediency and the pursuit of populism to cloud my judgement and service to the nation.
For the road to political expediency and populism may be lined with cheering crowds; but in the end, we cannot escape the cold hard facts of our limitations as a developing country. As sure as the merry-maker must account for his excesses with a splitting hangover the morning after, an even harsher punishment awaits a nation that spends unwisely in pursuit of immediate gratification rather than sustainable development.
“Our planning process, which is built on grassroots consultations, adherence to the plans and everyone awaiting their turn of project implementation has stood us in good stead in terms of discipline and prudent resource use”.
President Khama will definitely brag about poverty eradication, war on alcoholism, and the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) that was announced two years ago that we are told has produced classrooms, accommodation for civil servants, as well as roads and bridges.
However, the ESP was met with harsh criticism from the public and opposition parties who described it as a ploy to loot the national treasury to leave it empty for the new government that will take over in 2019.
Yes, at the time the Umbrella for Democratic Change saw itself as a possible successor of the Botswana Democratic Party after the 2019 general elections, the ambition that has been done a huge blow after the split of the Botswana Movement for Democracy early this year. The P10 billion budget for ESP was a shock to many who had not foreseen it nor there is precedence for it.
Independence of Judiciary
The President leaves behind a crippled and divided judiciary that is embattled in factions and some judges not seeing eye to eye. This was triggered by the 2015 suspension of four judges over a housing allowance, which they allegedly received when they were not entitled to. He cannot say the judiciary is independent, but should admit that he leaves a seriously ill judiciary that will take time to heal.
Privatisation of Air Botswana
This endeavour is probably the country’s biggest conundrum. President Khama leaves an unfinished business in the privatisation of the national airline that has dodged even Mogae. Early this year, the President almost succeeded in privatising Air Botswana when Wilderness Holdings Limited showed interest only to bolt out when the deal was leaked to the public prematurely, prompting questions over possible conflict of interest on the part of the President.
“You guys spoilt the party, you rushed to publish your stories prematurely when the matter was still being discussed behind closed doors,” the minister of Transport and Communications Kitso Mokaila would later say at a press conference to explain Wilderness’ abrupt withdrawal.
This is what Mogae had to say about the bad blood between unions and government back in 2007: “Having outlined what government is doing to promote harmonious labour relations, I wish to register my concern about certain developments. The current multiplicity of trade unions, for example, makes communication and collective bargaining in the work place difficult.
“While on the issue of trade unionism, I would like to re-assure the labour movement and workers that this government recognises trade unions as essential institutions of workplace democracy, and indeed participatory democracy at the national level. We also recognise that trade unions may not always agree with government on policy matters. What is regrettable is the extent to which, some union leaders appear to pursue political careers under the guise of trade unionism.”
President Khama came into office at a time when the Public Service Act (PSA) was still being debated in Parliament only to be passed after his arrival. The President has never enjoyed peace with civil servants’ trade unions, the conflict that gave rise or birth to the 2011 Mother of All Strikes that lasted between April and June. Ever since, the parties have spent a lot of time in the courts of law and very little of the time working on how best to serve the public. The interpretation of the PSA, the constitution of Public Service Bargaining Council and a rift between BOFEPUSU and BOPEU are some of the reasons why peace continues to elude the government and trade unions.
Private sector and unemployment
“Fellow citizens, we can say with pride and confidence, that our country is today a vibrant, competitive nation of opportunity. Whatever our challenges, and we have many, ours is a land of hope and promise. Many positive outcomes are there for all to see,” Mogae said in his last Address.
With an estimated 90,000 degree holders or graduates roaming the streets and unemployment at its highest standing
At many a forum, representatives of the private sector have lamented the cold shoulder they receive from the government. Economic growth has slowed down. Mogae stepped down at a time when the economy had registered four percent growth and a projected 6.4% growth. Currently the economic growth is projected at 4.7% for the 2017/18 fiscal year.
An increase in violent and intrusive crimes and drug abuse are some of the things that the President may have to touch on. As a man with security background, and with the establishment of DIS almost a decade ago, there seems to be nothing to celebrate especially for the man on the street. Ordinary people who do not own cars and cannot afford public transport have to constantly run for dear live to escape the wrath of knife-wielding thugs in the streets whose ages range between 18 and 30 years.
These are the thugs who smoke all sorts of drugs in public and in the presence of their parents and guardians. Will the President be confident enough to say he leaves behind a disciplined nation like his predecessor?
“No democracy can exist without discipline. Wherever I go throughout our great country, I hear voices lamenting that the timeless values that have long held our nation together are under threat. That Botho, our shared sense of mutual respect and responsibility, is being replaced with more self-centred, all too often self destructive, social and political behaviour,” Khama said in his 2008 maiden State of the Nation Address.
He continued: “There is a recognised link between excessive alcohol use and risky behaviour that contributes to the spread of the virus. We are aware of the role substance abuse plays in treatment default for other illnesses such as TB. Alcohol is also a contributing factor to a wide range of additional maladies:
l from carnage on the roads to low levels of productivity and injuries at the workplace;
“As a society, we can no longer pretend that there is little that can be done to curb such ravages. This is why government, in line with the World Health Organisation and guided by international best practice, has adopted a multi-faceted approach to the problem, whose key components include”:
l A National Policy or Strategy on Alcohol;
l Public Education Campaigns on the dangers of underage and excessive alcohol consumption, as well as consumption during pregnancy or whilst on medication;
l Enhanced law enforcement;
l Reduction in the hours of sale of alcohol; and
l This month’s introduction of a 30% levy on alcoholic beverages.
Will the President provide feedback on the successes of these interventions and quantify them?
Success of Economic Hubs
Khama said in his 2008 maiden SONA: “Mr. Speaker, our strategy to reach a state of a high income economy in the coming decade stands on two legs. The first is to drive economic diversification efforts through focused hubs. The second is through the implementation of a range of initiatives.
“Government has established six hubs. The Minister responsible for each of these Hubs reports on its progress to the Cabinet Committee on Economy and Employment chaired by the Vice President, and also reports to me monthly,” President Khama said in 2008. Very little has been said about these hubs except that the Botswana Innovation Hub was on the right track and embarking on partnerships with regional and global partners. The transport hub, Health Hub, Agriculture Hub, Health Hub and others have not been discussed lately. Surely, the President should say something about the successes or challenges the hubs are facing.
The President has made utterances that were viewed as threatening Botswana’s relations with other countries. Early this year, a lecturer at University of Botswana said such utterances have the potential to work positively for the country to assert itself and make its voice heard around the world despite its size. She further said there was no need for a codified foreign policy.
The President has never attended the African Union Summit and the United Nations General Assembly. Can he say his absence from these institutions have worked for or against Botswana?
Highlights of the Khama presidency
April 2008 – President assumes Presidency and announces his roadmap of 4Ds
June 2008 – Khama announces 30% levy on alcohol beverages in a Kgotla meeting in Gabane
September 2008 – World’s biggest economies announce the Global Economic Meltdown
November 2008 – Khama’s 1st State of the Nation Address
May 2009 – A Gaborone resident John Kalafatis is executed by BDF soldiers who will later be granted amnesty or parole by the president
August 2009 – Khama suspends BDP’s Gomolemo Motswaledi from the party and the two later meet in court
April 2010 – BDP splits and the Botswana Movement for Democracy is formed
July 2010 – Swelling rumours that Khama is planning to quit the presidency remains just rumours
April 2011 – Civil servants embark on national strike that would last for two months
June 2011 – Minister of Labour amends the Public Service Act to include 90% of cadres as essential services
April 2012 – Lesego Motsumi is removed as minister and appointed Ambassador to India
January 2013 – The nation is plunged into electricity and water shortages that lead to closure of some companies. UDC urges the public to demonstrate against this.
July 2013 – President announces that electricity shortage or load-shedding will be a thing of the past by end of August.
January 2014 – Morupule B power station is still unable to produce electricity and water shortages hit crisis levels.
July 2014 – Motswaledi dies in a car crash near Pitsane and there is a lot of controversy surrounding his death.
October 2014 – The BDP nearly loses election as it is voted by 47% of the popular vote thanks to fragmented opposition.
January 2015 – Former Vice President, Leiutenant General Mompati Merafhe dies after a long illness aged 79 years.
August 2015 – Khama suspends four judges on charges that they unlawfully received housing allowance.
January 2016 – Khama announces new Vision council for Vision 2036.
April 2017 – High Court rules that Khama should appoint Omphemetse Motumise High Court judge as per recommendation by Judicial Services Commission. He refuses.
July 2017 – Former President Masire dies and is later buried at his home village of Kanye.