It is unfortunate that our commercial newspapers report and comment but rarely encourage debate. Letters to the editor is a standard element of newspapers elsewhere but one which barely exists here. Yet debate is the essence of any democratic society.
I make that observation deliberately having just read Dr O. Selolwane’s comment in last week’s Echo entitled, ‘We’re in this mess alright, but we all had a role to play’.
The Echo is not a newspaper I would normally buy but I was persuaded to have a look-see by an elliptical comment from my friend Jan Wareus which had me scurrying to the internet. Echo, no joy. Selolwane? A hit.
So what is the story? Essentially that we are all to blame for the current mess. We all knew, as the years passed by, that Morupule was a disaster, that the Gaborone Dam was drying up, that this and that was going catastrophically wrong. And we all kept quiet. I trust that I summarise Dr Selolwane’s message reasonably correctly.
Hers is a not an unreasonable argument which will be one which is shared by many. After all, in a truly democratic society – ancient Greece, perhaps – all are equal and all can take the credit and share the blame. In an undemocratic society, neither the credit nor the blame is equally shared.
It might have been argued by Dr Selolwane, therefore, that if blame is to be attributed, UB itself should accept an unequal share. UB has been, after all, the country’s intellectual engine room but it has long surprised me that its voice has been so rarely and then, unevenly, heard.
The political scientists have been consistently vocal despite the uprooting of Professor Good which might well have had the effect of making them moderate their views.
The geographers, on the other hand, to use an old fashioned term, seem to have had nothing to say about the many problems now facing the country - which is surprising and unfortunate. But whilst partly agreeing with Dr Selolwane I do feel that there is room for a counterview.
I suggest that historically, and for obvious reasons, tribal Batswana have been and have had no option but to be, politically quiescent. In times of difficulty there was need for one leader and one leader only and it was he who would do all the thinking that was required – and in that respect Tshekedi appears to have been archetypal of that kind of figure.
The 50 years since 1966 have transformed the country in so many ways but the nature of a people, shaped over so many long previous years, is unlikely to have changed
Yet both Seretse and Masire were only too aware of the kind of society they had inherited from the country’s previous leaders not least in Serowe and Kanye.
They knew that they had a democratic obligation to try as best they could to carry the people with them as they initiated much needed change.
The effort to conscientise the electorate was all embracing being underpinned by new institutions, by the party itself, by elected representatives, by the new system of local government, by the education system and by a deliberate push to delegate responsibility throughout all levels of society.
Seemingly, and as Dr Selolwane maintains, that push must have failed because none of us has been able to avert the mess we are now experiencing.
To me, however, it seems a bit tough that today’s undoubtedly more worldly-wise electorate should be expected to take the blame for Morupule or for the collapse of the north-south carrier.
Both resulted from failings within the government which need, with some urgency, to be properly explained and addressed.
On the other hand, it could be suggested that all of us must take some responsibility for the now entrenched culture of corruption. But again, I suggest that it needs to be understood how corruption has increased as a direct result of the overriding need to secure political power.
The inevitable result has been that inducement has been deliberately deployed whilst accountability at every level has been allowed to slip.
Given any sort of problem today, it is usually impossible to find anyone who will accept responsibility. In that usually vain search, the one individual who will not feature is the MP who, surprisingly, is responsibility free.
At the local level he/she has proved either unwilling or incapable of moving into the gap created by the reduced powers of the dikgosi on the one hand and on the other by the vastly increased needs of every community in the country.
Why MPS have failed to seize that opportunity and responsibility is beyond me. Perhaps it has been easier for them to play out their routine role in Gaborone than it has been for them to meet the so much more demanding challenge of helping people where help has been so much needed.
If blame for Dr Selolwane’s ‘mess’ has to be apportioned, I am in no doubt, therefore that it is the non-performing MP who must accept a major share.