'They cannot silence us' - Mogae

Former President Festus Mogae PIC. THALEFANG CHARLES
Former President Festus Mogae PIC. THALEFANG CHARLES

The outspoken former president Festus Mogae has not agreed to President Ian Khama and his lieutenants’ interventions to silence him into a mere spectator.

He tells Mmegi in this no-holds-barred interview that, “I neither agreed nor disagreed to be silent when the vice president approached me.” He was referring to 2011, during the three-months long public sector strike, when he and another former president Sir Ketumile Masire intervened.

Mogae also opened up on a variety of national and international issues, although at first declined to discuss Botswana.

Mogae is a renowned global icon whose leadership radiance earned him the prestigious Mo Ibrahim Award.

“When you requested an interview with me I thought you wanted to discuss my role in the international arena. That’s where my focus is, I no longer want to talk about Botswana and you know why,” Mogae replied as we shifted to national issues.

But a provocative question as to whether he, together with Sir Ketumile Masire, were summoned to tone down their criticism of the Khama administration, prompted the former president to talk domestic matters.

“Summon is too strong a word. They cannot summon us. But yes Khama once sent Merafhe (the late vice president Mompati Merafhe) to talk to us but that was during and after the uprisings of the civil servants,” he said.

He insisted that he has not been called to account on his controversial Tanzania utterances where he said Botswana is democratically regressing, before launching a scathing attack on Khama’s frequent deportation of foreign nationals.

“Just when I landed from one of my international trips I had an encounter with Merafhe who conveyed HE’s message to me. The message was that we should not appear to be barking at HE but advise him indoors,” he said. The two former presidents have often been critical of Khama’s leadership style with Mogae more upfront.

Mogae admitted that Merafhe attempted to mute him. But, he said, “I neither agreed nor disagreed with the messenger to be silent. We won’t be silenced because we are not dead. My concern is that we are also fathers of the nation.

A nation that also expects to hear our voices when the need arises. In the case of the civil servants strike for instance, it was clear that the leadership was of the view that we gave the grieving civil servants refuge, an ear, support and some form of relevance.

So I told Merafhe that I understand where you are coming from but I do not entirely agree with you”.

Mogae does not hide the fact that all is not well between him and Khama. “I do not want to speak for Masire but it is clear that me and HE see the world differently and there is nothing wrong with it. I have always cherished free flow of ideas and when people ask for my views on particular issues I will share.”

But what led to the fallout?

“HE believes in a closed society and I believe in an open society. I feel bored in a Botswana that deports foreign nationals every hour and at any given opportunity without giving reasons as to why,” said Mogae.

The globetrotting former president reasons that Khama’s indiscriminate deportations have largely affected private foreign investment that could be alleviating the disturbing youth unemployment.

“Foreigners are reluctant to invest in Botswana because we are not longer a home. Look at bigger economies like the United States of America, they have succeeded through foreigners and they have devised a well-functioning plan to deal with and accommodate foreigners. Brilliant foreign students in American universities are given what they call the green card that basically says you can now apply for citizenship - you are now eligible. This ensures that a country keeps the best talents and ideas,” remarked Mogae.

Mogae said Botswana has lost talented brains and will continue to lose many. “We do not care about skillful, experienced and highly educated foreigners, to us they are just like street boys,” he said. To elucidate his point further he shared several harrowing stories of “brilliant foreign citizens whose spouses were denied citizenship and eventually forced out”.

Mogae said the time has come for Botswana to consider awarding dual citizenship. Botswana laws do not recognise dual citizenship. “We need dual citizenship.

The world is moving at an alarming pace and we need to arm ourselves with the right weapons to prepare for the challenges. If you deny a skilled foreigner citizenship you are taking away his or her loyalty to your country and they eventually leave and leave you stranded,” he said.

How does Mogae feel about those that he deported? He cuts in aggressively. “I only deported one man, the Australian, Professor Kenneth Good and I deported him over a letter he wrote to Survival International. In fact deport is not the right word, I denied him extension of his permits, he said, defending himself on an issue that was widely publicised as a suppression of academic freedom. Good was a critical political science academic that his associates hailed as a walking political encyclopedia for his inspiring academic work.

Has he, a well-travelled man himself ever had an unexpected encounter with Good since his departure? “I have never met him since then. I only heard that he was in South Africa someday attacking me, saying I have built myself a P20 million house but I blame you the media because you are lazy to do research and find out the truth. My house cost P16,5 million,” he said.

As we shift to the water crisis which has adversely affected the business community and continues to cause irreparable harm to daily livelihoods, Mogae once again cuts in and in his usual trademark attitude calls a spade a spade. “Well I think that is not a matter of debate and anyone who attempts to defend themselves on that is basically cartooning himself. We failed the nation, period!”

Mogae continued that it is not enough to say it does not rain. “Slow or lack of planning over a basic need like water is a serious abdication of responsibility, times have changed and so is everything including the climate and we must move with the times,” he said in what many may relate with Khama’s response to critics over the water situation. Khama is on record saying: “We are not God and we don’t make rain.”

Among Botswana’s teething problems is the question of land, which has been an eyesore to the government to date. The government’s many interventions have not laid the issue to rest and the problem continues to date.

Mogae, an economist by training who was, before assuming the presidency, the minister of Finance and Development Planning said the government’s priorities are misplaced. “Look, Botswana doesn’t have a land crisis or shortage as many might think. The problem is not land but unemployment, address unemployment and the land question disappears,” he said.

Botswana’s unemployment rate is estimated at 20.5 % and the numbers are increasing. The government seems to be losing the battle and has persistently called on the private sector to come to the party.

Mogae said the unemployment problem breeds more problems and land is one of them. “Most of the people you see in queues when there are advertisements have land but they want land for selling to better their living standards because they do not have any means of income,” he said.

To drive his point home he gave an example of the stampedes that usually take place in villages around Gaborone.

“People want to sell and rent,” he said further adding that “it is a mere speculation to say we have shortage of land”. He adviced the government to enforce the law of repossession of undeveloped plots, investigate new sales and registrations to mitigate against the trading of land for money. “The repossession law was a brilliant idea but it has not been enforced.”

The issue of unemployment seems very close to Mogae, perhaps owing to his training as an economist. Unemployment, “now that’s a problem and a big issue”.

He ascribed Botswana’s unemployment rate to “lack of ideas and harassment of foreigners whose next day in Botswana is not guaranteed.”

Mogae continued: “Like I said Khama has closed Botswana, a country cannot be run without highly skilled foreigners, otherwise you will continue to experience whatever you are experiencing.” He said the government is not doing enough to attract foreign direct investment.

Mogae who was bestowed with a prestigious good governance award shockingly does not want to be drawn into discussing Botswana’s oversight institutions. Pressed to state whether there is need for reforms, the former president would no budge. “I do not want to discuss that subject,” he said as he dipped his head in a lowered tone. “Well I have trust in the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) and the Auditor General,” he said and stopped.

What about other oversight institutions? “Parliament has its own to blame if it is not performing and as for the Ombudsman, I don’t think people understand the role of that body. The duty of the Ombudsman is not to fight corruption but maladministration,” he responded.

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) veterans including among others, heavyweights like David Magang and Margaret Nasha have in their widely publicised and critical books spoken on the troubles besieging this nation. Has Mogae read these books? “I have not read Nasha’s book.”

His opinion on the treatment she received following the publication of her book? “She was not supposed to be Speaker for life, if others do not want you they will lobby others to oust you, that’s politics.”

What about Magang’s Magic of Perseverance? “I read the first and the last chapters, Magang is a circumlocutory writer,” he responded.

He continued: “Magang has a grievance about Phakalane and I sympathise with him. But I blame him in the same breath because Magang was bringing a new private township concept, which was unheard of in Africa. He should have taken some time to inform and educate people on his dream.

People were skeptical because they did not understand what he was talking about,” he said.

The former president said that Magang expected that utilities would just come as and when he expected them.

“He should have taken time to invite and negotiate with the partners but maybe it is true that they were hostile.”

The statesman’s view on Khama’s lack of interest in international meetings? “Well you don’t have to ask me you can see it for yourself that HE is not interested in attending.”

He continued: “Khama however is the face of the country and must attend the meetings with other state presidents.” He further advised his successor that, “the world is becoming so small and one cannot find peace and comfort in staying in his country only.”

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