That our former tagline of a shining example of democracy has been ‘permanently’ removed until Jesus comes is not in question. The question is whether we can redeem ourselves by reclaiming our former glory and whether we can do so in the immediate future and by whom. In the eyes of international relations scholars let alone the domestic, it would require massive courage and goodwill to undo the damage. It is not insurmountable. In this article, we look at how the attendance of foreign dignitaries at Sir QKJ’s funeral was a stamp of approval on him while non-attendance during the Jubilee celebrations last year was that of disapproval on the current administration. While tributes may have been directed at Sir QKJ as an individual, they were at the same time an endorsement on Botswana’s credentials during his presidency. Remember that between 10 and 20 presidents were expected at the celebrations with P4m worth of furniture bought for them. In the end, only four or so pitched up from our immediate neighbourhood. Under normal circumstances and given the milestone celebrated, we should have had a full house of eminent persons in attendance. When we celebrated our half century of independence a little under a year ago, foreign dignitaries in the form and stature of those who attended Sir QKJ Masire’s memorial and funeral services, snubbed the independence celebrations precisely because we have fundamentally departed from the attributes which earned us the tagline. These attributes are amongst others, the rule of law, accountability and good governance. This point was buttressed albeit in a veiled but unflinching fashion by Rre Kwelagobe when he talked emphatically and passionately about going back to the crossroads to retrace how we lost the Road to Denmark when he addressed mourners at the funeral of Sir QKJ. DK was, in my view, on point. The President seemed to agree with him by suggesting that he will indeed go to the crossroads accompanied by Rre Kwelagobe. I am eagerly waiting for this trip because we desperately need it.
One notable dignitary who spoke at the memorial service is the founder of Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Dr Mo Ibrahim. This Foundation, as we all know, is to reward in the main, retired politicians in the form of Presidents who would have voluntarily retired from office underscored by demonstrated attributes of good governance and the rule of law. In 2007, former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano won the Mo Ibrahim prize followed by our very own Rre Festus Mogae the following year. Sir QKJ was a board member of the Foundation. Namibian former President Hifikepunye Pohamba won it in 2015. Salim Ahmed Salim, the former Secretary General of the Organisation of African Unity and Chair of the Foundation Prize Committee, was also present at the memorial. If we had borrowed a leaf from the recipients of the Mo Ibrahim prize and particularly that they came from our regional bloc SADC, and also drawing from our international credentials then, it would reasonably be expected that Botswana would have been in pole position to win it once more. But sadly, we decided to forgo the opportunity which, given our current road map, may be somewhat insurmountable. But like they say, better late than never. Mo Ibrahim himself said elsewhere that “the purpose of the Foundation is to challenge those in Africa and the world to debate what constitutes excellence in leadership”. The standards set for the prize are high, and the number of eligible candidates small…. and further, though slightly exaggerated but nonetheless compelling claim that “poor governance is the only reason for slow progress in Africa”. As things stand, we are currently challenged in the perspective of Mo Ibrahim prescripts hence the challenge to reclaim our former glory.
The President (as far as I can remember) has never attended a United Nations General Assembly or the African Union Heads of State Summit. It doesn’t look like he will do so during his presidency as he is fast approaching a lame duck period if he is not already there. The leader of Botswana Congress Party Rre Dumelang Shaleshando is quoted by Africa Review dated February 2015 to have advised the President’s advisors “to invest time in persuading him that his absence from meetings like United Nations General Assembly and African Unity (AU) summits does not advance the interests of the country”. Botswana is a member of these organisations and it is at these fora that leaders take decisions with far-reaching consequences – good or bad. Colleagues of foreign dignitaries who came here are influential in setting world and African agenda. A very simplistic and somewhat inward-looking view is always advanced that the President does not necessarily and in person have to attend these fora – that is, he can delegate as he has always done. But this can only be the case when these institutions are not taken seriously. It is tantamount to saying the President does not necessarily have to attend cabinet meetings. Serious decisions are taken at cabinet and international fora. For us to reclaim our former glory, we have to as a matter of urgency reconnect with the world and the continent through the UN and AU. It is an open secret that the AU no longer takes us seriously because we don’t appear to take it seriously. Aspersions cast on the credibility of candidates at the AU meeting in Kigali last year to choose AU Commission chairperson including our very own, confirms this view.
Sir QKJ was a mediator in the Inter Congolese peace mission in the DRC while Rre Mogae is seriously involved in the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission in South Sudan. In this respect, we had exported valuable expertise and counsel in the case of Sir QKJ and still doing so in Rre Mogae to broker peace where such is a challenge on the continent. With these statesmen having assumed these positions, it tells us that they have what it takes to resolve disputes and offer valuable counsel. No Jack and Jill assumes these positions. These statesmen have individually raised issues with some degree of discomfort in respect of how their party and its government are conducting state issues. One would have expected their party to have engaged them on their discomforts given the wealth of experience in dispute resolution as illustrated by their peace mission initiatives. How come they are good at offering counsel elsewhere and yet they are not good enough to offer the same to their party and government? My point is that our past glory, which we dearly crave for, urgent needs attention to restore confidence in foreign dignitaries not to snub us anymore as was the case during the Jubilee celebrations. It is suicidal. Who knows, we might not make the grade in international dispute resolution initiatives in future not because we don’t have the capacity or expertise but because our credentials are blemished by our conduct. Our record at the Committee on Application of Standards of the ILO for violating Conventions 87 and 98 is one such an example. We have departed in large measure from the objectives of these Conventions where the findings of this committee have far-reaching consequences for us at this institution.
While foreign dignitaries attended both the memorial and funeral services of Sir QKJ in which attributes which earned us the tagline of a shining example of democracy were emphatically stated, these attributes have deserted us as demonstrated by the absence of these dignitaries at the Jubilee celebrations. Our ratings internationally and in different sectors have taken a nose dive principally from our own making. The AU and ILO are such other. We may not be at the junk state level but the political and socio-economic patterns currently unfolding before our very own eyes suggest that we may after all, be heading in that direction. We have deliberately missed the Road to Denmark and it is not impossible to reconnect with it. Can we muster the courage to redeem our former glory? Political will is the answer but is this the case? Judge for Yourself!