If the Masisi-Khama feud has taught us anything as a nation, it is that we are not very much unlike the rest of Africa. We suffer from the exact same political vulnerability of ethnical volatility that has caused so much strife, bloodshed, displacement and heartache across the continent.
Our ethnic diversity needs careful management if we are to achieve lasting peace and security as a nation. Those that came before us did a fairly good job in managing our ethnic diversity in spite of an unequal constitutional landscape. Thanks to free speech rights, anger was constructively channeled to dignified dialogue, a situation that has subsisted to date.
Of late, however, we have been reminded of our vulnerability. Somewhere in our political discourse, we must arrive at a common understanding of the interplay between tribal authority and political authority, in particular, how the two can complement each other as essential building blocks of a unified and peaceful nation. One of Kgosi Kgafela’s key lamentations was that the constitution had in fact disempowered Dikgosi and reduced them to subordinates of civil servants when they should, in fact, be exercising dominion over their tribal territories.
I understood him to be agitating for a federal state made up of Kingdoms in which politicians and civil servants are subjects and not superiors of reigning monarchs. That would have required an complete overhaul of our constitutional philosophy and would have ended republicanism. I recall, that at the time when the Bogosi act was being debated, Kgosi Tawana unsuccessfully submitted to parliament that Dikgosi should be bestowed with the title of “King”. Fearing that the significance of Bogosi would be over-accentuated beyond republicanism, parliament refused.
We are, of course, a culturally and ethnically diverse nation. To pretend that there will be a time when such reality will suddenly cease would be frivolity at the very least. It is our common love for the Republic, cultural integration, and generally, the beauty and success of the nation state we own together, that bind us together.
Deep within, however, the cup of discontent continues to simmer in some sections of the population. If not managed, this may cause us unity problems in future. Among us, are and those who might find the politics of regionalism or ethnicity their only ground for political relevance.
When Former President Khama found himself in political dire straits, he summoned the tribe to his aid and overnight, t-shirts were printed, “e seng mo go Kgosi Kgolo”. He may not have intended to whip up tribalistic sentiment, but that was in effect the result of his engagement. Some even suggested he had given the Bangwato rights to the presidency to aliens, in this case, Masisi. When Kgosi Kgafela found himself in legal trouble, he summoned the loyalty of tribe and they answered with amazing fervour.
Regimental names like Madibelankwe and Madisakgosi constituted a warning; a clarion call to ethnic political solidarity. They pointed the regiments to their future role in the republic. I do not think he wanted to cause any civil strife. Far from it. But he surely mobilized the tribe for a political cause, in this case; the reconstitution of the nation state. When Reverend Butale found himself in the fringes of the political power, he went to Serowe with a message, “Bakalaka bare….”.
Again no tribalism was intended here; moreso that the act brought together the supposed oppressor and the supposedly oppressed, but there can be no doubt that ethnicity was being fused, rightly or wrongly with politics in the pursuit of a political cause. Tribal sentiment is ever an available tool to politicians to political causes. But how much of tribal politics can we have in politics without endangering national unity and security?
Yes, there is no tribal equality in Botswana. That must be accepted as a fact distinct to citizen constitutional equality. Those from ethnic minorities who make it into government often focus on nation building and devote little or no attention to the subject of cultural or ethnic equality.
Most cultural victories, including Bayei’s recognition, were not won by politicians. I have argued before, and repeat it here, that we do not need tribal reference in the constitution. We are, and have in fact been grappling with a non-issue. A tribally neutral constitution becomes a firm reference point for the adjudication of disputes regarding cultural equality. A constitution that makes reference to tribes in effect engenders tribal bigotry whether as an intended or an unintended consequence.
We should never allow politicians to use tribal sentiment to achieve political causes even if they have valid, personal cases to make. Same applies to Regionalism. Cultural diversity and ethnic identity do not mix well with politics. Yet, overtime, political parties have recruited heavily from and taken advantage of royalty, especially in difficult to win constituencies. Our first President was a royal. Royalty is the bedrock upon which the BDP is founded.
The BDP problems come straight out of the party’s genes. The opposition have had their own successes in the same regard, from Borolong to GaNgwaketse to Ngami. It all looked good until a year ago. The question is; should royalty be banned from active politics? I am sorry to say this; but my take is a straight; YES. It is in is in the national interest. The choice should be simple to royal political office aspirants; reign or abdicate. Yes, I am a proud tribesman; but firstly, I am a proud citizen and a republican.