What is the role of a former president?

SHARE   |   Sunday, 17 August 2014   |   By Ephraim Keoreng

The recent bashing of the Ian Khama administration by former presidents have raised a lot of questions.  It has caused various reactions across the political divide and even among those who are not into partisan politics. 

In the midst of this confusion of anguish and sheer pleasure that two former ruling party presidents, who also used to be presidents of the country, have spoken against a regime that they helped put in place, the other pertinent question to ask is this: what is the role of a former president in a democracy?

Conflict-riddled countries especially in Africa, do not have former presidents. They only have dead presidents because after taking power, it used to be a tradition, to kill a predecessor. In some cases, this power was taken illegally and the usurper, in efforts to safeguard his illegitimate stay in power, would assassinate the real leader.

But in peace-time Botswana we have our former presidents, all coming from one political party as the current leader, Khama. After all Botswana has always been a pseudo-one party state, largely owing to the failure of the opposition to convincingly beat the Botswana Democratic Party at the polls since independence.

Besides going around giving speeches on peace and democracy in the global village, we also expect our former leaders to play a meaningful role in the governance of our country. They are supposed to serve as the guardians of the state and nation at large.  After all they have seen it and done it all. They know better. Masire speaking at a funeral of the late Gomolemo Motswaledi, an influential political figure who cut his political teeth within the BDP before he went on to form his own party, emphasised the need for people to be allowed to exercise their right of ‘freedom of expression’. He also reminded the current administration of a need to be aware that the ruling party will not be in power forever and should be ready that one day they might be an opposition party! Chilling words indeed. 

Now Mogae has also made known his opinion. He has said there is no rule of law in Botswana. 

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In a democracy, the rule of law is a key component. We have seen countries where there is no respect of laws, descending into chaotic states. Civil wars have been fought and claimed a lot of human lives due to this. 

Aristotle points out that, "The rule of law is better than that of any individual" This aptly captures the fact that as individual human beings we are fallible. We are subject to lapses of judgement. That is why we have various apparatuses at the behest of the state and the rulers so that they can use those resources to run and govern the people and country. 

The government of the day has been found needy in a lot of things. This is not to say other governments before it have been better. The Mogae administration is infamous for the deportation of Professor Kenneth Good, a political science academic who critically exposed the Botswana Democratic Party led government and its excesses. He challenged the notion that Botswana is Africa’s shining example of peace and democracy.

In a republic, perceptions are very important; especially perceptions on the leadership. We expect our leaders not only to have a high moral ground, respect the rule of law and most importantly abide by democratic principles; but also to ensure that those principles, especially the latter two, are standard practice. When senior government officials are accused of serious crimes, suspects die in police custody, people get deported in large numbers and many more, and it becomes a cause for serious concern. 

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Mogae has joined his predecessor, Sir Ketumile to speak on political leadership in the country. Mogae has openly said, speaking in an interview in Tanzania recently, that the Ian Khama led administration has lost the plot in as far as the rule of law is concerned.  The celebrated Oxford trained economist, who is also a Mo Ibrahim award winner, Mogae, decried what he terms a decline in the rule of law.

“We were a small country that ran an open economy, an open society. But our present government has reversed that. They have expelled over 2000, over the last six years, foreign professionals .When I was president I would have invited you to a debate, anywhere, anytime in Botswana anywhere else…express my views, accept yours, challenging those with which I did not agree. I was able to do that with Mbeki, with Obasanjo, and President Mukapa here... ..In my country, however, I did my best endeavours, by passing laws and so on. What is happening is that the present regime does not respect the rule of law. It's inward looking”. 

Some BDP youth are said to have dismissed the two statesmen, using disrespectful language towards them. Other people are also saying why are they talking now when they have been silent all along.

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Why are we concerned that the former presidents are talking now? When were they supposed to start talking? As one of them has said, they did not want to be seen to be running the country from the grave. They appreciated that it is President Khama’s time and had to let the man govern the government and country without undue influence and interference from his predecessors. It was necessary that he be left alone to prove his leadership skills. After all the Botswana Democratic Party looked within itself and found that they would have Khama lead the ruling party and the country as a president. Interestingly, it was Mogae himself, who led the process of anointing Khama into the presidency. It started or rather happened that day when he appointed him his Vice-President. We still remember how those BDP MPs who challenged this decision were threatened with dissolution of parliament by Mogae. In her book, National Assembly Speaker, Margaret Nasha who was then an MP, writes that she told Mogae to his face that she was disappointed with his decision to appoint Khama. We will keep asking ourselves questions and apportioning blame on the former presidents especially if they express disappointment with the current leadership. But then the main question is, is it wrong for the leaders to express this disappointment? Should they just keep quiet? This is, after all a democracy, where freedom of expression is guaranteed. Perhaps it is an opportunity for the country’s leaders to make a self-analysis and take some corrective measures if there are any, so that they can be better leaders than they are now.