Principles Or Votes: Which Leg To Stand On?

How are politicians to behave when, having found themselves in fundamental disagreement with each other before, and loathed each other’s politics, now find themselves in the same corner eating from the same bowl all in the name of numbers and votes.

Politics hasn’t been the cleanest profession in the history of professions. We’ve admired and respected politicians with integrity, who stood up for what they believed in and never compromised on their principles.

The evolution from ‘principled politics’ to ‘interests-now, principles sometimes or later’ presents a dilemma of sorts for both voters and politicians.

Political parties, currently opposition parties are attempting to draw political capital from human gullibility as electoral strategy.

Who is the source of this gullibility? Ian Khama! And yes, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has done the same thing for decades in the Central District, tapping into chieftainship to disarm voters and propagating a powerful figure who now believes he has the influence to ‘instruct’ people on how to vote. It STILL doesn’t make it right.

For decades, opposition leaders have found themselves at opposite ends of the spectrum of former president Khama and his party, the BDP. This wasn’t a relationship borne out of hate for each other as human beings, thankfully, but simply two political opponents who differ on matters of politics.

After hours, it’s only natural for politicians to sometimes share a drink or a meal in one of the city’s ‘watering holes’. This has been the relationship Botswana’s politicians have had for decades, and one worth applauding. This sudden bromance between some opposition leaders and Ian Khama presents a clear conflict of principles.

Khama wasn’t just on the opposite side of the political spectrum, but his strand of politics and his leadership over his two decades in politics were particularly problematic. So, is this a marriage of (in)convenience, a match made in heaven or strange bedfellows who simply got together because of what they can do for each other?

The paradoxes that emerge out of politics are sometimes mind-blowing. We can’t ignore or rule out the influence that Khama has, and we also can’t deny that the opposition desperately needs votes if they are to emerge as the rightful majority in the 12th Parliament after October.

On the other hand, Khama’s brand of politics and his tactics are thorny, his intentions are unclear, and he certainly isn’t in this for the long-haul. As an elder, and a paramount chief, I continue to posit that the former president must excuse the nation and step away from politics and allow the country to move on.  The Presidency is a sacred institution that must be treated with utmost care, especially by its occupants (formers and incumbents).

The Khama card in our politics presents a whole lot of political opportunism both on his side and on the side of parties and individuals who wish to cash in on his purported influence. If Khama wasn’t a former head of state or a Paramount chief, this wouldn’t carry the same weight and fragility that it carries now.

As a result, the attempt to maintain political support, or increase political influence from the ‘Khama magic’ has disregarded ethical and political principles. But at the same time, Khama isn’t the first monarch or former head of state to be involved in politics.

The BDP has used both former presidents in Rre Mogae and Sir Ketumile Masire in their campaigns. So, what’s the issue now? The danger of double-edged swords in politics is that they will always come back to haunt you. I contend that Rre Mogae and Rre Masire’s brands of statesmanship were and always will be different from Rre Khama’s.

The connotations and undercurrents that come with Ian Khama’s active involvement in politics are sticky. Opportunist political behaviour is short sighted and complicated by the urge to make short-term political gains, in this context, win the October elections.

The danger of this debacle is that men and women who have no clear view of the sort of society that they want to create find it easy to accept secondhand convictions. The result is bad government. It is convictions that make politics worthwhile, especially when it can be an exciting and interesting as well as an honourable profession.

Conceding to ‘needing’ Khama to win elections unwittingly confirms one of two fundamental truths about our contemporary politics: that there’s something wrong on all political party fronts, their electoral agendas and their candidates, and secondly, that there’s a crisis of critical thinking in today’s Botswana, especially amongst voters.

How is it possible that one man, privileged and influential as he is, holds the supreme monopoly of wisdom to filter out candidates who are fit for governance and those who are not? How flawed is our country that the number one pull factor for votes lies with one human being? As we dissect and think about this democracy of ours, we must also reject the idea that democracy is cheap and comes easy, because it doesn’t.

All politicians owe us integrity, not just opposition politicians alone, but more importantly, those who enjoy the privilege of incumbency. In the long run people will admire and support politicians with strong convictions, even when they do not share them. Political parties need to listen most of all to their own conscience and judgement, not “the people” as heard through noisy megaphones.

Such a startlingly clear lack of commitment to principle amongst our senior political leaders can prove socially explosive for our politics in the long term. The country must reject Khama and his overbearing involvement in our politics, lest we risk the danger of tiptoeing through a minefield of wishy-washy politics.

*Bakang Ntshingane is a graduate student at Chonbuk National University’s Department of International Trade in South Korea. He writes on the intersections of politics, international trade and foreign policy.

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