Masisi's 100 days: Great on diplomacy, worrying on domestic issues


President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his newly- elected Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) have clocked the first 100 days in office with a renewed mandate.

As we reflect on the progress made, the verdict is frankly speaking an indication that things are still moving ‘slow’. Reforms are taking too long and they appear to have stalled.

The President’s forte, however, has been on reigniting an engaged and excited diplomatic corps to vigorously pursue Botswana’s interests abroad. All those months ago, when he was still Ian Khama’s deputy, Masisi was the de facto diplomat in chief, travelling the world and showing up at very high-level platforms on behalf of Khama.

This explains why he doesn’t struggle to be a ‘foreign policy’ President as opposed to a domestic policy-centric one or more preferably, one that can balance both.

Although the administration did not pull out all the stops to make this ‘100 days in office’ a thing, the historical context of judging Presidential enthusiasm and seriousness stems from US President Franklin Roosevelt’s early moments in office during the pits of the Great Depression when he needed to reassure citizens that he and his administration could turn the overwhelming economic disaster around.

And so, the ‘100 days’ obsession became a kind of yardstick for Presidents on their early achievements in office and how they were projected to perform during their term.

For Masisi, the nadir of his time is a critically un-diversified economy, frustrating youth unemployment and persistent economic inequality, amongst other things.

The President like all new contenders for office, made it known quite early on that his election and ascension to office would be some sort of a “rebirth”.

In some ways it has been, and as we dive deeper and deeper into his reign, it sounds, tastes and feels as if the same sun rises repeatedly on the same day. The President’s ‘rebirth’ was unfortunately ushered in with fragments and residues of the torrid storms from the previous administration.

Former president Ian Khama’s contentious tenure still haunts the Masisi administration. After assuming office, Masisi’s first task was to consolidate power and assemble his own lieutenants, sort out the mess that was left off from the previous administration, which ironically, he was a part of. 

So Masisi’s ‘rebirth’ was plagued with a heavy stench of credibility from the beginning: he would be confronted with the reality that whatever good intentions and strong vision he had would be crippled to some extent by the deep rot from previous decades and administrations and that his team would have to first clean the deep rot before they begin building.

So, in reviewing the President’s performance so far, it is impossible not to wonder: Is it inaction or incompetence of his first 100 days or the tainted legacy of inefficiencies, corruption and crises that have been building up over the years that make it difficult to govern?

The Botswana government and governance is a tale of two cities: new Presidents, old bureaucracies!

Frankly speaking, it is hard to distinguish between the bar being set too low or the damage being too severe to fix in just a small window of 100 days.

One can argue that Masisi has so far achieved a significant bit externally in his diplomacy and international engagements than he has domestically. The notable achievements domestically are some of his external engagements that have translated into some gains locally.

Like the Forbes 30 under 30 Summit coming to Botswana, tourism diplomacy as a result of media engagements on the elephants’ debacle, prompt (albeit sensationalised) investigations on some corruption charges linked to high profile public servants etc. But still, these aren’t tangible enough to turn the economy around in the immediate to short term.   The issues of corruption are far from being resolved, and the many institutional flaws remain.

The President has pushed the issue of constitutional reforms to an unclear timeline, after campaigning heavily for an urgent and comprehensive review of the Constitution. He has also essentially crippled the jobs creation debate by randomly throwing in a ‘free market’ argument that absolves and dumbs down the role of the Presidency and the State to ‘just playing a facilitative role’. I guess on this front, the President deserves some credit for being a cunning politician by leaving a little wiggle room to manoeuvre between campaign rhetoric and statehood.

As the old adage goes, campaigning is like reciting poetry while governing is like reading the tax code. The people, rightly so, have expectations of faster reform and a government so transparent that they can see all the cogwheels in motion for better change.

This is because of the very real challenges of low economic growth, extremely high unemployment and the growing inequality.

The people of Botswana are also right to demand accountability and consequences for those who have been involved in the looting and corruption that has been widely reported over the last couple of months and years.

But even on his diplomatic engagements, Masisi does not get a perfect score despite his crafty approach.

Despite his confidence speaking on African trade and the continental free trade area, the President’s administration is yet to reveal a stance or timeline on ratification and overall strategy to grow our manufacturing base in order to wilfully gain from the trade agreement.

In addition, his eloquence on Zimbabwe and the DRC still does not make either SADC or the AU efficient organisations. 

Masisi’s investment attraction sojourns are also still shaky, and will be affected by the comparative, competitive investment climates in roughly comparable economies in the region as well as around the world.

The global conditions that encourage growth are not within the President’s grasp, so it will be a tough one to measure and navigate.

The ‘Nixonian’ and ‘Zuma-esque’ effect of the Khama years will persist to be a thorn in Masisi’s side until the country eventually decides to move on. However, at some point that factor will stop being a cushion for the presidency.

At the end of the day, it is the President’s willingness and determination to act and fix the country’s misfortunes, which will give us an indication of whether he’s serious or he’s a new President simply surviving in an old bureaucracy.

Otherwise the ‘rebirth’ and ‘new dawn’ will morph into a lingering darkness (pun unintended).

*Bakang Ntshingane is a political analyst with interests in politics, foreign and trade policy.

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