Mixed reaction to Khama's 'first 100 days'

Staff Writer
Botswana's presidential term lasts for 1,825 days - five years - excluding the 19 months transition the president gets from his predecessor through automatic succession. President Ian Khama this week completed his first 100 days in office and is left with roughly 15 months before the general election. Mmegi Reporter BAME PIET found out what some organisations and individuals think of his presidency.

Taking office on 1 April 2008, President Khama promised to fight unemployment, social ills, low productivity and laziness in the civil service, and vowed to maintain a disciplined nation that has dignity, and to economically empower Batswana.

Several directors of government departments have since been forced to retire. Rumours were flying that it was because of projects that were planned for a long time ago but have not been implemented.

President Khama also came at a time when there are many initiatives such as Work Improvement Teams (WITS), Performance Management System (PMS) and Performance Based Reward System (PBRS) put in place to entice civil servants to work hard. But they were not enough as some civil servants continued to favour low productivity, behaving like bosses to their clients - members of the public - at the same time disrespecting them and going to work late in the morning and after lunch.

The President took power at a time when MPs used to complain in parliament about government's poor implementation of projects, some civil servants conniving with foreigners in denying government projects to Batswana, unemployment exceeding 17 per cent, AIDS prevalence at 17.1 per cent, inflation at 8 per cent and fuel and food prices going up every week.

The new president's challenges included the exodus of skilled manpower from the civil service to the private sector looking for greener pastures. Furthermore Khama ascended to the presidency three days after Zimbabweans held presidential elections in which Robert Mugabe lost for the first time to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The results were released after a month.  

Though Botswana National Front spokespersons say it is still too early to judge Khama, they believe that there is no sign that things will improve for the better. Spokesman, Moeti Mohwasa said in an interview that they appreciate the presence of police in the streets to fight crime, but expressed concern that the country is quickly turning into a police state. This week's police report shows that crime has generally gone up and only murder cases have gone down as compared to last year from January to June. Mohwasa cautioned that soon there will be more police in the streets than civilians.

He suggests that government should first fight the root cause of crime, unemployment, which he blamed for street robberies and other minor offences involving theft. Mohwasa dismissed the idea of paying university graduates an allowance as a bad one saying even form five, brigade, technical college graduates also need money to survive. He calls for a policy that will help create employment opportunities. He adds that government's proposed plans to revive the agriculture sector are misguided because they are silent on irrigation farming, which is the only solution to the dry country's low food production. He calls for the establishment of an agriculture bank to fix the problem.

Mohwasa commends the Botswana government position on Zimbabwe saying it was timely. However, he feels the country could do more to sustain its position as a good example of democracy. He says there are similarities between Botswana and Zimbabwe government when it comes to the use of state media. He adds that Botswana Television, Radio Botswana, and BOPA only give coverage to the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and the government whilst opposition parties are sidelined. He also calls for the funding of opposition parties if Botswana wishes to continuously be viewed as shining star of democracy in Africa. Mohwasa is of the belief that there isn't much change coming since Khama has been in power. During Festus Mogae's era for the past 10 years, he was involved in the formulation of many policies that have not taken the country forward.

BCP Publicity Secretary, Dumelang Saleshando is of the view that we are still living in the Mogae era. He says that it is regrettable that President Khama seems not to treat HIV/AIDS as a serious challenge facing the nation in that in his inaugural speech he did not say much on it, and 100 days later he still has not made any major pronouncement on it. 

"He has even opted not to chair the National Aids Coordinating Agency (NACA) and as a result reducing it (NACA) to an irrelevant institution," he says. Former President, Festus Mogae, who is now powerless when it comes to policy formulation and decision making, currently chairs NACA. 

Saleshando explains that it is important for the president to chair NACA so that he can influence policy making to make the fight on the disease easier. With regards to President Khama's 4Ds, the legislator feels that the other D for Democracy should be replaced with 'Directive'. He says Khama has failed the test to prove that he adheres to democratic principles, but instead he issues directives to try to quickly solve problems. He cites the graduates' scheme, agricultural schemes and others as those that have the potential to cripple the economy in the near future because they were not budgeted for nor were they discussed in parliament. "These are just short term solutions and the problems will remain in place," he observes. The youthful MP has observed that the new government is not coming up with long-term solutions to challenges such as unemployment.  Saleshando's records show that in her history, Botswana has never had such a big number of Directives issued in such a short time. 

He also cites the pronouncement allowing food vendors to trade in government buildings as a temporary measure for which no guidelines were put in place.   

He also cautions about Khama's apparent withdrawal from the international community.  He says Khama made the right decision on Zimbabwe

but it is disturbing to see him not going out to meet the international leaders. His deputy, Lt General Mompati Merafhe, has been attending important international meetings on behalf of the president. Though he believes the president should travel abroad he does not call for the same mileage as Mogae's. "He shouldn't move from total engagement to none. It will be catastrophic if he chooses that route," he says.

With regard to the rising fuel and food prices, he says they need urgent attention, but the President has not said a word on the problem. In conclusion, Saleshando says, "We are still in the Mogae days". He says the BCP and Botswana Alliance Movement (BAM) will issue a joint statement in the near future on their observations on the Khama presidency.

Bakgatla regent, Kgosi Mothibe, expresses satisfaction with government proposals and changes made so far describing them as on the right track.

Although he is of the view that it is too early to pass judgment on the new presidency. He is thankful that the president has shown commitment to the welfare of Batswana. 

"He has put his energy in reviving agriculture and all we should do as Batswana is to take advantage of these schemes," he advises. He also appreciates that the 4Ds were not just mentioned in the inaugural speech but it is evident they will be implemented. 

"The two Ds of development and democracy were already there, but the other two - discipline and dignity were lagging behind and with the newly appointed social values committee we hope things will improve for better," he says. 
The administrative officer for National Amalgamated Local and Central Government and Parastatal Manual Workers Union (NALOCEPAMAWU) Samuel Molaodi commended Khama for recognizing trade unions as a stakeholder in the national agenda. He said that they were impressed that after assuming his office, the president ordered all senior officers in government to work hand in hand with trade unions. "We are very happy with his conduct so far and we pray that he continues with the spirit," he says.

Molaodi is happy that for the first time in the history of Botswana, the president has instructed the civil service, including his cabinet members, to work hard, produce good results or face the sack. "We have never heard this since independence," he says. The other thing that impresses Molaodi is the recently set up joint advisory committee of Ntlo ya Dikgosi and Botswana Council of Churches on social values. "We hope that this committee will enforce his inaugural 4Ds because some youth have no respect for elders and they just insult us on the roads, and they really have no respect," he says.

He is also impressed that the president reacted to the Zimbabwe crisis immediately after taking office. He commends Khama for acting quickly to mobilise the region to help the people of Zimbabwe. 

"Generally, I think this administration is better than the previous one," he says, though he acknowledges that Khama was part of it. 

Nonetheless, the trade unionist believes that a lot still needs to be done about the salaries for workers especially in the public service. He says the rising fuel and food prices have eroded the purchasing power rendering the April salary hike for civil servants ineffective. He calls for a better remuneration for civil servants equivalent to the economic growth, and others in the region.

A street vendor trading at Maruapula 'No Mathata' shopping centre, who introduced herself as Boitumelo says her life hasn't changed for the better since the beginning of the year. With a voice of hopelessness she says she wasn't expecting any drastic changes especially on the lives of uneducated people. 

"How does somebody who works in the council sanitation department expect to live large just because there is a new president? It doesn't make sense. Look right now the educated people are now paid even huge salaries through the introduction of scarce skills allowance. We will remain poor forever," she says.  

For a bar keeper, Leungo Somoletsile of Tloung Ward in Kanye, the reduction of trading hours for alcohol outlets has brought a sense of discipline to some consumers. 

She says that with bars opening in the afternoon, there are few people who abscond from work to drink and that no alcohol is sold to underage children. "Even neighbours no longer send their children to buy alcohol for them because we refuse. We know that we can be fined a lot of money for selling alcohol to the children," she says. Other national issues are of less concern to her and she had no opinion to share.

For Maruapula Secondary School students who preferred not to be named, life is just the same and nothing has changed.

Why 100 Days?
Former United States (US) President, Franklin Roosevelt, started the '100 days' tradition. When President Roosevelt took office in 1933 as the 32nd President, the U.S. was in the middle of the Great Depression. The stock market had crashed and thousands of people were out of work. Almost overnight, rich people became poor and homeless. Immediately upon taking office, Roosevelt set the U.S. on a 100-day course to recovery. His legacy is built on those 100 days.

In those 100 days, Roosevelt or 'FDR' introduced dozens of new policies reforming banking and industry. The U.S. economy did eventually recover and these early sweeping changes became part of FDR's legacy. Hard times called for drastic action, he said, and he would do it in 100 days. That big round number stuck, and every US president since has been analysed, criticised, lionised or demonised on the basis of that early period.



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