When it was announced that President Masisi was scheduled to give a national address on Tuesday, discussions and assumptions emerged within the public as to what exactly he was going to talk about. His scheduled address raised anxiety. With the current state of affairs, Batswana could be excused for pre-empting the President’s speech. It had to be about COVID-19, more specifically the vaccination plan.
Masisi’s posture during the national address pretty much summed up everything. How else would one explain what was lacklustre address in what was expected to be his ‘major’ speech on the current COVID-19 crisis. Let’s start with the fact that many thought much of Masisi’s speech especially in the wake of alarming cases of COVID-19 this week.
Masisi is known for his articulate and confident public speaking. Even in the midst of tough challenges, be at his party, the Botswana Democratic Party or at government level, he has always managed to manoeuvre situations and win public support with his confident appearance and calm during past addresses.
Masisi’s speeches are usually well crafted, gripping, and somewhat flowing. He uses many forms of influence to back a vital proposition but on Tuesday he seemed out of his game and his exhortations on how people should take care and reduce more COVID-19 infections didn’t seem to move many people in his direction.
The President appeared overwhelmed, and his address lacked that which the nation needed the most. Whilst Masisi touched on the current state of affairs with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government’s vaccination roll-out plan, most of it was just in passing because his speech was all over the show.
He failed to drive his points home. Batswana were expecting him to focus on the issue at large, but he dampened what little enthusiasm there was for it with a brief about the vaccination roll-out programme. That was an opportunity to elaborate on the planned roll-out plan that is the only hope for Batswana to curb the rising COVID-19 cases. From the onset, the President appeared lethargic and uninspiring.
Although Batswana had anticipated the President to impose a stricter lockdown, they also wanted him to make assurances that his government has a clear plan to procure vaccines. As much as many were glad that he opted not to lock them down, Masisi’s speech may have increased some people’s unreceptiveness toward his proposals especially about upholding the alcohol ban. There are so many measures of a speech’s effectiveness, but the Tuesday one came out mainly as an incoherent array of hopes and dead ends. Equally, there was a lot missing from the President’s speech. He failed to rise to the occasion at a time when his leadership is most needed. For those who have listened and watched Masisi speak in the past, he has been consistent and focused but on Tuesday he seemed unsettled, worried and lost the plot.
Batswana have lost their jobs and so many businesses have closed down. Masisi acknowledged that in the speech by mentioning the most affected sectors, but he did not come up with remedies.
From there, he revealed how government has introduced interventions to address the challenges through Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) loans and Local Enterprise Authority’s (LEA) financial support to informal sector businesses. With the nagging unemployment rate that has been high even before the pandemic, the failure to address how businesses will recover exposes the stale nature of Masisi’s speech on Tuesday and perhaps ideas lacked solid thinking.
After the value added tax was raised and new taxes introduced, clearly Masisi’s administration believes increased taxes will spur economic activity and ultimately balance the government’s books. He said the COVID-19’s relentless attack on the country and the rest of Africa has pushed both their human and financial resources to the limit as a result of the continued emergence of new and more transmissible variants.
Now critics are more observant than ever. The next few months are going to be critical and it remains to be seen whether Masisi will step on the gas and veer everyone off as Botswana’s economy goes around the bend. Looking at the feeble issues scattered around the speech, it might as well suggest a different course would be more effective for Masisi but the bend ahead seems inevitable.
On another realm that leaped to many minds was the fact that Masisi’s speech consistently didn’t pivot to any focus and the orator himself was uneasy and couldn’t keep his eye on the ball. In today’s torrid time of the pandemic, such a timid statement could be considered a small victory for the President who is also fighting another war as the chair of SADC’s politics, defence and security organ.
Many people have in equal measure expressed skepticism about the President’s speech with commentators taking to different platforms to analyse it. The opposition definitely did not hit warm notes especially when it comes to Masisi and his government.
Although there are people in the President’s office responsible for crafting his speeches, at the end Masisi has to take responsibility for what he ‘feeds his nation’.
One local speechwriter, who spoke to Mmegi on condition of anonymity, agreed that Masisi failed to fix his eyes on the ball and appeared to deliver a mini State of The Nation Address (SONA).
He explained that it is by design and not an accidental occurrence that the war against COVID-19 is being fought from the Office of the President.
The speech writer said with Masisi sitting in the most powerful and highly resourced office in the land, he is strategically placed to not only lead from the front but to provide the inspiration and confidence (both in words and deeds) needed to prosecute the war against COVID-19 to a victorious conclusion.
“But alas, the Tuesday presidential address on the subject of COVID-19 is wanting. Best known as the master of rhetoric and the spoken word, the President appeared to have lost the spark. His demeanour spoke of volumes. He looked war weary and overwhelmed by a spirit of despondency,” he said.
He also partially directed the blame for Masisi’s uninspiring address to his speechwriters, saying they too compounded the President’s woes. He said the subject of the speech was supposed to be COVID-19, which is the most grievous ordeal confronting the nation. According to him, the listeners and viewers expected the President to fixate his eyes on the ball and avoid clouding the issue at all costs.
“Unfortunately the President’s speech turned out to be a mini SONA, patchwork of unconnected and disjointed topics. He said the all embracing approach, mostly probably motivated by political expediency, took the thunder from the subject that matters most to the very survival of the people.”
The Alliance for Progressives (AP) said it noted with deep disappointment the President’s national address.
The party’s secretary-general, Dr Phenyo Butale said the country is currently experiencing the hardest time the nation ever, as COVID-19 has forced its way into people’s lives, disrupting everything in the process.
The former Gaborone Central legislator said this is indeed a scary time where strong leadership is effectively needed.
The AP said notwithstanding some of the facts that the President spoke related to COVID-19, there are some immediate concerns from the address. According to Butale, the President did not address the current situation in South Africa and how Botswana will ready itself should the chaos continue for a longer period.
“Businesses are failing and getting shut down every week, so a lot of people are losing their jobs, but the President and his government don’t seem to care much about it because it is not being addressed. What is the practical plan in schools because by the time they re-open COVID-19 will still be with us? How are we going to make the situation better for student and teachers? Where are the vaccines and the vaccination plan for teachers and students?”
The AP also questioned why the President did not talk about what his government is currently doing to increase capacity in the health sector and set out and outlined clear plan on the vaccination of frontliners.
The opposition party described the address as a constant repetition of facts and plans without mention of practical implementation to change the devastating impact of the virus.
“We expected the President to address the alcohol ban in length and how the value chain is affected and what they as the government will do to help the sector survive. Lives and thousands of jobs are at stake here,” added Butale.
He called for accountability on the money given to CEDA and LEA and its impact of solving or mitigating the troubles in the business sector.
“We have repeatedly emphasised that we cannot continue to use the State of Emergency as a governing tool; rather we must capacitate the Public Health Act to handle this crisis, and others in future. The President and his Government seem to be content with running the country under the cloak of secrecy where there is no transparency nor accountability,” Butale said. The AP said the Tuesday national address exposed the sad state that the President and his government are certainly out of depths and clutching at straws.