Of 'our' billions and backyard banking

Voters will again be asked to trust and believe this October
Voters will again be asked to trust and believe this October

A little over half a century ago a little dusty nation with nearly no modern development to write home about gained independence.

Legend has it that there was ululation and jubilee in the air as euphoria engulfed the dusty, economically insignificant then tiny nation of Bechuanaland.

Many submitted ‘she’ would become a charity case. Forgive my use of the word legend, I say this because it seems as though the so-called independence has not had any impact in the true sense of the word. 

Botswana is yet to find her feet in spite of the vast mineral resources it has been endowed with.

Although having been considered the citadel of democracy and trivial corruption it appears that it leaves a lot to be desired and the current crop of political echelons have for many years kept the electorate at arm’s length when it comes to the enjoyment of ‘our’ honey pot. 

Not only is the country riddled with astronomical unemployment, low wages and a disgruntled public labour force but a select few are living in opulence owing to public funds finding their way into private hands in a grand scheme of events I call backyard banking.

“Golo ko Gaborone…go a ikabelwa” one musician from Gabane has sung. Without care, office bearers are chauffeur-driven in big black German cars, A-list style while somewhere in this beautiful land our students are taken to school in donkey carts. 

How some are more equal than others is unspeakable and it does not look like the sun will rise again.

As the young nation goes to the polls this year I seek permission to reprimand the electorate and implore the nation to be wise in appending an ‘X’ against their symbol of choice.

Let not we be fooled and made a mockery of by a few individuals who are not only self-serving but do not have our needs at heart. It is quite clear that “he who touches honey is compelled to lick his fingers”, an idiom I have not coined but rather stumbled upon in reference to nations that have come before us and succumbed to sycophancy and public looting.

It remains and shall forever be, for the writing is on the wall and our wagging tongues in our unguarded moments across the political sphere that endearing one to the elected is the only way we can peel our bananas.

Is this really what democracy is? Is this how we intend to go down as a people? I have asked in rhetoric not so many years back and I still do today, are we one of those generations that will be forgotten by history? Have we no struggle except taking the perfect selfie or dating the yellowest of our sisters? Is that star on the hood of the German beast from ill-gotten paper a superior investment than proper legislation? How does one sleep at night knowing that their fortunes are tied to a legislator upon whose prosecution ones children may lose their place in an overpriced private school? 

Let it be known that this letter, BATHO BAME if I may borrow from lekhete le letona tona, is not an open letter of the confession of my feelings for you and your decedents, ga ke ipale mebala... Like a mother giving tough love to a delinquent child, make not the mistake that I am seeking your affection or praise, I want you to be the upright man that Thomas Sankara wished for his Burkinabe. Be fooled not by the colour of the regalia that adorns you and understand your place in politics.

Your loyalty should be firmly cemented and grounded to the fundamentals of democracy, which we are yet to cherish. Many politicians alike have shown that they can keep a cool head and criss-cross the political boundaries.

They are able to reshape their minds and realign to achieve what they desire but the electorate has not evolved enough to gain mastery in this skill even in the secrecy of the ballot box. Like every sob story under the sun it is unfortunate that the led always follow without scrutiny and will find themselves to be disenfranchised, blind faith it has been called. 

I challenge you now going forward to know and appreciate that as an electorate you wield so much power and should not be a victim of sinister politicians. If one is elected it should be because of certain ideals and should account to the electorate and not the other way round.  If a politician has shown not to uphold ideals that they have been elected for he needs to be denied the opportunity to hold office.

It should not be an issue of political affiliation but rather a matter of seeing a better society. Let’s not be fooled by the campaign songs, slaughtered beasts and the kissing of babies. We should remain loyal to results and principle.

Like an episode from the famous hit series Billions by Brian Koppelman, Botswana has had its fair share of financial scandals, one looting after the other. Billions have been casually looted in daylight at the expense of the average Motswana and yet it is business as usual.

We have not had any noteworthy convictions since independence, not a single one. If there is, please challenge me for I am a man willing to be corrected.

Even when corruption is staring us right in our faces, food taken from our mouths, we continue to ululate and sing praise as though we have had a taste of the honey.

Professor Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba and enlightened African son once opined of how Botswana alongside Mauritius are the epitome of countries that have uprooted corruption.

I do not know about Mauritius my respected gentleman, but that is not the case with my Botswana. I find myself ireful as I pen this lament down for we have not shown that we are unhappy about this misappropriation of ‘our’ funds. 

We have not moved a finger and it does not look like we will. Oh! I am not surprised, I came across an article where an outgone official once described Batswana as a non-militant labour force willing to work for peanuts.

This submission, if that article is anything to go by was advice to another country on why Botswana seems to attract foreign direct investment (FDI). 

I swear the response to that should have been either LOL or OMG. Should this be what those that we have lent power to think of us then we need national introspection. Something has to change.

The political elite have a different set of rules they live by, we lead parallel lives yet we drink from the same watering hole. The cobweb of political allegiance has found wealth in the ignorance of the electorate and will ride this wave to eternity, after all “re lebala ka pela akere go tlalanyana mo malapeng a rona”.

Botho has been cherished in our society to a level where we fail to differentiate between it and naivety. Calling someone to task. Reprimanding a politician. Convicting the corrupt without fear and favour. 

Asking Presidency to account. Asking about our billions. Asking for better health facilities. Asking for the clear separation of powers. Asking for a better education. Asking for economic reform. Ga se go tlhoka botho Motswana wetsho. You can tell from the words I use that “ke na le setho”, we should not ask for but rather demand all these as they are the reasons we vote and pay our taxes. But no, “ke ngwana waga mang ene yo, rragwe o ne a le bokgakala…”  Instead of being united with one voice as a people, we take to each other’s throats while the very people that have caused the fracas live like royalty like it is still the 19th century.

We have to know where partisan politics end and where national interests begin. It eludes me how loyal we are to our favourite colours for clearly there are no political principles, to our very detriment. 

Are were a people with no shame at all to the extent that we protect the oppressor? It makes sense now in my adulthood why Botswana has been said to be a beacon of all great things envisioned of a former colony.

Tota go feela jarata ko ntle re a go itse, it is high time we redefine who we are, realign, relearn and emerge as a better people with clear principles to capture a better future for our decedents for our current circumstances are dire.

I have spoken at length to the electorate but no words have been directed to the elected and the hopefuls for it is not the latter that is the problem. This very reason will compel me to conclude that we are a lost nation should circumstances fail to improve. Like the late Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela once said to Ted Koppel, “I hope I have not paralysed you”. As I pause, for I cannot conclude this matter, I would like to draw from the same well as business mentors and say that we need to have leaders whose purse is different from the state coffers. 

If there is no declaration of assets, liabilities and interest one is bound to get tempted to touch ‘our’ honey pot.  Just as business mentors ask budding entrepreneurs to separate their personal expenditure and receipts from those of the businesses we need to demand the same of our office bearers.

This is a clear democratic and business principle that should not be mistaken to be the genius of any individual party. It is a necessity for the democracy project to flourish.

PS: I care more about your well-being than your sense and choice of political fashion. Pink, brown, grey or whichever colour you fancy will not put bread on your table, therefore vote wisely. We have been here before, let us not be fooled i.e this is not a partisan politics piece ke go bua ka pelo e e gamuketseng botlhoko. 

I mourn my beloved Botswana.

*Davis Maseelane is a contributor to Mmegi.

Editor's Comment
Escalating fuel prices cause panic

Nowadays it is not uncommon to purchase an item for a certain commodity and return to the shops in a week, to find the same item has gone up by a significant amount of money.Botswana Energy Regulatory Authority (BERA) last week announced yet another fuel price increase, which follows yet another increase that came into effect on March 29. Hardly two months later on May 12 boom, BERA announced yet another increase, which came into effect at a...

Have a Story? Send Us a tip
arrow up