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Restoring Botswana will require wrestling with more issues than just Khama

JEFF RAMSAY
Jeff Ramsay-. PIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO
Open and vigorous debate is the fuel that fires and sustains any democracy, which is why true democrats will always welcome the robust exchange of diverse opinion. The following are recent remarks by JEFF RAMSAY* at the launch of Rev Enole Ditsheko's book, “Wrestling Botswana Back From Khama”

When Enole recently asked me to launch his latest book we both were well aware that I had not as yet had the opportunity to read any of its text. Neither had he and I indulged in any pre-discussions about its content.

So, in my agreeing to accept his invitation neither of us could predict what my take on the publication’s contents would be. I think that says something about our author of the hour’s openness to potential criticism.

Based on having known Enole for some time, as well as having glanced at the book’s title, I could be sure that it would be a passionate critique of our fourth President and his legacy. As long as I have known him, as a journalist, writer, public relations officer and priest, Enole has been consistently provocative, which is another one of his endearing qualities.

Open and Vigorous debate is the fuel that fires and sustains any democracy, which is why true democrats will always welcome the robust exchange of diverse opinion.

It is in this context that I hope others will join me in welcoming this publication. While it expresses a clear viewpoint, I believe those of us who may harbour alternative perspectives will also find much value in its pages.

The book’s thesis may be summarised as follows – That for many years post-colonial Botswana benefitted from the nurturing of its good governance traditions of tolerance and mutual respect, internal and external peace, public policy making through consultation, and qualities openness, balance and compromise, along with relatively low levels of corruption etc.

But, over the past decade or so there has been regression, the blame for which in the author’s view rests largely with the personalised (he and others would rather say dictatorial) rule of our fourth President. From this assumption arises the affirmation that we must somehow wrestle our country’s direction back from former president Khama’s legacy, if not ongoing influence.

The Bishop is of course not the first to preach this vision, but he has distinguished himself by producing a 440-page sermon.

Many comrades will no doubt continue to dismiss this thesis with the suggestion that Botswana’s political rot has gone on for much too long, while its myriad manifestations run much broader and deeper, than can be credibly encapsulated in the actions of a small group, much less a particular cabal, family or individual. Those inclined towards such a view will, I suspect, find evidence to support their perspective.

There are also those who may fundamentally agree that our Republic has indeed faltered in recent years from the progressive path that was forged during the time of our founding presidents, but as yet remain unconvinced about the capacity and/or commitment of the current administration and the ruling political party to return us to a higher plane. Such cynics may, nonetheless, also find insights if not validation in the book.

As reflected this past week’s newspaper headlines, some of the most provocative and insightful material in Enole’s tome emerges from passages where he is interviewing some of the key personalities associated with our country’s development, including the current President, H.E. Mokgweetsi Masisi, and two of his predecessors, the late Sir Ketumile Masire as well as Festus Mogae.

If journalism provides us with a first draft of history, there is much raw history thus aggregated here. But any historian contemplating further drafts, as well as contemplative members of the general public will be drawn to the fundamental question as to the extent to which a dozen or so years of trends in our country’s evolution, be they positive or negative, is the product of individual and/or institutional factors.

Since 1966 our presidents have annually stood before Parliament and the people to deliver their respective State of the Nation Addresses. Our previous president’s statements were arguably full of detailed commitments. Any assessment of his administration could therefore begin by asking to what extent were various initiatives delivered upon or if not why not? Such

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an interrogation might result in a very long and perhaps uneven report card.

As it is, I would suggest that the book we are spotlighting tonight paints a picture of institutional as well as individuals lapses that should raise serious questions about the way forward as we fast approach what may be the most uncertain election in our Republic’s half-century plus of existence. Next month may confirm that a majority of voters support the current administration. Alternatively, we may for the first time see the venerable rule of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) replaced by another party or parties. What is certain is that our fourth President will not be returning to State House.

Our current Constitution is very clear on this point; and I at least do not foresee anything that will change that fact. We are not the Russian Federation.

While we can learn from perspectives about our recent past any wrestling match to push us towards a new beginning ought to therefore focus on new individuals as well as possible structural reforms.

As it is by November there will be a lot of new faces in our Parliament no matter who wins. These new faces will inevitably be confronted by longstanding challenges that have defied simple solution.

If our private sector is to truly become more inclusive it must grow. As it is our economy and society continue to be dominated by a large and largely less than productive state sector, while the best of the rest of the world is competing in the global market place.

Recently, President Masisi was in South Africa for a WEF conference focussing on the challenges of adapting to the demands of the Industry 4.0 digital economy. Yet, notwithstanding the murky expenditure of hundreds of millions of pula on e-projects for years our government has failed to manage its website; e.g. as of this afternoon the link to Office of the President (http://www.gov.bw) still leads one to a profile of a certain “Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama.”

From its relaunch at the end of 2009 until it was “frozen” 2013 the Government e-portal www.gov.bw had been amongst the most active and engaged in the world. That it has since remained all but frozen is not an accident, but rather the outcome of misguided effort.

It is in the context of such failures, of which there are many other examples, that I would humbly suggest that if we are to restore Botswana once more to the status of a global benchmark for democratic development, we shall need to wrestle with a lot of issues beyond the character of former president Khama.

Let us, however, appreciate Bishop Enole Ditsheko for his effort in goading us to candidly question where we have been and need to go as a nation. For the one thing that I hear in conversation with nearly all of my fellow citizens is a desire to change the way we have been doing things; including the way we pick our leaders and hold them accountable.

Reading this book I found juxtaposed amongst the revelations and conclusions in its narrative much that one could agree as well as disagree with. In the end it is a matter of personal perspective.

In terms of disagreement I will cite but one. In Chapter 47 my friend goes to some length to defend the raising of the citizenship question in the context of Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi’s court challenge on the eve of the Kang Congress.

While I do not have an axe to grind with the judgement itself, I believe the way her citizenship was called into question by the BDP was not only wrong but a sad betrayal of the inclusive values that sustained the party from its inception. I can only pray that what happened will thus prove to be an anomaly and not a trend.

And on that note, I believe I have said enough.

*Ramsay was the government spokesperson under the Khama administration



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