Remarks attributed to the Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi and published elsewhere in this edition, make for unsettling reading.
During an orientation workshop for Ntlo ya Dikgosi, Masisi “urged” the traditional leaders to avoid “politicking” or using their freedom of expression to attack the executive.
“I have observed that in the past, the lines of duty seem to be getting blurred,” Masisi said, adding that the House of Chiefs should never mistake itself for Parliament.
Stay in your lane, was the unequivocal takeaway from Masisi, with a frail attempt to sweeten the menacing message by imploring dikgosi to “uphold the law and strengthen good governance”.
No one but the Vice President can presume to know the motivations behind his statements, but most pathways of conjecture in our free republic would invariably lead to a dark place.
Sceptics in fact would say the Vice President’s statements are the continuation of an apparent campaign by the powers that be to systematically stifle criticism.
Those of this opinion could cite similar warnings made against unionists, media and NGOs who have been repeatedly told to stay away from politics whenever any criticism of the executive has been made.
It appears to suit some in government to deliberately blur the line between politics and the executive so that by grouping the two together, and making them indistinguishable, two birds can be killed with one stone.
However, the executive is not merely political. It is government and governance and the key to its effectiveness lies in the public supervision of its mandate.
Over the decades, as the executive has entrenched its dominance in the new Botswana, once mighty traditional leaders and their constitutionally protected roles were relegated to village elders with little national input.
In spite of several sections of the constitution, the role traditional leaders play in legislation and governance has become largely ceremonial, with the House of Chiefs more a state-sponsored distraction to keep dikgosi occupied and embossed with feelings of relevance and authority.
In their role to advise Parliament, the House of Chiefs can constitutionally stop or at least delay legislation or force amendments, but such has been the paralysis over the years that nothing of the sort has been attempted. Perhaps it has been the comfort some traditional leaders have become accustomed to in belonging to an organ beyond the reach of public accountability or perhaps it is part of the executive’s efforts to benumb Ntlo ya Dikgosi. Either way, Masisi’s comments are unhelpful. Who is to say a traditional leader’s comments in pursuit of “strengthening good governance” will not be misread as “politicking”. It is sadly ironic that the custodians of ‘mmualebe o a bo a bua la gagwe’ are specifically being asked to keep quiet.
“Ga ke itse gore ba tswa kae ko go senang dikgosi. Gatwe o ilele suswane gore suswane a tle a go ilele.” - Kgosi Seepapitso IV