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So Long, My President

In the waning months of a venerable presidency, he had the grace to extend a farewell visit to the University of Botswana (UB) community of which I was a part of.

It was not to crown a glorious relationship. Far from it. The enmity between governments and students is eternal. Students see everything wrong with governments. Governments see everything wrong with students. But on that day, the walls of Student Centre reverberated with thunderous acclaim. Tearful eyes strived to witness, one more time, the fleeting presence of a man they had seen a thousand times before and would likely see again. One whose government they often berated, whose wrath they had borne and on whose decades long service they now reflected with profound gratitude.

The visit attested to a unifying national consciousness. That “we only differed so much because we all loved our country so much”, and that our differences did not subtract from our hopes for a country so dear. Across the rancorous political divide, we all stood in awe and admiration. The eloquence of Edmund Burke alone would have captured the respect and the adulation that heralded his entrance and prevailed until his exit. “A thousand swords would have leapt out of their scabbards, to avenge even a look that threatened him with insult”.

I joined the multitudes that thronged Parliament to bow to the man under whose presidency I grew up. A short walk between a decaying mall and a decayed Parliament became, in the end, a lonesome expedition into the deepest chambers of my soul. A spiritual reflection on truth and service; pious attributes now strange to the house in which his scared remains lay. But lo and behold, until the clock struck the hour of six, dignity would reside upon the floor of the nation’s most sacred house.

We would have given him 91 more years if we could. The pages of history seldom glare with so glorious leadership account. That distinctly rare period, observed by Edward Gibbon, “when the happiness of a people, was the sole objective of government”.

From the day of my birth, I was draped and raised in a blanket of constitutional liberty. So were my peers whose social media lamentations summed up a generation’s collective grief. We hold dear that foundation as a priceless treasure. We are a generation that drank from “the great wells of democracy dug deep” by the departed father. We grew up when “the path of criticism was a public way”, when even, ‘the wrongheaded walked freely and erred”. I was feeding from my mother’s lap when my nation’s first president died. But his legacy of democracy stands as his eternal shadow alongside that of the man over whose sacred remains my failing sight fell. Who had led a desert nation

with the deft of a captain navigating a vessel through a rocky channel and delivered it in a condition better than he received it.

How sad for the nation’s golden son to bow out at such a disagreeable period. True, our nation is not at peace with itself. “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.” Someone talked about going back to the crossroads. Someone talked about going back with them. “The falcon cannot hear the falconer”. But then, perhaps it was God’s design too. Fewer occurrences could have wielded sufficient gravity to deliver a sufficiently stern rebuke. Even fewer times would have deserved it. I wonder what his words would be was his treasured voice to thunder through the endless void that separates the dead from the living. Let me guess. With some adaptation, he would speak as his master did on his way to the cross as the women bewailed his imminent fate; “women of Jerusalem, do not cry for me, cry for yourself and your children”.

Fate did not deny me the fortune of an encounter. A group picture, I cling to. But then, you didn’t need to have met with him. His was imperious in grace; a part of everyone’s mortal experience. His true personality breached, without effort, the steely hedge of stately security, office protocol and scripted stately manners. He belonged with and to his nation, not a motley crew of insatiable sycophants. He fulfilled the biblical admonition; “he that is greatest among you, shall be your servant”.

Shall we carve his face upon our Mount Rushmore. This nation owes him more than it can ever pay. But alas, despots have monuments too. Their images dishonour every street. Their faces defile every office. They are draped with temporal glory and delight to showers of conceited praise. The vacancy of their souls is filled with tributes from lips of blinking morons. Their stars flare, as does everything fake. Then they fall; their glory too. No monument standing can salvage their glory. In time, they receive their true worth. Africa’s southernmost nation grapples with a legacy of statues its oceans would spit with ignominy were they to be sunk beneath their foamy tides. Painful lessons for the present and future generations.

“In the dark night of death, hope sees a star”. Igesund’s voice thundered at the side of his brother’s grave. It is to our former president, and those he toiled with, dead and living, that we owe the trip to the “crossroads”. I can conceive no better way of paying our fondest tribute to the nation’s finest son.

Chief On Friday



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