Presidential inauguration speeches, although not state of the nation addresses, are usually an executive summary of the intentions of the President for their term in presidency.
They set the tone, if you will, establishing areas of priority, and noting matters of concern.
Depending on the leadership styles of the President being named, or introduced, their speech may speak to the political systems and structures of the nation, as well as the building of bridges between groups in conflict, if they are a political leader; a centralisation of the citizenry, it’s needs and giving power to the people, if they are human resource inclined; the ways in which change will be effected during their tenure, if they are structural; and finally if they are symbolic, they would feed a peoples’ need for a sense of purpose and meaning, creating motivation and vision.
President Mokgweetsi EK Masisi’s inauguration speech on November 1, 2019 was electrifying, to say the least. It left some in tears! It inspired hope for a future of a Botswana that is well conserved and established amongst its peers.
It stimulated the nation in a way that is moving. Of course, the President was careful to represent himself as a well-rounded seasoned leader, and perhaps he is.
This is noted in how he went to great lengths to canvass all matters that may concern his citizenry, from environmental factors on human and animal conflict, to issues on corruption and foreign policy for those whose concern is public policy, to manoeuvring the politics of diversity, engaging in job creation and going as far as addressing the often neglected area of concern in politics, being social justice.
With all these efforts towards painting a picture of himself as a well-rounded and yet astute leader, the insurmountable, overwhelming reality that we have in our hands, a symbolic leader, is undeniable.
He has the power of influence on his tongue, and can shift our minds with his very words. If nothing else, he is powerful.
It is not that he himself sets out to turn our minds as a nation to hearing him, and agreeing with what he says, it is that he well understands the values of Batswana as well as the meanings of these values in our lives; that he interprets history in a manner that is unlike any others, positioning it aptly as having had a purpose to our development, acknowledging the role it plays in our daily social realities.
It is his actions that are symbols, that cause us to think we have made decisions of our nation, ourselves and not him.
If we are honest, complex as the just ended elections were, we gunned for Masisi in a state of almost assuming, that we elect a president, despite our laws in this regard.
64% is an ‘overwhelming majority’ as political analysts note, and Masisi achieved that. It is no mistake that the man was a teacher in his past.
He has left us nostalgic of the Seretse Khama type of leadership, our very own forefather, who we are often veiled in considering. We are reluctant to observe his shortfalls and shortcomings. We consider him, perhaps in the ways that the world considers great heros; as apolitical.
We look even to our spirituality in cogitating the man. We assume even the elements of the earth are in agreement with Botswana in ensuring that her president, is none other than Masisi. Pula! It is as if the choice was obvious. As if the choice could have been unanimous, even.
We observe how he has shifted history; in a Botswana in which the opposition had, in recent elections, leaned in enough to shake the ruling party, Masisi achieved the unachievable.
And isn’t that something?! What a man! At his first inauguration, it rained, when he delivered his state of the nation address it rained! The man is followed by Pula! He makes it rain.
Batswana who believe in ancestry go as far as believing that in fact, those who came before us, in this supposed Eden of the world, finally approve.
When it rained the day the Chief Justice declared that Botswana Democratic Party was first past the post, we completely forgot all the ills the nation had suffered at the hands of this very political party which is now in power.
We said, it is God! We said the man is divinely appointed; there having been national prayers by all denominations of churches that the elections run smoothly and that “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We have deified Masisi.
We have completely and helplessly bought into his powerful symbolism. He has become our figurehead for power. We appear almost incapable, in this regard, to even manage our expectations as regards our president.
There is a complex relationship between a leader and those who follow them though. Followers often forget themselves to their leader.
We often forget that a leader’s power comes from those who follow them. The reality is that symbols help us make sense of uncertainty. And Masisi has well learnt the values that unify us.
Yes! Symbolism carries the power to effect change. It can bring us into an assumed oneness, if well managed. And that is what Masisi has promised.
On the other hand, leaning too heavily on one styled leadership can have it’s edges; and it is to these that we must pay attention.
Many Batswana have proudly said that having placed Masisi in what they say is his rightful seat, they will ‘now’ start to hold him accountable. I hope we do! If we don’t I will be right here to say, well I told you so! But here is to hoping nobody has to.