The question asked by the title of this piece begs a national introspection, about where we really are, where we come from, what are the areas of struggle, divergence or engagement and how they can be resolved, to entirely make Botswana the country we would like it to be - or at least the country we expect Botswana to become under the leadership of the President issuing such an address.
It’s almost like an annual general meeting, or a review of the needs and priorities of the state being addressed; and although it is delivered to Parliament, it is generally intended for the President to let the people know how the country is performing on a global scale, but more significantly, how the country is doing internally in terms of development and the goals set by the state for herself, the draw backs and the intended fixes.
On November 5, 2018, the President of the Republic of Botswana delivered his maiden State of the Nation Address, as the fifth President of the country. It rained that afternoon.
It rained in a similar manner to when it rained upon his inauguration on April 1, 2018. It rained both precipitation, as well as the many a-promise which left many anxious, cold, suspicious and concerned. The President, referenced his inauguration speech, suggestively echoing that his focus and the legacy he intends his leadership and government to leave would be that of urgently addressing what he titles “the twin problems of poverty and unemployment particularly amongst young people” who constitute 60% of the population.
He then proceeded to extensively outline what on the face of it, and at first listen, appeared to be the state of the investment and business address, intelligently stating statistics and offering figures as well as future State investment plans, which he said would culminate in the production of jobs and employment for young people.
It almost sounded exciting. Almost! Because should poverty eradication and employment have been the main focuses, one would expect that there would be an indication of the number of jobs intended to be created by all the projects the President speaks of, as well as the quality and nature of those jobs.
Despite the suggestive echo on job creation and poverty eradication, attention to the twins, in the address is sweeping and seemingly by the way, in short and pointed paragraphs. When speaking to youth empowerment, one of the references made, is to a P58 million to be used to acquire local content for a local youth television channel. The channel is to broadcast 24 hours of local content.
It is unclear what considerations went into the determination of the amount to be spent, the expected quality of the content or even the emminence. Neither is there consideration of the many complaints by local artists who sound like a broken record, when they lament the absurd amounts they are paid for
Beyond this however, the President went on to speak about other factors, albeit in not so organised and concise a manner as he did investment and trade. He often went back and forth mixing matters in a crockpot fashion. An example was when he mixed health issues with concerns related to housing, sometimes contradicting himself in critical aspects of the speech, that it left one wondering what the actual state of the nation is. Some of the numbers he provided were inaccurate, begging the question, where is the President? And where is the information he is reporting to us coming from? An example is when he reported that as a result of the diarrhea outbreak, there were 31 deaths, when just a few days earlier a report by Ministry of Health had been issued, announcing that there had in fact been 38 deaths resulting from the outbreak.
His Excellency was quite deliberate in occasionally providing deadlines for certain deliverables, and for others, upon closer examination, he remained oblique, indirect and unclear, using words like urgent, soon, and prioritise. An example is when he spoke about the Sexual Offences Act. He said the Act would include the sexual offences registry, stiffer sentences as well as prohibitions against sexual offenders. These developments are long overdue and are very welcome. So welcome in fact that they were met by loud applause from the House. The President however, did not indicate the date by which the Act will have been concluded, unlike when he earlier indicated that the National Employment Policy would be enacted no later than March 2019. This points at uncertainty, and begs the question of credibility.
It is necessary that a leader reflect with their people. To consult and place us in the know, about all things pertaining to the Republic.
Vague assertions are difficult to engage with. Political analysts have observed that the President’s biting off more than is chewable is because there is need for rehabilitation of various institutions in government which were destroyed by the previous government. The SONA however casts a very wide net, with no real deadlines, or indications of plans of action on so many aspects. Can it really be said to reflect the state of Botswana?