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The case for sustainable peace in Botswana

Disgruntled by minority rights subjugation or marginalisation and submitting to the commission of inquiry on Sections 77, 78 and 79 of the Constitution of Botswana, the late Motsamai Mpho argued that "the idea of peace in this country has taken a new meaning".

“It simply means no guns. Peace means that the no-Tswana should not complain, they should pretend that they are happy”. (Mpho 2000: pp5-6, My Experiences in the Making of the Constitution of Botswana).

Such utterances, more especially from one of the founders/builders of Botswana’s democracy, need not be ignored for they can be used as a preventative measure to avoid unrest or to ensure prosperous societies like Botswana (in terms of peace) do not unravel.

This discourse seeks to complement the above observation by addressing shortcomings and analyse how to further sustain durable peace in Botswana.

For ease of comprehension and communication purposes, there is need to first briefly breakdown the concept of peace. Johan Galtung distinguishes between negative and positive peace.

Johan defines negative peace as the absence of direct or personal violence (e.g assault, war, riot, terror etc.) while positive peace is the integration of human society or absence of indirect or structural violence (e.g poverty, unemployment, social injustice etc).

Positive peace is also regarded as ‘the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies’ (Institute of Economics and Peace). The former is more curative in approach while the latter is preventative.

The Institute of Economics and Peace measures Positive Peace using eight main pillars of well-functioning government, sound business environment, low levels of corruption, acceptance of the rights of others, high levels of human capital, good relations with neighbours, free flow of information and equitable distribution of resources. 

In terms of negative peace, Botswana has always been a darling for many and has always won accolades. Ranked no.2 after Mauritius in the 2018 Global Peace Index (concerned with negative peace), Botswana is regarded a conflict-free country and has a perfect score for Ongoing Conflict domain and no.1 globally in the same domain.

However, it is quite worrisome that the global economic cost of violence in Botswana is reported by the same index as 14% of Botswana’s GDP while less peaceful countries like Chad, Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria represent 10%, eight percent, seven percent and 11% respectively.

Costs of violence entail containing, preventing and dealing with the consequences of violence. According to the 2018 Positive Peace Report, Botswana is ranked no. 2 in Africa and no. 44 out of 163 countries globally while Mauritius is no. 1 in Africa and no. 36 in the world. 

The most interesting part is that the report states that ‘Botswana and Serbia are the only two countries to move from mid to high peace group between 2008 and 2016. Though it is befitting to accord accolades to Botswana’s peace record, the author strives to address the inconsistencies, contradictions and seeks to rebut disjointed thoughts to arrive at a convincing conclusion that Botswana’s positive peace, more especially the transition to a high peace ranking, is not only flawed and unmethodical but largely confusing.

The report further states that the low number of countries to make this transition suggests that while it is possible to have large and rapid deteriorations in peace, transitioning to a high level of peacefulness was much more difficult in the decade measured.

It also makes it difficult for statistical tests to confidently identify features of these countries that made them different to other mid-peace countries in 2008 (Positive Peace Report 2018:58).

How then do they conclude as to Botswana’s transition to high peace grouping without confidence in statistical tests? It is also contradictory or confusing to suggest or dictate that Botswana’s positive peace moved from mid to high peace more confusingly during Khama’s iron fist personal rule. Botswana has a colossal challenge concerning attitudes, structures and institutions that create and sustain peaceful societies. The institutions available like the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), Ombudsman, Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) etc are more power (state)centric than people centric and consequently or virtually dependent on and controlled by political elites.

In his response to the 2008 State of Nation Address (SONA) Ndaba Gaolathe called ‘for oversight institutions like Ombudsman, DCEC, DIS to relocate from Office of the President’. As long as they are still under the President, they lack a sense of public trust, integrity and confidence because politicians control them.

Since Khama’s inauguration into office in 2008, Batswana were introduced to a rogue, unaccountable and feared institution in the form of DIS, which reduced Botswana to a ‘paranoid state (see Khumoetsile Kgosidialwa, Weekendpost newspaper September 05, 2017).

The institution notoriously indulged in extra judicial killings, mass corruption scandals and used by political elites to serve personal intents than the public good. The IEC as a body responsible

for elections and strengthening electoral democracy was left in the dark and subjugated by the executive in the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) saga.

Such an ugly authoritarianism is a disregard to creating and sustaining peaceful societies. The Botswana Congress Party took the EVM matter to court and consequently President Mokgweetsi Masisi accepted blunder from the side of government as he orally distanced himself from such a decision. 

In his inaugural SONA, Masisi ‘took a public conscious and conflict sensitive decision to suspend the use of EVMs considering the ‘serious threats expressed to our peace, stability and security’ (SONA 2008,paragraph 222, p 67).

While positive peace is dependent or anchored on a well-functioning government (democratic political culture, government effectiveness and rule of law) and free flow of information, it is, however, sadly noted that Botswana faces a mammoth task in this regard.

The World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Report (2019) ranks Botswana no.72 out of 126 countries globally and eighth out of 30 in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of ‘Open Government’. Open government consists of right to information, published laws and government data, civic participation and complaint mechanism.

Furthermore, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 calls for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies provide access to justice and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions.

Without freedom of information legislation, it is difficult or near impossible to enable peaceful and inclusive societies and justice.

This open government deficit renders Botswana susceptible to decline and the society has the appalling potential to easily unravel due to complacency.

Though President Masisi is endeavouring to harmonise state-society relations, more especially exhaustively reversing government’s hostile attitude towards the media and trade unions, the sore is far from being healed.  Even for now, the old shadow is like a phantom reminder.  Furthermore, declaration of assets and liabilities is still on the pipeline though it has for long been promised to no avail. In his SONA address response, Gaolathe argued that a declaration of assets law will help avert corruption and that corruption is only measurable with the Information Act.

The Global Competitiveness Report 2018 by the World Economic Forum indicates a decline in the good business environment factor.

While Vice President, Slumber Tsogwane excitedly expresses hope in Botswana’s competitive edge as an investment destination of choice (The Daily News newspaper Nov 2. 2018, p3), Advocate Duma Boko argues that Botswana is likely to bargain with investors from a vulnerable or weaker position.

The government comes from far with the hopes of creating a sound business environment but the country’s positive peace is threatened by diamond dependency, closure of mines and massive loss of jobs, poor work ethic and a resource curse in the era of innovation and knowledge.

Inevitably, the issue of unemployment is a serious threat to peace and security.  With poor or hostile industrial relations and rising levels of unemployment, more especially with regard to young people, the Human capital pillar of positive peace is threatened.

It seems the government lacks effective, accountable and inclusive institutions aimed at creating jobs and reducing or ending the twin evils of poverty and unemployment.

Unemployment and poverty are forms of economic deprivation that contribute to economic insecurity and very cancerous to the consolidation and transformation of positive peace. Due to high levels of unemployment and poverty, huge economic and income disparities are inevitable.

The argument is that in Africa’s ‘politics of patronage’ or politicised economic distribution system, the poverty gap and inequality may rise to epidemic proportions more so that there is no clear positive discrimination/affirmative action policy in Botswana. In Africa, a lot of conflict and peace threats perpetuate because of resource distribution bias.

Peace is an ever-evolving concept and is in the state of flux everywhere, now and then. As the globe is becoming one village, the post-cold war Botswana is expected or advised to succumb to the dynamics of both changing patterns of thought and practice.

To further sustain and consolidate positive peace is a Herculean task that requires a harmonious state-society relation based on mutual respect and synergy. Without jobs, food, land, shelter and other basic amenities, the people will always feel deprived and inevitably become contemptuous.

State oversight institutions need to be autonomous, impartial (unprejudiced) and very effective to carry out their mandates for the public good. Aligning Botswana’s peace programmes to SDG 16 and strengthening institutions and inclusiveness of all stakeholders is key to the integration of human society. In brief, sustainable and or durable peace in the post-cold war and post-2015 development agenda requires a shift from consolidation to transformation.


*Kgosidialwa is a contributor to Mmegi.

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