President Mokgweetsi Masisi has, in the last three years presented two inauguration speeches. His first was in April 2018, when he became President for the first time. Then, he fancied himself a visionary leader. Quoting Isaac Newton, he sought to suggest that his leadership followed that of his predecessors.
He called them “capable and committed,” amongst other praises that he showered their memory with. It rained that day! That was when Batswana were first sold on the idea of Masisi. An almost intoxicating idea for many.
This speech was delivered amidst the then evolving scandal of the National Petroleum Fund. Unflinching, however, our President avowed prudence in the use of the resources in Botswana for the benefit of the country’s people, by the visionary leaders - as he referred to them – that came before him.
He made no reference to this matter. Arguably, this was because the matter was even at the time still before a competent Court, unresolved. In that speech, the President’s primary concern may have been perceived to be youth involvement in the economy. He lengthily addressed strategies to reform education and increase access thereto, the use of information technology, ensuring the ease of doing business, amongst other undertakings. To the disappointment of many social justice activists, however, the President did not address the nation on other social ills that plagued the country.
Enter the second inauguration speech! After most Batswana had ensured that president Masisi indeed became the current 1st person in our country, by voting for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) on October 23th, the President again had the opportunity of an induction by way of another inauguration speech.
He was bolder in his address. He had no reason to describe or explain himself away; or to position himself as deserving of recognition by placing much emphasis on those who came before him. This time, one could say, he seemed more intentional in his speaking. He was certain! Having been President for a year and a half, he had become unwittingly comfortable in himself in the position.
He knew for sure that Batswana want him and what he has to offer them. In a reciprocating promise, he made efforts to illustrate that he considers Batswana wholistically, centralising them in his version of this ever-evolving democracy. Contextualising himself brilliantly as Pan-African, he opted, this time around to quote former president Dr. Mogae, in acknowledging the importance of the opposition in the just ended elections.
This speech was delivered a week following the exciting revelation of the alleged ‘bad barrel-maker’ Butterfly, who stands accused of holding more money than most could actually imagine, sitting in her current account. In this second speech, the President is more silent than usual on matters of corruption, save for a brief lamentation in the early general challenges he observes the country facing.
In the latter speech, the President lends himself to a crucial matter that may, depending on implementation, win over social justice activists, and allies.
This is the issue on gender-based violence (GBV). The President, although not making any specific promises in this regard, mentions his government’s concern over the growing GBV against women and children. He announces that there will be a combination of strategies amongst which are “strengthening legislation, policing and effective mobilisation for community involvement.” This gives hope, of course to those who were concerned about erstwhile former minister, Mr. Ngaka Ngaka, against whom a matter of assault had been brought.
It also comforts those who took part in the Save Botswana Campaign which saw Batswana activists occupying the social media pages of political leaders, insisting that they lend their voices and minds to the war on women that seems to have been waged by men.
Unfortunately, and possibly in a defective move, the President, a few days after these utterances, appoints Fidelis Molao as Minister of Basic Education (MoBE). This is the same Molao who was implicated in the case that gave rise to the “I Shall Not Forget” movement. He colluded with the then council member for Sebina, Kemmonye Amon to conceal a case in which a minor was impregnated by the Councillor.
In the conversation that was made public, Kemmonye is known to have boldly stated that Batswana easily forget, and impliedly forgive such matters. The appointment of Molao in the MoBE - despite one of his messages to Amon, in which he suggests that Amon “should find other means to get rid of her [the then young girl impregnated by the council member]”, to save himself and the political party – is a clear lack of regard for the children over whom the ministry has oversight.
Many of the Batswana who voted for the BDP state that they in fact voted for the President and not necessarily the party. In the wake of the elections, when many others who had not made similar votes questioned this manner of selecting a man and not the party, the President’s supporters were adamant that it is because they would be able to hold him accountable for any actions he takes in the current presidency.
After the appointments of Ministers and their Assistants, many of the fans changed their minds and said the President should be given a chance to build his Cabinet first, and we will start making demands in the next terms, supposing, as they do, that there will be a next term.
Those who spoke out during the appointment of Ngaka Ngaka are now the wiser, knowing that petitions, although raising awareness, often result in little else but public statements.
Sometimes, there is great darkness that blankets the earth. The light, even from a torch, can swallow some of this darkness like a boa, as observed by Chigozi Obioma. The light however, does not swallow all of the darkness. Only some – enough for the sorjourner to see where he is going. Many silences plague our President’s presidency. Some of them, we hear in their absence from his speeches, others we hear in the contradictions and upsets. I am certain we will continue to hear others. These appear to be louder than the words spoken.