Botswana politics is in a toxic and appalling state

SHARE   |   Tuesday, 30 August 2016   |   By Adam Phetlhe

If you didn’t believe that politics is a dirty game, watch and hear the so-called “honourable” MPs and Councillors literally laying their dirty linen on the floors of their chambers. Disgusting! The sheer lack of controlled and measured language renders our politics intoxicated like Boris Yeltsin “trying to hail a cab outside the White House because he wanted pizza”. There are two elements in this toxic state of our politics – deep-rooted personality issues coated with “unparalleled” hate among some MPs which could originate from outside politics but are settled in parliament, and real political issues on how government runs the country. Throwing humorous political jabs at opponents makes politics interesting and is part of politics I want to believe. I am reminded of an opposition politician who had stood and lost elections at different constituencies whereupon a ruling party politician took a swipe at him by saying that the only place left for him to stand is the sky. There was also an assistant Minister who was teased for wearing an old small suit after rejecting a new one from a would-be corruptor. Those were the days. One vividly remembers politicians like Rantao, Dabutha, Dr Koma and many others who made politics interesting. That sort of politicking is gone and now serious insults are the order of the day from across the political divide.   

We urgently need to restore the status quo ante (the way things were before) by incorporating in our political midst values which were inculcated into this Republic by Sir Seretse Khama, notably Therisanyo which was anchored on Unity, Peace and Harmony. While it will be argued and fairly so that we are still united, peaceful and harmonious, I will argue that this is so in theory and not in practice based on the chronic state of our politics. Therisanyo has regrettably ‘deserted’ us noting that of late, citizens were not consulted on key fundamental national issues like replacing the ballot paper with the electronic voting machines. While political differences may be attributed to this poisonous state of our politics, egos and personality differences are in the mix as stated above. Even politicians you least expect to spew such profanities join the bandwagon soon after taking oath of office. But why are we here? Politics has become a matter of life and death with statements like ‘it’s our time to eat’ not helping the situation. How and what do you eat in politics?
Let’s start with opposition politics.

Opposition parties have been on opposition benches since independence with attaining state power as elusive as peace is in South Sudan. It has been a case of so near yet so far where naturally, they get frustrated to a point of throwing tantrums at the ruling party. In the current 11th parliament, these frustrations are becoming so evident to suggest that whatever little political tolerance there ever was between the ruling and opposition parties, is broken down irretrievably. But truth be told, opposition parties are the architects of their own misfortune by consistently failing to beat the ruling party even when it was there for the taking – the 2014 elections being the case in point. This aside, opposition parties are under normal circumstances there to ensure that the ruling party is held accountable; that the ruling party ensures that principles of transparency and good governance are strictly observed throughout all state machinery etcetera.  Opposition parties have always felt and still do, that the ruling party is not accountable and does not uphold good governance while the ruling party claims it is on top of its game – this is the origin of ‘no love lost’ between these political parties.

The ruling party has a constitutional duty to run an efficient government through its own programmes. It is a given that in most, if not all cases, opposition parties will always have their misgivings about the sustainability, let alone the relevance of such programmes. Such is the nature of political parties in opposition. The ruling party as a party in government, I will argue, was and is duty bound to enhance and ensure that Therisanyo, as a noble, widely accepted and respected virtue in our everyday lives, is jealously guarded and upheld but as mentioned above, it has regrettably deserted the ruling party. One would have expected for example that before the idea of proposing and finally settling for voting machines by the ruling party, an all-inclusive and meaningful consultation would have been undertaken with opposition parties together with other stakeholders in the spirit of Therisanyo because at the end of the day, this is not going to affect ruling political members only but all voters. Less than 50% of voters directly elected the ruling party much as the same did for the opposition. On the basis of these figures and inclusivity, Therisanyo would be imperative.

The ruling party has continued not to uphold the rule of law – the Uganda refugees’ matter at Francistown High Court is the case in point; the ruling party government drew funds from the foreign reserves for ESP before securing authority from Parliament. These issues, and many more similar ones, have pitted the opposition against the ruling party the result of which is the toxic state of our politics. One could propose all sorts of interventions to address the appalling and toxic state of our politics but the “low morality” exhibited by the current crop of MPs suggests this could be an exercise in futility. But not all is lost! The ball is to a large extent in the ruling party’s court to ensure that three fundamental principles of good governance, accountability and transparency are implemented and not the cosmetic approach we currently see. If the three principles become the order of the day, huge credit will accrue to the ruling party while the opposition will have almost nothing to complain about. Thomas Jefferson said “When people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty”. Is this the case with Botswana?  Judge for yourself!
Adam Phetlhe
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