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Masisi: The reformist President

There are many indications that President Mokgweetsi Masisi is going to deviate from the hard stance adopted by former president Ian Khama. He does not seem content with operating under his former boss' shadow anymore. Rather he is creating an impression that he is his own man. Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE analyses

FRANCISTOWN: It may be too early to celebrate. But when he was vice president (VP)  under Khama’s administration, there were fears that by appointing Masisi, as his deputy, Khama had replicated himself or his character. The two exhibited striking similarities in their leadership styles. Khama’s friends were Masisi’s allies and equally enemies of Khama were Masisi’s foes.

From his days as commander of the army, Khama’s hatred for the private media was very clear. His unrelenting attitude years later, as the State president, could only confirm his rigidity and unwillingness to let the media enjoy its unpolluted space without government interference.

Masisi’s blind loyalty to Khama and his beliefs saw him join the media bashing after his sojourn at the Office of the President as Presidential Affairs minister and later VP.

Twenty days (as of today) after he was sworn-in as the country’s fifth President on April 1 this year, Masisi’s body language is proving to be of a man shifting away from his predecessor’s hard stance. Now, there is hope that Masisi will gradually reform some of his government policies and processes, especially those disadvantaging some end users.

One of the interesting developments relate to the Masisi administration’s international relations. As the face of the country, Masisi seems destined to take the country to greater heights by strengthening relations with the countries within the region and beyond.

Former president, Khama hardly honoured international invites and he would rather delegate either his ministers or his deputy. But, Masisi this week flew to London to attend the 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which will give him exposure to the international norms and standards. This is a good start for Masisi who is expected to fly the country’s flag high in subsequent meetings.

Another interesting development relates to reports emanating from the Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation where one senior officer had planned to exclude the private press from invitations of the minister’s press briefings and only to be overruled by minister Vincent Seretse who insisted that the private press should be invited as well because they are also partners in development.

These are signs of an administration that is purely promising change, tolerance and intentions to shed off its former image.

In fact, immediately after his inauguration Masisi proved to all and sundry that he is changing his view of the private press.

In the words of Mmegi/The Monitor New Media coordinator Thalefang Charles recently, he was impressed by the new administration of Masisi in its relative tolerance of press photographers.

“A good thing I observed is that the new administration is friendly to press photographers,” an excerpt from his recent post read.

He added: “Initially, the inauguration committee wanted only one photographer from government to take a picture of this opportunity and they tried to block us with orders from the director general of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services, Isaac Kgosi who was next to us.”

It was President Masisi who instructed Kgosi and his men: “Let them in! Let them all take pictures!” To Charles, this was a big win for news photographers in Botswana and he was hopeful that both government and private media would record Masisi’s reign. He was also hopeful that discrimination of private press photographers has come to its end.

This is a commendable effort by Masisi and only if he could sustain change throughout his journey, the better.

A few years ago, Masisi was quoted in a leaked adversarial BDP tape in which he allegedly advocated for the punishment of some selected media houses for their tendency to criticise the ruling BDP and its government.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, the media exposes violations of the moral and social order. Most importantly, the media seeks to create and sustain public debate. The media acts as a watchdog and agenda-setter.

The Khama-led government did not want to be held accountable. There are indications on the ground that the new

administration of Masisi is set to turn things around.

This was followed by a systematic ban on advertising by the government, which has resulted with various media houses, retrenching staff.

Because of his military background, Khama had a penchant for not taking accounting bodies seriously. The independent media is private, robust and critical of the sitting government. There was fear during Khama’s tenure that Masisi had assimilated his former boss’ attitude.

From last year, the ruling BDP started courting public sector trade unions allegedly at the instance of Masisi to have a working relationship that will end hostilities that existed before. The party even bought space in the local newspapers in its endeavours to solidify the newfound relationship.

It must be noted that Khama took oath of office in 2008 and three years down the line, Khama’s administration suffered the worst embarrassment when the members of the public service abandoned duty across the country and downed tools in what became known as the mother of all strikes. Public service workers on strike were brutalised with sjamboks, rubber bullets and teargas, in cities, towns and major villages.

The main aim of courting public sector trade unions is to ensure that the opposition bloc that lately has been hit by disagreements within the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) is weakened ahead of the 2019 general elections. Public sector trade unions leaders had previously declared their undying love for the opposition bloc.

Masisi has vowed that his party will win the 2019 general elections with a clear whitewash. Perhaps, the seemingly ‘mellowing’ relations with the public sector trade unions who are a large constituency that cannot be ignored buoyed him.

There may be no sealed deals yet, but by removing the arrogant and pompous Eric Molale from the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration and replacing him with the non-confrontational Nonofo Molefhi is a sign of government seeking change. Molale has been moved to the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security.

Molefhi’s appointment is basically an effort to bring peaceful industrial relations as Masisi’s government has shown desire to smoke a peace pipe with the public servants.

“Molefhi is not arrogant and not even pompous like his predecessor. He is approachable and the government can benefit a lot from his character,” analysed University of Botswana senior lecturer in politics Dr. Kebapetse Lotshwao in a recent interview.

During his inauguration, Masisi indicated in his speech that he abhorred corruption and economic crime with its related ills. True to his words, Masisi got rid of people whose names were in the newspapers alongside accusations of corruption in a recent Cabinet reshuffle. In the past, Cabinet ministers implicated in corruption charges will resume their duties as if nothing had happened, something that affected the image of government, as public perception was not good at all. In an interview this week, Lotshwao told Mmegi: “I think it’s safe to say that Masisi is willing to engage and does his things differently from his predecessor.”

He was quick to point out that by changing the Minister of Presidential Affairs it looks like Masisi wants to correct some anomalies and this he said is something to write home about.

Lotshwao holds a view that nonetheless all the views that are there should be addressed.

He stressed that there will be no peace between the government and the public sector trade unions without an engagement between the parties. He added that underlying issues that have been leading to animosity on the ground should be dealt with.

The UB don holds a view that Masisi is willing to engage with the public sector trade unions, “but he is keeping people like the Permanent Secretary to the President Carter Morupisi who are sworn enemies of trade unionists.”

He feels strongly that Masisi should be radical in his approach to reform the government systems and not target certain areas at the expense of others.





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