In the previous regime of president Ian Khama, anyone who dared share a different point of view, was deemed unpatriotic. In fact, almost all those outside government; the independent media, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academics, foreign professionals and even some business people - were labelled unpatriotic, by the political leadership including the former president himself.
Foreigners, such as Stephen Corry of Survival International (SI), South Africa’s firebrand opposition politician, Julius Malema amongst others, were either declared persona non grata (PI) or put on the VISA list, for daring to challenge the status quo. Where patriotism was demanded from the nation, most Batswana found it hard to defend the government when it was under attack.
When defenders of the indigenous people of the world, SI, for an example, attacked the source of our livelihood, diamonds, many found no reason to rise and come to the nation’s defence. SI was going to our major markets, Europe and America to declare ours blood diamonds, because of the Botswana government’s treatment of Basarwa. The attitude of the Khama administration to its people, led to many, even with the full knowledge that the campaign would affect diamond sales, either backing Corry and Roy Sesana or staying clear of the debate. Now Batswana are engaging, and coming to Botswana’s defence.
When people are allowed to breath and speak their minds, it comes natural that when the need arises, they stand together and come to the defence of the government. This has been the case in the past days. Of course it has only been months of “change”, in quotation marks because it is still the party that ruled for the past 54 years, but there seems to be a new administration in thinking and operation.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi is allowing citizens something they have yearned for: freedom of expression. The freedom to speak without fear of being antagonised, of being able to live by the doctrine that Batswana of past, mmualebe o bua la gagwe.
So when Dr Mike Chase and his NGO, Elephants Without Borders, took to influential international media outlets, CNN, BBC, New York Times amongst others, to make what has since been found to be false claims, that 87 elephants were slaughtered by poachers in one fell swoop, the nation rose. Chase, who had been engaged by Tshekedi Khama’s Department of Wildlife, to conduct aerial census of the elephants, had been saying this for a while, through local media.
But it was his going to the world, on the week President Masisi was on a 10-day state visit to China, that shook the nation, and the world. While his motives, and that of his supporters, allegedly the Khamas, is not known, it can only be assumed it is intended to block the government’s intentions to lift the culling ban. The mission Masisi is on, doing what
Chase, and his backers, cannot claim to be innocent conservationists, whose interest is saving the humble giants. No. They are making a killing, pun not intended, from the elephants. Aerial photography tourism is their mainstay, and it is a million dollar business.
It is this very fact, of mainly foreign nationals, and their political elite connections attacking the Botswana policies, that had, and has most Batswana on the edge. Chase’s act - who has since retracted his “87 dead elephants” declarations, following the government rebuttal that the number of the dead elephants in the area is far less, and majority died of natural causes over a period of months – has had Batswana rallying around their government.
While in the process there has been unfortunate racial comments and attacks on our Whites compatriots, in the most, Batswana have risen, not only to defend our sovereignty but also the person in the President.
When Western commentators, including the British Prime Minister Teresa May took a swipe at Masisi and his administration, many Batswana took to social media, and the independent media to their pages, taking on the accusers.
There was, and continues to be, a united stand. In the process, professionals with understanding and information on the issue of elephant populations, and culling, have come to the fore, to provide the most needed evidence of why Masisi’s action is best for the country. Suddenly Batswana are, without being egged on, or pushed to, being patriotic.
The missing voice sadly has been that of the department responsible for government public relations and information dissemination. Their mute stance has not, however, deterred a determined patriotic nation.
Dr Chase & Co. should by now, have heard Batswana loud and clearly. The patriotic voices are saying back off. Our president, our nation, our country is not there for the pleasure of ridicule. Batswana are saying, despite our political differences, we are united behind the causes that benefit the nation, not the elite few. They are saying, we love our elephants, our wildlife, but we also love our country and our people most.
They are saying, we cannot allow individuals to dictate policies to the benefit of a select few and leave Botswana impoverished. Today especially, they are saying, leave Masisi to set the agenda for the benefit of Botswana.